Hours before the 2016 NFL draft was set to begin, potential No. 1 overall pick Laremy Tunsil had a problem. A video of him smoking what appeared to be marijuana from a gas mask was published on his Twitter timeline, followed by embarrassing leaks of private conversations with Ole Miss staff members.
Suddenly, one of the draft’s top player’s prospects dwindled. He slipped through the top 10 picks before landing at the 14th spot with the Miami Dolphins. The difference between the contract he signed and the one Jared Goff earned at the No. 1 spot was significant — a $17.5 million gap.
That could turn out to be one hell of a deal for the Dolphins. Bill Polian said Monday that the “overwhelming majority” of players who tested positive for marijuana at the combine didn’t succeed in the NFL, but there are plenty of examples where a little weed helped an NFL team make out like a bandit at the NFL draft.
Tunsil struggled at times but still put together a solid rookie campaign in 2016. He’s got a lot of work to do to catch up to three of the draft’s biggest pot-smoking bargains. Randy Moss, Warren Sapp, and — at least according to urban legend — Dan Marino — all rebounded from collegiate issues that tanked their prospect stock to stage Hall of Fame careers on the gridiron.
And in honor of April 20, aka 4/20, here’s a look back at some of the legends who became draft day bargains thanks to a little weed.
Randy Moss’s issues led Notre Dame, Florida State, and 19 NFL teams to shun a future Hall of Famer
Character issues cost Randy Moss throughout the early stages of his career. Misdemeanor battery charges in high school kept him from attending Notre Dame. He wound up at Florida State, but a positive drug test for marijuana violated his probation and limited his choice of colleges even further. He wound up at Marshall University, a I-AA program just an hour from his hometown in West Virginia.
He lit the world on fire as the Thundering Herd transitioned to I-A ball, gaining more than 3,500 yards and catching 58 touchdowns in just two seasons with the team. That primed him to be a potential top five pick in the NFL draft, but Moss struggled to stay out of his own way. When he missed the 1998 NFL Draft Combine, rumors spread it was thanks to his reticence to take a league drug test.
But Moss had avoided trouble at Marshall, and that’s what the Vikings were banking on when they scooped him with the 20th pick of the draft — behind players like Kevin Dyson and Robert Edwards. The legendary athlete paid immediate dividends in Minnesota, teaming with Cris Carter to give the franchise two of the NFL’s top wideouts. He racked up at least 1,200 receiving yards in each of his first six seasons. His 156 receiving touchdowns rank second all-time.
Moss’s bristly personality would wear out his welcome at other stops — the Raiders were so frustrated with him they traded him to New England for the pittance of a fourth-round pick — but he only failed one NFL drug test over his career and never faced suspension for it. For the Vikings and, eventually, the Patriots, his reward far outweighed his risk.
Warren Sapp was the original Laremy Tunsil; he turned out OK
If there’s anyone who can relate to Tunsil’s awful draft day, it’s Sapp. The University of Miami standout was slated to be a top-five pick, but a failed marijuana test at that year’s draft combine gave teams reason to doubt his judgment. That report was thrust into the spotlight the night before the 1995 draft. Rumors flew that Sapp hadn’t just failed a weed test that year but tested positive for marijuana and cocaine multiple times throughout his college career.
Though Sapp vehemently denied the leaks, players like Mike Mamula, Kyle Brady, and Derrick Alexander all heard their names called by then-commissioner Pete Rozelle before he did. The Buccaneers lucked into a bargain at No. 12, keeping the burly lineman in the Sunshine State. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro for Tampa Bay. His play in the trenches helped set the foundation that transformed the Bucs from league laughing stock to Super Bowl XXXVII champions.
Rumors about Dan Marino’s partying help him fall all the way to the Dolphins in ‘83
Marino put together a legendary career at the University of Pittsburgh but still slipped to the 27th pick of the 1983 NFL draft. That slide was due, in part, to a heady crop of passers, including John Elway, Jim Kelly, Ken O’Brien, and Tony Eason. It also could be attributed to a disappointing senior season.
Or it may have also been a function of drug rumors that swirled around the prolific passer and his partying ways in the Steel City. While Marino never publicly failed any tests, his Panthers were a team known for partying their ways. Marino’s agent, Marvin Demoff, admitted as much.
"People absolutely looked at it that there was a group of guys on the Panthers that just had too good a time," Demoff said. "It was never about addiction."
“[Marino] told me that the school had heard about a group of players using marijuana or drugs, and they internally tested all the players. They were all clean."
Despite a lack of public evidence, talk of Marino’s partying persisted. Was it the reason why he lasted so long on 1983’s draft boards? Probably not — but the Dolphins were certainly happy with the outcome.
A crop of recent Pro Bowlers have also come back strong from failed drug tests
Those legends aren’t alone. Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu developed into an All-Pro after falling to the third round of the 2013 draft thanks to suspensions and drug test failures at LSU. Pro Bowl cornerback Janoris Jenkins slid to the 39th pick in 2012 after being kicked out of Florida’s football program for possession of marijuana the year prior. Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston is a four-time Pro Bowler who came at the bargain cost of a third-round selection after testing positive for weed at the 2011 combine.
Of course, some players with failed drug tests in their past flame out when they get to the NFL. Former Nebraska star Randy Gregory looked like a steal when he fell to the Cowboys with the 60th pick in the 2015 draft. Instead, he’s failed three more tests as a pro and will miss the entire 2017 season as a result. He’s played in only 14 games with Dallas.
Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was another player whose character flaws included issues with weed — though, in retrospect, that was the least of his problems. He had three successful seasons with the franchise, but was convicted of first-degree murder and later committed suicide in prison.