If you listen to Will Muschamp for long enough, you will hear the phrase "Football is very important to him." Florida's coach says it a lot.
It's code he uses to describe his best players, shorthand for "This guy does what he needs to do to be a successful football player, and, specifically, puts the other parts of his life somewhere down the priority list and behind doing what is necessary to be a successful football player." And I think that phrase is one that Muschamp originated; at least, it's particular to him, and I've never heard it from anyone else.
Or, rather, I hadn't.
He does a lot of things well. He’s a smart guy, he’s very instinctive. He’s got a great motor, works hard. Football is very important to him. He’s an all-in guy. There’s not much to not like about him; versatile.
I'm guessing Bill got it from Will.
The point of "Football is very important to him" — FIVITH? #FIVITH? — is conveying what can't be said more bluntly. "He doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, only chases girls occasionally, focuses in the classroom, eats right, isn't an asshole, practices hard, keeps the nonsense on Twitter to a minimum, and prepares himself to play well" is something one coach might say to another in a private conversation, but it will never get said out loud on ESPN or in a press conference. It's just not ... polite.
But coaches will always generally prefer those straighter arrows to guys who mess around, and do things that impact their ability to play football. Coaches don't need players who are Boy Scouts, just ones who play football well enough to keep them from getting fired, but the Boy Scouts are easier to teach and less of a pain in the ass. And the truly great players are typically good enough that they can get away with a fair bit of miscreancy without being impediments to Coach Footballman getting his paycheck.
Here is another impoliteness: Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson demonstrated repeatedly, especially in the pre-Draft process, that football is not that important to them, and I think that's why they were undrafted at the bitter end of the 2014 NFL Draft.
An aside: I think much of the "pre-Draft process," as we euphemistically refer to the months-long slog through Pro Days and the NFL Scouting Combine and the character assassination open discussion of young men's morals, is an extended exercise in bullshit, and in bullshitters bullshitting bullshitters1. Teams want good football players, and will look the other way on some things for the right player; teams want excuses not to take "character risks" or otherwise unusual players, and will go out of their way to find minor flaws that serve as smokescreens for removing a player from a draft board for whatever the "real" reason is.
If you're going to pass on, say, Teddy Bridgewater, a prolific, winning, and often breathtaking college quarterback who happens to be black, it's easier to say you're doing so because he had an unusually poor Pro Day, or because he's skinny, or because he has smallish hands, or because you wonder if he can be the "face of a franchise," than it is to say "We passed on Teddy Bridgewater because we were worried about a black kid from a poor part of Miami being our most notable player." It was easier to cite "character concerns" about Randy Moss, an ornery bumpkin who liked weed, than to say you didn't want him because he was weird and smoked weed. The Vikings drafted both, and this infuriates me, a Packers fan, because Moss destroyed the Packers again and again, and Bridgewater's going to be excellent for the Purple People. He will break my heart (again) with remarkable alacrity, I'm sure.
But as a fan of people and systems that are honest about what they're doing, or that at least ignore bullshit, I'm happy that the Vikings decided it was not a terrible idea to draft a really good quarterback despite him being black, or to draft a great wide receiver because he was a pain in the ass2.
Purifoy and Roberson didn't have the same luxury of hoping that their talent would trump their bullshit, because — another impoliteness — it turns out that they weren't good enough at football for that.
Purifoy, whose first-round hype entering 2013 was built on measurables and projection, regressed as a full-time corner in the 2013 season, getting exposed repeatedly against big-time competition. LSU's two drafted wide receivers, first-rounder Odell Beckham, Jr. and second-rounder Jarvis Landry, whipped him, especially on deeper routes that required him to stay with them out of breaks; Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin crushed him, defeating Purifoy's handsy coverage with handfighting of his own (including a "YOINK" move to get free for one touchdown) and superior athleticism. That game, more than anything else, left a crater where Purifoy's draft stock was, even though he had a pick in coverage of Kenny Shaw that day.
Purifoy's best game of 2013 came against Arkansas, a team that did not win a single SEC game. His best game as a college player was either that game, or the 2012 game against South Carolina that he started with a forced fumble. He never made good on that first-round hype on the field.
And off the field, Purifoy's last 16 months have been a disaster.
There was that February arrest for marijuana possession last year, the one that got thrown out and amounts to nothing in the eyes of the law, but serves as the first "red flag" for Purifoy. Purifoy was then among the Gators suspended for violation of team rules for Florida's opener against Toledo — this is often code for a failed drug test, and the Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser reported that this was the case for Purifoy.
Before the first game of Florida's season, Purifoy had established a pattern of being around and/or using drugs, which made having a really good season on the field a necessity for papering over that pattern.
That didn't happen, obviously.
Purifoy subsequently waited all of three minutes — seriously, check the time stamps on this tweet and this tweet — after Florida's season ended to declare for the NFL Draft, rubbing Florida fans — who had watched him largely fail to live up to his hype all season — the wrong way. More importantly, it may have sent a couple of the wrong signals to NFL teams: A talented player instantly distancing himself from a terrible team does not exactly scream "Pick me," even if it isn't quite a reason not to pick that player.
It would get worse. Purifoy, by all accounts, half-assed the pre-Draft process — which, for all of the bullshit involved, does still serve as an extended job interview, and one that players can ace or bomb. I've heard that Purifoy didn't train hard and didn't show up for workouts, and his dismal performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he came in smaller than expected, ran the 40 in a slow-for-a-cornerback 4.61 seconds, and benched 225 pounds just six times, would certainly back that up. And Florida's Pro Day, where he took 4.65 seconds to cover the same distance, definitely didn't help him like it helped other Gators.
And then there's the elephant in the room: Purifoy is probably in serious legal trouble in relation to a March 2014 run-in with the law for possession of marijuana and bath salts. I'm not sure we can call it an arrest, because Purifoy was never arrested, as far as I can tell, but he was certainly very much eligible to be arrested before whatever cooperation he offered police — and the police offering him that deal was already enough to make the story editorial-worthy.
Then he reneged on that cooperation, which probably rendered him eligible to be arrested again, perhaps on more charges than he would have faced in the first place. And that, more than the possession, will not endear him to cops, who generally like being lied to even less than they like criminal activity, nor is it a good sign for an employer: Who tries to pull one over on the cops after agreeing to help them?
Purifoy had other, more minor football-related concerns, too: He's slender enough that he's taken some big hits and had to leave games with what amounted to bruises, and he was never good enough to fully lock down a spot at corner despite Roberson's playing time turning scant toward the end of the 2013 season and Jaylen Watkins moving to safety full-time.
But the most important reason for Purifoy's fall is that, by draft day, there was an impossible-to-miss sea of red flags waving for him. I, personally, would not have picked him at all: He was one of my favorite Florida players of the last few years, I think he has NFL-caliber special teams skills, and I'm an unrepentant optimist, but I could not have countenanced wasting my pick and time on trying to make Purifoy an NFL player, especially not with a possible arrest hanging over his head.
At the end, I wasn't really surprised that Purifoy fell out of the 2014 NFL Draft, because I was paying attention to all the bumps in the road along the way. But the bumps were surprising, time and again, and his stock falling from the first round to undrafted free agency is staggering.
I am, however, surprised that Marcus Roberson didn't merit a pick. And I don't think I'm alone in that respect.
Roberson had red flags, too; they were just harder to find. He was arrested, but way back in 2011, and for underage drinking, something that Matt Elam was arrested for twice as a Gator, long before being taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. And Roberson didn't serve an announced suspension until being suspended for Florida's 2013 game at South Carolina, the sort of midseason suspension that doesn't usually ring the "failed a drug test" alarm bell for me.
But he was unavailable for a three-game stretch during the season, spanning Florida's games against Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas. This is consistent with the 30 percent of a season a Florida player misses for a third failed drug test3; his absence was explained at the time by a knee injury.
And Roberson was suspended for that game at South Carolina for an even dumber reason. Yesterday, when I wondered aloud whether that suspension had any relation to Muschamp's assertion4 that he "put (a player's) butt on a bus in Columbia, South Carolina" after discovering an attempt to sneak a woman into a hotel room, one of the misdeeds Jonotthan Harrison alluded to in his now-infamous pre-Draft comments to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Gator Country's Andrew Spivey tweeted me to confirm that, though he later deleted his tweet. Since then, I've heard the same thing.
And here's what Muschamp said about Roberson after that game: "Marcus was out this week, but he had an ankle. I don't know that he would have played anyway."
I don't know the truth for certain about all of those incidents, and basically only have my educated conjecture to offer, but I'll bet money that NFL teams who were interested in Roberson have a really good grasp on what actually happened, and that it doesn't reflect well on him.
And even if Roberson's knee and/or ankle injuries were convenient excuses, he's got a significant injury history worth worrying about. Roberson's freshman season came to an abrupt end due to a neck injury suffered against South Carolina in 2011. While he's obviously played two years of football since then with no apparent effects, and Muschamp stressed that the injury was not career-threatening at the time, a neck injury is decidedly more serious than most other injuries, and it's possible that NFL medical staffs looked at it and used it as a disqualifier.
It's possible that any of those things could have been used as an excuse for Roberson, really, and especially for waiting until a later round to pick him. And he didn't blow anyone away during the pre-Draft process — though, faint praise alert, he took it more seriously than Purifoy did — that could have helped him convince teams that his 2013 season was fluky.
But Roberson being undrafted is still genuinely surprising to me: He, unlike Purifoy, has been really good at more of the aspects of being a defensive back. He played very well against Kelvin Benjamin in Florida's 2012 win over Florida State, frustrating him in ways that Purifoy simply couldn't and goading him into multiple offensive pass interference calls, and generally held his own against the other team's best wide receiver as a freshman and sophomore in 2011 and 2012 before arguably plateauing in 2013.
I think Roberson's got skills worthy of an NFL cup of coffee at the very least, and monitoring a search for "Marcus Roberson" on Twitter while waiting for news of his signing tells me that I'm definitely not alone in thinking that about him. Last week's issue of Sports Illustrated projected him getting picked in the second round; CBS Sports had him projected as a third-rounder entering this week, as did both the Walter of Walter Football and another writer at the site as of Thursday.
If there's a reason behind him going undrafted, I suspect it's a good one, and far more than just an excuse.
To an extent, writing this post feels to me like grave-dancing, something I've seen a fair bit of on Twitter.
Purifoy and Roberson "were overrated," or they "checked out," or they "got cocky," or "should have stayed," say observers, blaming two kids for not doing what was necessary to be taken in the NFL Draft, much less taken where they were once projected to go, long before their de facto job interview began. And there are surely elements of truth to those criticisms: Purifoy, at least, should probably have returned to Florida, and both players obviously ought to have taken the pre-Draft process significantly more seriously.
But I'm sympathetic to Purifoy and Roberson thinking they were ready to step up and being proven utterly wrong, and not just because they will miss out on millions of dollars they might have made by equaling their hype. This is probably really embarrassing for them — because they're human like we all are, and feel things like embarrassment, and because this is a spectacular failure that they will have to talk about for a long time.
And I don't begrudge college athletes making the decision to play their sport professionally as soon as they can, period. Even the players who are obviously not ready, and players who I think are making questionable decisions to go pro, are still leaving a system that, whatever your beliefs on how "fair" the current compensation for college athletes is, caps their potential earnings in a way professional sports do not.
I would like to make more money than I currently make while doing roughly the same job; I'll wager that you probably do, too. This is the tantalizing dream that professional sports presents to college athletes, especially in football and men's basketball, and I really can't fault them for chasing it.
And when athletes don't dream-chase to the best of their natural abilities, they end up in embarrassing situations like the ones Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson are in at the moment, binds that irrevocably alter the arcs of their lives. Neither one has even signed as a college free agent yet; this development is flummoxing even the media's foremost expert on college free agency.
These are objectively sad stories, I'd argue, tragedies in miniature whether or not you have sympathy for Purifoy, whose mother is waiting on a kidney transplant, or Roberson, whose failure to be drafted makes him a black sheep of sorts in regards to his high school, St. Thomas Aquinas, which produced a record four NFL Draft picks this year, and can brag about previously having three NFL Draft picks in a year.
And, certainly, this doesn't reflect well on Florida, or on Muschamp, who is now 0-for-2 on Florida players he can take credit for recruiting getting drafted as early entrants — but I'm really not writing all of this from a Florida fan's perspective, except the one that gives me context on Purifoy and Roberson. Explaining their situations, even with conjecture rather than facts, doesn't make them any less weird, or sad, or unfortunate: It's just explaining.
I could, yes, tell you to feel bad. If you've read this far, you probably already do.
When Trevor Sikkema went to Florida's Pro Day, and saw Purifoy and Roberson look mostly unimpressive in person, he wondered about their respective stocks. "I don't see (Purifoy) being picked in the 3rd (round)," he wrote, and on Roberson, he opined that "Some team is going to take a chance on Marcus Roberson in Day 2 of the NFL Draft, but I'm not so sure that team should." At the time, both of those assessments seemed a little bearish to me.
But he also overheard this killer quote from a scout about both players:
"I don't understand. Stay in school; get bigger, get better. These kids don't realize what it's like out there. They sit here and read these mock drafts and articles with their names high up and it's bullshit. They're lying to these kids. I see their (Roberson and Purifoy's) names in the second round and that's a lie.
We have to learn how to communicate with these kids, man. It's a shame some of the advice they're getting. They don't have to leave right away. The best way to be successful is to be as good as you can be before coming out. I'm serious."
That's a little wordy. And yet, with Purifoy and Roberson having joined the fraternity of ignominy where early entrants who don't get drafted commiserate, and still not signed with an NFL team as undrafted free agents almost 24 hours after the 2014 NFL Draft's conclusion — they ended up signing with the Colts and Rams, respectively, but not until right about noon on Monday — it feels like an epitaph.
Football coaches spinning things to reporters and reporters spinning things football coaches say is perhaps even more American than football itself.
I could totally provide more examples here, if you want.
You may remember caveats like this from previous Alligator Army posts on Scottie Wilbekin.
This is a link to something Mike Bianchi wrote. Yes, it was unavoidable. I'm sorry.