There's a very vocal minority calling for Colt Lyerla to be drafted, on places like Reddit's /r/Eagles. And it's no mystery why. He's a tall tight end with good hands, strength and toughness matched with a surprising burst, both quickness and speed. He's very tough to bring down and gets excellent yards after catch. (Check out his vertical leap in the picture above.)
The former running back was measured at the Combine as 6'4, 242 lbs with 32 3/4" arms and 10 1/4" hands. That's down 8 pounds (and one inch) from his listed size at Oregon.
He was an Oregon high school legend, a kid from a small town outside Portland who ran for 1,500 yards two years in a row and scored 39 TDs as a junior. He had ESPN's Play of the Week in 2009, for catching a 61-yard Hail Mary pass to beat Hillsboro's big rival. Chip Kelly initially saw him as an H-Back in the vein of David Paulson or Ed Dickson, but he moved to tight end, where he proved a potent red zone weapon.
In 2012, his best season, he had 6 TDs on 25 receptions for 392 yards, and ran 13 times for another 77 yards and a touchdown. All of which explains why he has a projected first round pick -- a year ago.
There are problems to match, however. He had a rough family life and was held out of fall camp for 9 days in 2012 by the team -- for what was rumored to be cocaine rehab. Last spring, he tweeted conspiracy theories that the Sandy Hook massacre was committed by the US government, in a plot to further gun control: "The parents of the kids that supposedly died in the sandy hook situation are liars." Ouch.
In the fall of 2013, he was held out of the Tennessee game on September 14th after missing 3 days of practice the week before. Asked at a press conference why Lyerla wasn't playing, Coach Helfrich just said "Circumstances" and wouldn't elaborate further. Lyerla blew up publicly, telling reporters he had had the flu and "I’m really upset with the way coach Helfrich said that after the game. Really disappointed. I feel hurt about this."
Lyerla was suspended for the October 5th game against Colorado for violating team rules. On October 6th, he quit the Ducks altogether with a happy-talk explanation so fake that it would be hilarious under different circumstances. "I love everyone at Oregon; everyone’s on good terms, I believe. Just for my own benefit, it was time to move on."
Sure, that makes sense. What was there left for him at Oregon, after piling up 43 yards and a touchdown on 2 passes and three runs his junior year? He had played most of 3 games, so it was time to quit while he was ahead, and work out privately in preparation for the draft. For his own benefit. Good call.
It just kept getting worse and worse for Colt. 5 days later, his driver's license was suspended due to multiple speeding tickets. On October 23rd, he was arrested for cocaine possession after detectives on an unrelated stakeout saw him snorting white powder in a car parked in the middle of downtown Eugene. He agreed to accompany officers back to his apartment, then bolted to another unit and chilled for a while, or maybe got rid of some evidence, resulting in an additional charge of interfering with an officer.
Worse, we have no reason to think that we've heard the worst. There are players who make a mistake and turn their life around, who mature and grow, but Lyerla has shown no signs of that. (Yes, he agreed to the terms of his probation including urinalysis and a 12-step program on December 27th, but even the most incorrigible addict does that.) Even just since his cocaine arrest, Lyerla has switched agents and left the workout program in Vegas that he arranged with his judge for a different one in Arizona. It's not a good sign when a substance abuser keeps withdrawing from the structure and authority figures in his life.
There may also be other shoes to drop. He was widely referred to as "Coke Lyerla" around campus, but that was just an unfounded rumor until his arrest 4 months ago. On Reddit, U of Oregon students say that rumors of domestic violence swirled around him, too. After a newspaper ran a story on an old police complaint about a minor physical altercation, Lyerla tweeted: "I want to know the % of Americans that have not been involved in a physical altercation between the ages 16-24. Someone give me that data." The incident itself was a non-story, in my opinion, and he has a point, but it's not the kind of attitude that gives you confidence about his future choices. All vapors and rumors, of course, but that's all NFL teams have to evaluate the risk of choosing him.
He has an NFL body and plenty of skills. But the reality is that Lyerla never really delivered, even in college. In three seasons, on one of the best offenses in college football, he managed just 565 yards and 11 TDs, plus another 100 yards or so running. Those are pedestrian numbers, and he won't be able to coast on his size in the NFL.
At the Combine, there are 22 tight end prospects, and he's only bigger than 6 of them. 6'4" is penny ante in the pros, and I guarantee that none of the others walked off their teams for vague reasons in October. Maybe he can pull himself together in the next few months, but even if he does, he'll be using up energy that he needs to adapt to the big leagues.
Beyond his underachievement is the very real risk that Lyerla and his emotional problems present to a locker room. Sure, you could gamble on Colt with a late pick, or invite him to camp as a UDFA, but he's not a scientific curiosity to be tested like a potential cancer-fighting drug, to see if it works or not. He will be part of your team, and the Richie Incognito experience should make it clear how much one messed-up player can damage the rest of your squad.
Last summer, before his most-publicized problems, a website called NEPatriotsDraft.com profiled Lyerla. They thought he would be a good all-around replacement for Aaron Hernandez. I don't think they realized how accurate their prediction would be.
Ultimately, of course, Chip will make the decision, and literally no one on earth -- besides Lyerla's position coach at Oregon -- knows the guy better. I would be very surprised if the Eagles picked him. Sure, Chip would probably know how to manage the guy best, but why devote the energy to him?
Think back to last fall, how tricky the whole Riley Cooper situation was in that locker room, and how easily the whole thing could have blown up. Did Chip need a loudmouth cokehead prone to conspiracy theories and public complaining in the mix? Absolutely not. The coach was walking a tightrope, and Lyerla's antics could easily have knocked him off it.
Bad players eat away at team cohesion; good ones strengthen your squad regardless of how they play. The Eagles have done very well with picking high-character guys, and it's not a coincidence that they weather storms while Miami and New England suffer from picking up hard cases on the cheap.
If Lyerla has skills that justify all of this, then Chip will obviously pick him. But I wouldn't bet any money on it.
UPDATE: Friday at the Combine, Colt Lyerla lifted 15 reps in the bench press, tied for last among tight ends. Little-known Joe Don Duncan of of Dixie State (?) made 35; Texas Tech's Jace Amaro was second with 28. A friggin' punter -- Pat O'Donnell of Miami -- lifted 23 reps (attn: Jimmy Kempski).
Saturday, Colt ran a 4.61 in the 40, for third best among TEs. Top prospect Eric Ebron ran 4.60; A.C. Leonard was best at 4.5. Lyerla also had the best vertical (36.5) and broad jump (10'6") among TEs. Lyerla had a couple of drops in the passing drills, though, and Mike Mayock on the NFL Network said he had expected him to be "more explosive." Jeff Risdon at B/R said Lyerla "was quite shaky and slow in the gauntlet drill, where every throw he actually caught got into his body instead of being cleanly caught with his hands."