Will Eagles draft running back Joe Mixon or consider him a character risk? | Paul Domowitch

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Oklahoma's back Joe Mixon is one of the top running back in the NFL drafts, but a past incident in which he punched a woman is scaring off many team owners.

EIGHT YEARS AGO, Jeff Lurie made one of the most controversial decisions of his tenure as the owner of the Eagles.

He green-lighted the signing of Michael Vick, the disgraced former Atlanta Falcons quarterback who had spent 18 months in federal prison for running a dogfighting ring.

Vick spent five seasons in Philadelphia. The results on the field were mixed. He started 42 games. Won 20, lost 20. Threw 57 touchdown passes and 33 interceptions.

Off the field, Vick's signing was an overwhelming success. While the Eagles were heavily criticized for signing him, he picked up the pieces of his life and became a model citizen and a great teammate.

Which brings us to next week's draft and the case of yet another significant character risk, running back Joe Mixon.

Mixon is one of the top three running backs in the draft. Some scouts think he might even be the best one in the 2017 class, ahead of Leonard Fournette, ahead of Christian McCaffrey.

Mixon, like McCaffrey, is a versatile back who would be a perfect fit in an offense like the Eagles, which likes to use its backs in the passing game and move them all over the formation in search of mismatches.

"You take character out of the equation, he's a very gifted player,'' Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said Thursday. "But most teams aren't doing that.''

A quick refresher: Three years ago, before his freshman year at the University of Oklahoma, Mixon got into an altercation with a female student at a campus deli and punched her, breaking four bones in her face.

He was charged with a misdemeanor and agreed to a plea deal that included one-year probation, 100 hours of community service and counseling.

The incident didn't get much national play until last November when, as part of the woman's civil suit against Mixon, the video of the incident, which was caught on the deli's security camera, was made public.

The impact of the video was much the same as the one a couple of years earlier of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée on an elevator at an Atlantic City casino.

Mixon's dream of ever being a first-round NFL pick went out the window the moment he threw that punch. However, his dream of playing in the NFL still is very much alive.

With the help of his agent Peter Schaffer, Mixon has done an impressive job of refurbishing his image in recent months. And while some teams have taken him off their draft board, many others haven't.

"I think he's going to go in the second or third round,'' NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "There's an ownership conversation involved with him. Some owners have already told their people to take him off the board.

"But he's made visits to nearly 20 teams. He did a very smart thing by hiring (Schaffer) who's a respected agent. Schaffer attacked it head on instead of trying to hide from it. They have controlled the narrative from Day 1.

"They've said he was 18 years old when that happened and that he's been a model citizen since then. Their approach has been that if you're going to bank on a kid who's had these kind of issues, this is the kind of kid you want to bank on.''

There have been conflicting reports as to whether the Eagles have taken Mixon off of their board. He wasn't one of the 30 players they brought in for a predraft visit. But a source close to Mixon indicated that the running back still is in play for the Eagles. Whether that's in the second round or third or only if he's still on the board on Day 3 is unclear.

Mixon was smart to hire Schaffer. He's one of the league's most respected agents. He has represented some of the league's best players, including Hall of Famers Jerome Bettis, Barry Sanders and William Roaf.

He has represented several former Eagles players, and always has had a good relationship with the organization, including executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman.

If anybody can convince the Eagles that Mixon is worth the PR hit they would take by drafting him, it's Schaffer.

"There's no question that the people you associate yourself with factor in to your character and your background,'' Roseman said Thursday. "We've had conversations (about other players in the past) where we've wondered, why did he hire that guy? He's got enough questions here and he goes and hires that guy. He's not helping himself.

"But there are a bunch of agents in this league that have tremendous character that do really well for their players. They're about helping their players. Peter's done that. It certainly helps when you look at the complete picture and see who they're entrusting their career to.''

Schaffer downplayed his role in refurbishing Mixon's image and convincing NFL teams he's not toxic.

"I don't know that there was a strategy as much as just the way I do business,'' he said. "That's direct and upfront and honest. I was honest with Joe during the recruiting process as far as where he stood and what needed to be done. I showed him a track record of relationships (he has with NFL executives and owners) and successful players I represented. I said, 'Here's what we need to do.'

"A lot of this was based on, when I got to know him during the recruiting process, I found him to be very intelligent and articulate. A deep thinker who is very humble. I said, 'If we can get teams and fans to see the real Joe Mixon, we just might have a shot here.'

"So, it's not like I'm Dr. Frankenstein and created something that wasn't there. It was there. Joe's personality is there. The person is there. The character is there. The integrity is there. What I was able to do was make sure he was able to allow other people inside to see that.''

As Mayock correctly pointed out, Mixon is an ownership conversation. Eight years after giving a second chance to Mike Vick, is Lurie willing to do the same thing for Mixon?

"Everything has to be on a case-by-case basis,'' Roseman said. "Mike and where he was and where we were then was unique. Mike had a tremendous support system, which is important to all these players we're talking about. Who is their support system? Who are they going to go to for advice?

"When you met Mike and saw how Mike dealt with people, he had an amazing ability to connect with people, not just on the field, but also off of it.

"He could tell his story and speak about his story and try to help others. I think that was one of the things that attracted us to Mike. Because of how together he was and how much he learned from his past mistakes.''

There are a lot of eyes on the Eagles. They've got one of the most passionate fan bases in the NFL. They've got one of the largest media contingents in the league covering them. Thursday's predraft Q & A with Roseman and Douglas drew more than 50 people.

Might that make them more reluctant to pull the trigger on Mixon? Maybe. Maybe not. We'll find out next week.

"In this media market, there's a lot of attention (on the Eagles),'' Roseman said. "We have to make the right decisions as far as what reflects well on our organization and the people that work in our organization, on and off the field.''

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@Pdomo Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog