When Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim has talked in the past about getting to know the personal side of a player more so than the physical side of them, this is what he’s talking about.
Just three days before the NFL draft kicks off in New York City, a report has surfaced that former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger submitted a diluted urine sample at the scouting combine back in February. According to an ESPN.com story, “a diluted sample is usually regarded as a failed test under the NFL's drug-testing program.”
Even though Mettenberger’s physical therapist has come out and said he ordered the quarterback to drink a gallon of water a day to combat dehydration during rehab from ACL surgery, the incident is still enough to make general managers think twice. Or at least refer back to their piles of notes acquired on each player.
Keim has sounded like a broken record at times when he’s talked about character issues. But there’s a reason why teams invest so much time and energy in getting to know players beyond the field. As Keim has repeatedly said: teams miss more on the person than they do the player.
Mettenberger is one of only a handful quarterbacks in this year’s draft who are tailor-made to fit Bruce Arians’ offense. He’s tall, has a big arm and, as a bonus, has spent time in a pro system under former NFL coach Cam Cameron at LSU. Combined, all that makes Metteneberger a potential target for the Cardinals in the later rounds.
But if Mettenberger made it to the Cardinals’ top 120 board, you can be sure Keim is going through his memory bank for any interviews he did about the quarterback. And you can be sure he’s been on the phone Monday afternoon trying to get the story straight. It’s not as if Mettenberger has had a clean history. In 2010, he was charged with misdemeanor sexual battery after an incident outside a bar in Georgia. A lack of playing time at the University of Georgia eventually led him to LSU.
The most recent events could answer a slew of questions for teams while introducing new ones: Have drugs been an issue for Mettenberger? Does he rely on others too much? Should he have been aware that an overindulgence of water could have led to a diluted drug test thus raising a red flag? And it's not as if this is a new arena for Keim. He took a chance on the biggest character risk of all in 2013, Tyrann Mathieu, and that's panned out swimmingly.
While Mettenberger is not a Mathieu-esque talent and is not expected to be a first-round pick, having a drug incident come to light this close to the draft isn’t good news for him. He already had character issues, albeit old ones, and he was considered an immediate risk because of his knee injury.
Fold in the diluted drug sample story and it might be enough for some teams, Arizona included, to erase Mettenberger from their draft board, despite the claims by his physical therapist. When it comes to evaluating a person, a story like this could be the dagger that shatters a player’s chances with a team.
Whichever side of the story Keim ends up falling on, you can be sure that he won’t be missing on the person in this case.