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For three draft picks, Eagles looked beyond the red flags

PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Eagles selected several players whose draft status was affected by questions about their character. That’s because the team became comfortable with the answers to those questions.

“These guys are college kids and things happen,” Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. “We were comfortable enough with the circumstances that were described to give (them) a second chance here.”

In the fifth round, the Eagles drafted West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood, who was arrested two years ago for intimidating a witness in a murder investigation. No charges were ever filed. More recently, Smallwood’s Twitter account became the focus of post-draft attention because of several inflammatory and immature tweets. Smallwood deleted the account Saturday afternoon.

In the seventh round, the Eagles drafted LSU cornerback Jalen Mills, who had a much higher grade on him from several teams. Mills might have dropped because of an arrest for battery. The charges in that case were dropped.

Later in the seventh round, the Eagles selected Florida defensive end Alex McCalister, who left the team in December under mysterious circumstances.

The Eagles have long avoided drafting players with red flags on their resumes. Roseman said the team drafted these players for two reasons: First, the Eagles were satisfied with the players’ explanations for the events and second, they felt it was worth taking whatever risk there was in the late rounds.

If the players dropped because of the off-the-field concerns, the Eagles could wind up getting better players with late-round picks.

“We didn’t have as many picks earlier in the draft,” Roseman said. “We felt like, later in the draft, taking shots on guys on guys in the seventh round was a priority for us.”

As for the players, their mistakes wound up costing them draft position and the money that comes with it.

“There’s no question that players are going to have to look at their actions to see why they didn’t go where they felt like they should have in the draft,” Roseman said. “It’s very clear that teams are looking at that.

“If you make questionable decisions in your life, it’s affecting you going forward. It’s costing these guys a lot of money. What we hope is that they’re good people and they just made mistakes, like we all do.”

Smallwood admitted that he fell in with a bad crowd back at home in Wilmington, Delaware. One of his friends was accused of murder. Police brought Smallwood in and said he threatened a witness. The friend later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

“I was young, hanging out with the wrong people,” Smallwood said. “I wasn’t involved with whatever happened. There was no evidence, no witness against me. I just learned from the situation and tried to move forward and be a better man.”

The Eagles were aware of Smallwood’s Twitter account before drafting him.

“As part of our research on all our draft picks, we look at social media,” Roseman said. “We are aware of the statements that he made. They were in 2011. A lot has changed between now and then.

“We don’t condone anything he said. We spent a lot of time with him. We feel that this is a good kid.”

Smallwood said he had forgotten about some of the tweets and didn’t expect them to resurface after he was drafted.

“I’m sorry about it if I offended anybody,” Smallwood said. “That’s not how I feel. That’s not the kind of person I am. Hopefully, I can show that. I was embarrassed about how it blew up. I ended up taking it down. I don’t think I’m going to be on it again.”

The Eagles talked to Mills at the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine.

“When we talked to him, he gave us his version of the events,” Roseman said. “We investigated it like we do everything. He’s got to prove himself as he gets here. We were satisfied with the investigation that was done there in Baton Rouge and with the university. We think we know what kind of kid this is.”

Some reports said that McCalister was dismissed from the Florida team late in the season. At the very least, it appears he decided to leave the team after deciding to enter the draft after his junior season.

“Without getting into specifics,” Roseman said, “it was a different circumstance than the other ones. It wasn’t legal. He’s a kid who needed to grow up a little bit. But he’s not a bad person, not a bad kid.”

Ultimately, that’s the tipping point. The Eagles did their research and came away feeling that each of these three draft picks were worth whatever risk there might be.

“We don’t feel like we brought bad people in here,” Roseman said.