McMullen: Eagles Find Value in Taking Chances
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Culture was a big buzz word during the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia but the former coach's attempt to steer clear of any and all red flags is probably unrealistic when success in you're profession can ultimately be traced back to talented young athletes.
The key descriptor there being young and not athletes because, believe it or not, FBI statistics confirm that NFL players are actually arrested less than their peers in everyday life.
That said, investing in those who have shown a propensity for doing the wrong thing in the past is dangerous business, a common-sense conclusion buoyed by the recent study published in the American Journal of Applied Psychology which found that a player who already has an arrest on his record leading up to the draft is almost twice as likely to be pinched again during his NFL career.
The Eagles, of course, didn't have a second-round pick in 2016 due to the Sam Bradford trade and lost a third-rounder trading up for Carson Wentz. Over the next two years Philadelphia will also lose out on priority picks due to the haul it took to get Wentz so perhaps the organization was more willing to take a few chances with the understanding it needed to add talent by less-conventional means.
The Eagles snared three different players in the later rounds of the '16 draft who likely tumbled a bit due to prior issues at the college level, fifth-round running back Wendell Smallwood, seventh-round edge rusher Alex McCalister, and seventh-round defensive back Jalen Mills.
As a Wilmington native Smallwood got his opportunity to address prior accusations of witness tampering in a murder case the night he was drafted. McCalister and Mills, however, didn't meet the media until Friday's opening of rookie minicamp and each was pressed on their resumes.
Mills, a 6-foot, 191-pound versatile LSU product who will start his NFL career at cornerback, explained he was never charged with second-degree battery of a woman, while McCalister, the lanky 6-foot-6, 239-pound pass rusher, claimed he was never really kicked off the University of Florida football team despite reports to the contrary.
“I wasn’t charged with anything,” Mills claimed when asked about the legal issues he faced, which were eventually knocked down to a misdemeanor level when he pleaded no contest and was sentenced to a diversion program.
“It wasn’t a charge, it was pending. But I wasn’t charged with anything. It was a warrant for my arrest but I wasn’t charged with anything.”
Semantics aside, domestic-violence accusations are obviously a touchy subject with the league at this point and Mills arguing the merit of those charges when they were only expunged because of a no contest plea is probably not the best way to tackle the issue.
That said, as long as it remains in the rear-view mirror, the Eagles got a third-round talent in the seventh round of the process.
“I grew up in a single-parent home," Mills explained. "My mom raised me. My grandmother and two aunts. Just me being raised around women, they taught me how to cater to a woman and how to love a woman and not to do those things I was accused of. The hurt wasn’t for me, because I knew I wasn’t guilty but it was the hurt of my mom and grandmother who knew I wasn’t raised like that."
McCalister's issues weren't legal in nature but he did leave Gainesville a year early after news broke that he was kicked out of the Gators' program in December before the team's Citrus Bowl matchup against Michigan, something the lanky DE denied.
“A reporter wrote that I got kicked off the team and that was all false,” he claimed. “It's not true at all.”
McCalister's side of the "he said, he said" is that he suffered an ankle injury and never returned to practice because he would remain inside for treatment. Reporters then inferred he was dismissed because they never saw him.
McCalister did, however, cop to being suspended earlier for missing too many team meetings.
“I was young and dumb," he admitted. "I regret it now, but it’s something I learned from. "You learn from your mistakes. It’s something I’ll never do again, something that really helped me grow."
Right now Mills is probably more NFL ready than his new teammate, who will need to add significant weight to his frame before he can even hope to be anything more than a one-trick pony asked to race around the edge.
“I can play (in this league),” McCalister argued. “I get around that edge, I’m going to get to that quarterback. I definitely want to be bigger. This is a grown-man league. In college I could finesse and get around the edge. Here I have to be straight forward, two-gap, get around that edge."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen