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Dalvin Cook falls victim to character assassin in NFL draft

Florida State running back falls out of 1st round amid character concerns

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2017 in Indianapolis.
Florida State running back Dalvin Cook runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2017 in Indianapolis. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

AVENTURA, Fla. – An assassin was lurking in an Aventura hotel during Thursday night's NFL draft party for former Florida State star Dalvin Cook.

It wasn't a crazed gunman or an act of terrorism.

This assassin was an assembly of 32 teams that annually congregate in one of their geographical territories to select collegiate athletes into an elite fraternity known as the NFL.

An assassination attempt was how Cook's oldest brother described the reported efforts of an agent's "runner" to tarnish the former Miami Central Senior High School star's reputation after fellow running back Leonard Fournette was the fourth overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Christian McCaffrey went to the Carolina Panthers with the No. 8 pick.

"I feel like he's the most talented running back, and a lot of things that's not true is possibly hurting his draft stock," Deandre Burnett said.

Burnett had gathered with other family and friends on the first floor of the Courtyard Marriott in Aventura to celebrate Cook's eventual selection. It never happened.

Assassins are meant to kill. This felt like a death blow.

When it was over, 32 picks had come and gone without Cook's name being called. What began as a party felt like a funeral by the time everyone shuffled out of the Biscayne and Collins ballrooms.

Where did it go wrong for Cook? Was it his character? Was it his 2015 misdemeanor battery arrest and subsequent acquittal by a jury of his peers? Was it his upbringing in Miami? Was it the company that he keeps?

Certainly it wasn't his 4,464 career rushing yards with the Seminoles. Those numbers shattered the previous Florida State record held by former first-round running back Warrick Dunn.

It couldn't have been his 145 rushing yards on 20 carries for one touchdown and 62 receiving yards in the Seminoles' 33-32 win against Michigan in the Orange Bowl to cap his Florida State career. Cook was named the game's most valuable player.

Nor could it have been his 1,195 rushing yards after contact, the most of any running back in the nation last season.

Dalvin Cook runs off the field one last time in a Florida State uniform after the Seminoles' 33-32 win against Michigan in the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on Dec. 30, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Dalvin Cook runs off the field one last time in a Florida State uniform after the Seminoles' 33-32 win against Michigan in the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on Dec. 30, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Some NFL teams might have been concerned about the red flags raised in recent weeks. Reports of Cook's troubled youth and run-ins with the law as a teenager likely deterred some teams from making Cook their franchise running back.

Tony Villani, Cook's trainer, told Sports Illustrated that he started getting calls from scouts and coaches suggesting that Cook might have character concerns. He was told that an agent (an uncertified agent who helps certified agents recruit players during the draft process) had started a rumor that Cook was showing up at workouts late, if at all, and that he was arriving with alcohol on his breath. He also brought a posse of unsavory characters with him.

 "I know these things (are) not true," Burnett, who plays basketball at Mississippi, said of the rumors.

Villani told Sports Illustrated that he swore off any business dealings with the runner years ago after he stiffed Villani's XPE Sports on a client's bill.

To be fair, this wouldn't be the first time that Cook has been wounded. Remember when he missed out on being a finalist for the Heisman Memorial Trophy despite being one of the most outstanding players in college football? Then there was the time when Cook didn't even get a nod as finalist for the Doak Walker Award, presented to the best college running back.

That might have been enough motivation for Cook to return to school for his senior season. But that same assassin graded him as a first-round talent during his NFL evaluation.

What does the NFL see that Florida State and college football fans don't?

Rae Carruth and Lawrence Phillips are a few others who had character issues when they became among the first players in their draft class to hear their names called.

Carruth was sued by his girlfriend for child support payments while he was at Colorado. He became the 27th overall pick of the Panthers in 1997. Two years later, he fled from police after ordering a hit on his pregnant girlfriend because she refused to have an abortion. Carruth was convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle and using an instrument to destroy an unborn child.

Phillips was a star running back for the Nebraska Cornhuskers whose troubled personal life often overshadowed his football accolades. He pleaded guilty to charges of assault, vandalism and disturbing the peace as a sophomore in 1994 after he grabbed a 21-year-old college student by the neck. Hours after a 1995 game against Michigan State, Phillips broke into backup quarterback Scott Frost's apartment and assaulted basketball player Kate McEwen. He was arrested and suspended for six games, but he returned in time to help the Cornhuskers manhandle Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl to win the national championship.

The St. Louis Rams made Phillips their top pick with the sixth overall selection in the 1996 NFL draft. He was released by the Rams in 1997 and played only two games with the Miami Dolphins before he was cut after pleading no contest to assaulting a woman at a South Florida nightclub.

Phillips was eventually convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend in 2009 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He killed himself in prison in January 2016.

In some ways, Cook could be paying for the sins of the players who came before him. The domestic abuse issues of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy left a black eye on the NFL.

Cook is still on the board and could be among the first players taken on the second day of the draft. Another running back still on the board is Oklahoma's Joe Mixon, who was seen on surveillance video punching a woman in the head in 2014.

Cook's brother said that, whatever the reason that NFL teams decided to pass on him, it's not the person who Cook is today.

"It's like they're trying to assassinate his character and, I feel, like, make him out to be someone he's not and someone he grew out of a long time ago," Burnett said.

Make no mistake: Cook will get drafted. Wherever he goes, it'll likely be bad news for 31 other teams in the NFL.


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