Armando Salguero

Would Dolphins gamble on Reuben Foster, Gareon Conley during the NFL draft, and perhaps as early as the first round?

When the Miami Dolphins finally have their turn in the NFL draft’s first round Thursday night they will almost certainly have the opportunity to select from one and perhaps two high-caliber players whose status is clouded by uncertainty and significant concerns.

The Dolphins may have a chance to pick Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley and/or Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster.

And that’s when the Dolphins will decide if they want to pluck gifts from the Island of Misfit Draft toys.

Both Foster and Conley have had trouble the past few weeks that has put their draft status at risk -- with Conley’s issues being potentially much more serious as it involves a rape allegation.

Foster, considered the best linebacker coming out of college last month, has been dinged significantly by the fact he was sent home from the NFL Combine in March for having a heated altercation with a hospital worker. The NFL confirmed Foster was sent home “for personal reasons.”

Before he went home, however, Foster provided a drug test. And he failed the test because it was considered “dilute.” NFL drug policy considers a diluted sample to be a positive test as it considers it an attempt to mask the results. Foster explained to his test was dilute because he drank a lot of water and Gatorade after suffering a bout of food poisoning.

This in addition to the fact Foster had rotator cuff surgery after last season and is still recovering from that and there are other durability issues has Foster potentially dropping.

So the Butkus Award winner, Alabama’s permanent captain, and a consensus All-American suddenly has a lot of question marks swirling around him at a time he expected to be about nothing but exclamation points.

All the questions have some draft experts believing Foster is going to drop ...

.. Even to the Dolphins, and beyond if they don’t take him.

It should be noted Lombardi isn’t just another pundit with a microphone. He worked for the Cleveland Browns. He worked for the New England Patriots. He has contacts and insider knowledge and I have great respect for his opinion. So we don’t simply dismiss it here out of hand.

And so what if Foster drops to Miami at No. 22?

Well, some things to consider:

The Dolphins will be ready. The idea of Foster dropping didn’t just happen last night. It’s been on the radar for weeks, since the Combine. So the Dolphins have had their chance to do their homework.

And part of that homework has no doubt been the team using its connections to Nick Saban to get as much insight on Foster as possible. Remember that general manager Chris Grier worked for Saban when the coach was with the Dolphins in 2005-2006 and the two have a good relationship. And remember that head coach Adam Gase was an assistant for Saban at both Michigan State and LSU.

The Dolphins obviously have a comfort level picking Alabama players as the selection of running back Kenyan Drake last year shows.

And the Dolphins security department -- headed by director Drew Brooks and director emeritus Stuart Weinstein -- has a track record for providing every strand of available information on players to coaches and the personnel department.

So there will be no surprises relative to Foster’s drug issues, or lack thereof, family ties, friend ties, character, so forth.

I must say, the medical issue in conjunction with the possibility of drug use is a concern. The Dolphins just got rid of a former high draft pick who came to the team with shoulder issues and the shadow of drug use hovering about him. Dion Jordan was a disaster for the Dolphins.

So sometimes the team has gambled and lost.

This is my thinking: The Baltimore Ravens draft No. 16 in the first round. And Ozzie Newsome, a former Alabama player and one of the best personnel men in the business, loves Alabama players. Loves them! If the Ravens pass on Reuben Foster, understanding that he is considered a great prospect and comes from Alabama and all that, that raises a major, major red flag for me.

What does Ozzie Newsome know that I don’t? What does Ozzie Newsome know that the Dolphins don’t?

A lot.

For one, he knows how to put together Super Bowl champions.

So if Newsome and his pro-Alabama leanings leave Foster on the board, I leave Foster on the board as well.

That’s just me.

What would the Dolphins do? I don’t know. I assume they have a strategy on the topic. We might see it play out Thursday night.

With Conley the matter is much more sobering.

We’re not just talking questionable drug test results and a shoulder injury with the Ohio State cornerback. We’re talking the possibility of a felony sexual assault.

We’re not talking about whether a guy will be rehabbing but whether this guy is, at best, free to play and at worst, a felon that you’re considering bringing into your community.

Conley has released a statement denying the accusation from that evening in a Cleveland hotel room. He has spoken to a majority of the NFL’s 32 teams in person. His attorney has reportedly provided witness statements and videos from the hotel to teams. And nothing in his past suggests this is who the kid is.

But ...

Teams know there is a victim. She has a lawyer. There is a police report. A rape kit was taken.

So all this, and particularly the fact the results from the rape kit are not publicly known, is giving teams pause.

Multiple reports now say Conley, a 6-2 corner who was expected to be drafted in the top 20 selections and possibly higher, could drop as far as the third round.

Despite these reports, does some team near the bottom of the first round gamble on Conley? How about in the second round?

Do the Dolphins?

I don’t have an answer. Like many NFL teams, I only have questions and limited facts.

And the biggest question is when they are on the clock in the first round this evening, will the Dolphins pay a visit to the Island of Misfit Draft toys?

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

But ...


incident. tough upbringing.

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