EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Based purely on his skills and production, you could make an argument that Iowa defensive tackle Christian Ballard had second-round value in the NFL draft. Scouts Inc., for example, ranked him as the eighth-best defensive tackle in a deep draft class and predicted he would be selected no later than the third round.
Ballard, however, was available Saturday when the Minnesota Vikings made the ninth pick of the fourth round (No. 106 overall). The most likely reason: A recent FoxSports.com report that he tested positive for marijuana at the February scouting combine.
Asked during a conference call if the report was accurate, Ballard paused for several moments before saying: "That's confidential. I'm just not willing to speak on that right now."
Ballard did admit to making "mistakes in the past." He added: "I'm only looking to the future. I'm a Viking now. Whatever happened in the past is behind me, and the only thing that's on my mind is making the Vikings a Super Bowl team."
Obviously Ballard has his reasons for not confirming the report. But I can't think of a reason to clam up if it was wrong. After all, it wouldn't be the first time the Vikings have drafted a player who reportedly failed a combine drug test; the same thing happened with receiver Percy Harvin in 2009.
I've always felt the most important red flag about a failed test at the combine is that the test is previously scheduled. Let's be realistic: Halting recreational drug use is just as important to combine preparation as is speed and weight work. Among many penalties, a player who tests positive at the combine opens his NFL career in the league's drug program, making him one step closer to a suspension than the rest of his class.
If he can stay clean, Ballard will provide important depth at a position the Vikings are re-tooling. Nose tackle Pat Williams has said he plans to sign elsewhere when free agency begins, and Pro Bowler Kevin Williams is subject to a four-game suspension to open the season.