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Da'Rick Rogers will control whether he's a player or a flop

By Tim Graham

Two months ago at the NFL scouting combine, Da'Rick Rogers said he didn't care when he got drafted.

The former Tennessee receiver knew his pockmarked past would damage his draft stock.

"It's no big deal to me," Rogers said in Indianapolis. "Just getting my foot in the door is a blessing. All I can do is go in and work hard and get my opportunity."

Rogers didn't get drafted, but he quickly agreed to a free-agent deal with the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night, a team source confirmed.

The Bills are taking a low-risk, high-reward chance with Rogers. He can play. The problem is poor off-field judgement that raised red flags.

The Buffalo News also has confirmed Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel, Eastern Washington receiver Brandon Kaufman, Howard linebacker Keith Pough and USC cornerback Nickell Robey will be among the Bills' initial crop of undrafted rookies.

Rogers, though, is the headliner. He might be the NFL's most significant undrafted rookie of 2013.

Scouts agree Rogers has game-breaking talent, but he failed multiple drug tests at Tennessee and was suspended indefinitely in August. Rogers transferred to Division I-AA Tennessee Tech for his junior season and entered the draft a year early.

Many analysts figured he would be drafted Friday night, when the second and third rounds were conducted, but every team passed. After 254 draft picks, Rogers' name wasn't called.

"It's frustrating, but I did it to myself," Rogers said at the combine. "And I realize how hard I have to work now that I'm behind the 8-ball. It's going to make me work that much harder."

If Rogers can't hack it, then the Bills can cut him without having invested.

If he pans out, then the Bills will have added a gem to a receiving corps undergoing renovations.

Top target Stevie Johnson is back, but the Bills declined to renew contracts for David Nelson and Donald Jones. The Bills used a second-round draft choice on USC receiver Robert Woods (a likely opening-day starter), and a third-round pick on Texas receiver Marquise Goodwin.

Rogers, from Atlanta, was a blue-chip recruit at Calhoun High. He was a Parade All-American in 2009, when he caught 88 passes for a state-record 1,641 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Rogers made an impact at Tennessee. He was an All-SEC selection as a sophomore, catching a conference-high 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns.

But he didn't play another down for the Vols. Rogers failed repeated drug tests.

Rogers has admitted to testing positive for marijuana three times at Tennessee. He claimed he hasn't touched marijuana since his transfer and passed 10 tests at Tennessee Tech.

"It's simple: Immaturity," Rogers said at the combine. "I had to take full responsibility, look in the mirror at who I was and what I was doing wrong. I did those things when I went to Tennessee Tech, and it humbled me a lot.

"I was working on those things, and I'm still working on those things. It's a work in progress."

The NFL, however, has a history of drafting works in progress. The league is rife with players who've failed drug tests in college.

The Bills drafted a pair of players -- Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso in the second round and Nevada safety Duke Williams in the fourth round -- who were arrested and suspended multiple times in college because of alcohol problems.

Rogers fared well at the combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds, recorded a 39.5-inch vertical jump (third among all receivers) and made a 132-inch broad jump (tied for second with Olympic long jumper and Bills third-round pick Marquise Goodwin).

Two of Rogers' former Tennessee receiver mates were drafted. The Minnesota Vikings took Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round. The Tennessee Titans selected Justin Hunter in the second round.

A few days before the draft, Bills scout Tom Roth said Rogers was "the most polished of those three Tennessee receivers, in my opinion, in terms of route running and all that." Roth compared the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Rogers to former Bills star Eric Moulds.

"He's got all the physical stuff," Roth said of Rogers.

That a player as talented as Rogers would slide completely out of the draft raises suspicions there's more to his story we don't know.

"I'm trying to become the kind of person you want to have on your team," Rogers said at the combine when asked about meeting with team executives. "I know they want to see if I've changed, if I've matured, and those are the kinds of things I've been working on since I left Tennessee.

"It was a real humbling experience for me. I guess God does His work and everything happens for a reason."

tagged

2013 draft | Da'Rick Rogers | Marquise Goodwin | Robert Woods | Stevie Johnson
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | tgraham@buffnews.com


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | mgaughan@buffnews.com


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | jskurski@buffnews.com

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