What matters more, talent or personality? With the NFL draft drawing ever closer this question will be on the minds of team executives when considering whom to select. Former Oregon Duck tight end Colt Lyerla, has one of the most troubled and question mark filled backgrounds entering this years NFL draft. This is not new for the Oregon football program however, as they have had some troubled players enter the draft recently – does the name Cliff Harris ring any bells? When at the University of Oregon, Harris was considered an elite cornerback and tremendous play maker. Following the 2010 season Cliff Harris led the nation with four punt returns for scores and 20 passes defended. The next year he was suspended indefinitely following an arrest for driving 118 mph on the freeway, with a suspended license. That was the beginning of the end for Harris. He was kicked off the Oregon Ducks football team later that year following more traffic violations and possession of marijuana. Cliff Harris went undrafted in 2012.
Using Cliff Harris as an example, what is to come of ex Oregon Duck tight end Colt Lyerla? While on the field Lyerla was undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with and his physical gifts were on display constantly. However, Lyerla had his issues off the field constantly as well. When he arrived on campus in 2011 he already had questions about his past and his overly emotional nature. Lyerla seemed able to put those behind him during his true freshman season – catching 7 passes for 147 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Throughout his tenure at the University of Oregon, teammates noted that Lyerla enjoyed partying hard and often. Now nothing is technically wrong with that, Lyerla is an adult and can make his own decisions, but there is a priority issue. It was said that Lyerla would regularly get less than four hours of sleep, and occasionally showed up to practice without having slept the previous night. Signs of trouble with prioritizing your life and putting the team first began to arise during this standout 2012 season as the Ducks starting tight end where he finished the season with 25 receptions for 392 yards and 6 touchdowns, and also rushed for 77 yards and 1 touchdown.
Beginning the 2013 season Lyerla was upset about his playing time and numbers during the first two games against Nichols State and Virginia. He missed the game against Tennessee where true freshman Johnny Mundt had 5 catches for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns in Lyerla’s place. Lyerla was suspended for the Colorado game for violating team rules and quit the team the following week. After leaving the Ducks Lyerla was later arrested and pleaded guilty to cocaine possession.
Being a junior in his last season, Lyerla was eligible to declare for the 2014 NFL Draft. His physical gifts obvious, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 242 pounds, he most certainly has the size to be productive in the NFL – if he gets the opportunity that is. At the NFL combine, Lyerla’s physical abilities were on display once again. He began by posting a 4.61 second 40-yard dash, tied for the farthest broad jump of 128 inches, and then Lyerla led his position group with a 36 1/2-inch vertical jump. Being unable to leave the state of Oregon until recently as he dealt with his cocaine possession charge, Lyerla had only a week to train; so many scouts feel he can put up better numbers during individual workouts.
Colt Lyerla and Cliff Harris certainly have their similarities and differences. Harris went undrafted and then was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles and then released not long after. Then while being signed by the New York Jets, Harris was released following an arrest for Marijuana. Lyerla still has a chance to straighten out all his off the field and personal issues. Many feel that if he can focus only on football Lyerla will be able to succeed, but only time will tell. What is clear is that NFL teams will have to look at Lyerla as a high-risk draft pick with a high talent ceiling. A team will take a chance on him that is for sure, but it remains uncertain where in the draft that will be, or if his name is even called on draft day. Talented players with troubled track records aren’t going away, and NFL teams will have to continue to balance talent and personality when bringing players into their organization.