This is a case of being once bitten, twice shy, twice over. The Lions have a long and inglorious history with talented wide receivers with off-field baggage. From Charles Rogers (drugs) to Mike Williams (lazy) to Titus Young (mental illness) to Ryan Broyles (no knees), Detroit has seen too many wideout gambles come up empty.
Carroo doesn’t fit neatly into any of the typical Pandora’s boxes. Instead, he has a toe into a few different ones.
Character is one issue. He was suspended twice last season for separate disciplinary incidents, missing the first half of the opener for violating curfew. The second suspension is the more worrisome. Carroo was arrested in September for a domestic assault arrest. He wound up missing two games.
Less than a month later, Carroo missed two full games after suffering a high ankle sprain against Indiana. He tried to give it a go a week later against Ohio State but was clearly limited. Being injured happens, but the plot thickens with Carroo not playing against Michigan. He was listed as questionable during the week leading up to the game in Ann Arbor, but NFL scouts in attendance at that game (I was there as well) all said they were informed by Rutgers officials that Carroo would indeed be playing, or at least trying to play.
But he wound up missing the game, and speculation immediately sprung amongst the scouts that he was worried a bad game against a talented Wolverines secondary would hurt his status. One, from an AFC West team who knows the Rutgers program quite well, told me (as part of a group) that he was not surprised Carroo “ducked out” of facing Jourdan Lewis and Jibril Peppers, that it “fits his character”.
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That is one person’s opinion, and I cannot personally speak to anything beyond that; I’ve never met Carroo and my interaction with anyone in positon to know anything inside the Scarlet Knights program is nothing more than a handshake. Carroo was indeed suffering from an injury which always presents an ambiguous recovery timeline. But the optics didn’t help him.
Carroo missed three games in the 2013 season after suffering an upper body injury. Once again, he was expected to play in Rutgers’ bowl game following that season. From his coach just before the Pinstripe Bowl,
"But I think Leonte, it’s safe to say, will be ready to go."
Except he wasn’t. During Senior Bowl week, he rolled the troublesome ankle and dropped out of competition. I was there and saw him roll it, not more than 15 yards away. It looked innocuous; both Braxton Miller and Kenneth Dixon did the same thing and kept right on playing. Carroo had proven himself fully healed when he obliterated Maryland two months earlier, but he didn’t want to risk it.
Availability matters. Having great talent doesn’t matter much if the player can’t stay on the field, or won’t go unless he’s 100%. That’s a charge which has plagued skilled wideouts like Desean Jackson, Percy Harvin and Justin Hunter.
Carroo, when healthy, is a dynamic receiver in a similar vein to Golden Tate. His routes, his hands, his ability to create after the catch are all quite impressive. He will be a second-round pick, just like Tate. But the Lions cannot afford yet another roll of the dice at wideout, as attractive as Carroo might be.
Next: Jaylon Smith