Joe Mixon still on Eagles' draft radar? Don't rule it out | Jeff McLane

When it comes to Joe Mixon and whether he's draftable, taking character out of the equation would be like trying to remove stripes from a tiger.

There just isn't any way that NFL teams can whitewash the violent act from his past, in which he brutally punched a woman in the head, as they decide whether to keep the Oklahoma running back on their draft boards.

"A lot of people think that he is one of the top backs in this draft," Joe Douglas, the Eagles' vice president of player personnel, said Thursday. "So if you take character out of the equation, physically [he's] a very good player. But most teams aren't doing that."

But are the Eagles "most" teams?

"It doesn't serve us any purpose to talk about particular guys," said Howie Roseman, the team's vice president of football operations, "and whether they're on our board or not."

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie had a similar response when asked the same question last month at the league meetings. No other NFL owner has publicly stated that Mixon was no longer under consideration, but the Patriots and Dolphins, based on anonymous sourcing, reportedly have decided to remove him from their boards.

Only Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, among NFL decision makers, has publicly said that the 20-year-old tailback was still on his team's board. There have been reports that the Eagles are also among the teams that have owner backing to still consider Mixon, and two sources familiar with the team's draft plans confirmed those accounts to the Inquirer.

That doesn't guarantee that he will be available when the Eagles are willing to select him. It's unlikely that he's ranked among their top prospects. But after they pick at No. 14, provided they don't trade back, Mixon could be in play from the second round on. And with a number of teams out of the picture, there won't be as much competition.

But why would the Eagles be willing to take a gamble on a player who would bring unnecessary attention - much of it in the form of scorn - to a franchise that has typically avoided players with questionable pasts?

"Each case you have to judge individually," Roseman said. "You have to go through the whole process."

Mixon had just turned 18 when he struck Amelia Molitor in the head inside an Oklahoma campus cafe on July 25, 2014. The blow caused her head to hit a table, broke bones in her face, and required hospitalization and surgery.

The two were engaged in a verbal altercation that started outside. Molitor claimed that Mixon and some of his teammates were harassing her friend. Mixon later told police that Molitor's friend had called him a racial slur and that he responded with a homophobic insult.

Surveillance video of the incident surfaced later. It showed Mixon following Molitor into the cafe, her pushing him, his lunging at her as if to suggest she back off, her hitting him, and finally Mixon delivering a punch that dropped her immediately.

In a plea deal, Mixon received a one-year deferred sentence (avoiding a criminal conviction) and was ordered to undergo counseling and perform 100 hours of community service. The Sooners suspended him for his freshman season. Two years later, he was suspended one game after an incident in which he received a parking citation, confronted the issuer, and tore up the ticket and tossed the pieces, some of which hit her in the face.

Roseman said that the Eagles are thorough in their research of prospects with character concerns. Douglas and his scouting staff conduct the first wave of inquiries during the season. During the predraft process, the Eagles' security team led by Dom DiSandro then handles its own investigations.

Mixon was not permitted to participate in the NFL combine in February, but the Eagles were in attendance at Oklahoma's pro day, where they had the opportunity to meet with the 6-foot-1, 226-pound running back.

The Eagles' conversations with Mixon will certainly factor into their assessment of whether they believe he has atoned for his transgressions and simply made two horrible choices or whether he was simply saying what they want to hear.

"When I tell you I've learned from my mistakes, do you just take me for my word?" Roseman said. "So you'd better figure out that the actions reflect the words."

The Eagles, of course, have been down the controversial player-acquisition road before. Signing Michael Vick only months after he was released from prison for dogfighting crimes may have prepared Lurie, Roseman, and the organization for the media and public uproar that would follow drafting Mixon as well as any NFL team.

"I don't know if we're uniquely able to handle anything," Roseman said. "This media market - there's a lot of attention."

But there would be as much national attention. Vick brought reporters to the NovaCare Complex from all over the country. But that furor eventually subsided, in part because Vick was never less than remorseful and embraced his role as a spokesman.

"He had an amazing ability to connect with people," Roseman said, ". . . and I think that was a lot [of what] attracted us to Mike."

If Vick had been any less of a player, though, the Eagles would have never put themselves in that position. And that is primarily why Mixon would be worth the risk. The Eagles would be getting a first-round talent at a bargain.

"There's not much he can't do," Roseman said. "He's incredible with the ball in his hands, you can split him out, he's got really good hands [as a receiver], he can pass-protect, he can make people miss."

The Eagles need a running back, but they haven't drafted one in the first round since 1986. More to the point, they haven't taken one as high as the first round under the current ownership and as long as Roseman has been GM.

"There are just teams that are philosophically opposed," Roseman said without specifically saying that the Eagles were one of those teams.

Douglas spent 16 years in the Ravens organization, and during his last 15 years there, GM Ozzie Newsome never took a running back higher than the second round. But from 2006 to 2016, they took at least one every draft.

"It wasn't a philosophical decision to not take a running back in the first round," Douglas said. "It was just the way the board fell."

Some analysts believe that Mixon might not even make it to the second round. All it takes is one team.

jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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