MOBILE, Ala. -- Josh Shaw is a 6-foot, 198-pound cornerback. He can run with fast receivers and fight physical ones. He also played safety at USC and appears capable of playing every position in an NFL secondary. And he’s intelligent. For example, here is his explanation for why pro teams have begun to covet larger cornerbacks. “The receivers are bigger,” Shaw said. “So from a matchup standpoint, it behooves organizations to have bigger corners.”
Shaw seemingly has everything an organization would want. So, why isn’t he near the top of 32 draft boards? Because he lied to everyone at least once, and every team in the NFL knows it.
NFL teams are willing to forgive a lot of misdeeds when drafting or signing players. The occasional fractured law has not stopped teams from drafting prospects who executives feel can catch, tackle or throw at a high level. But what if a player told a whopper so big that he had the entire country thinking he was a hero before everyone realized he was a liar? Could a general manager or coach ever trust that player? How big a risk would team officials consider that player -- who has a clean legal record and otherwise clean behavioral record? Will teams consider actual crimes more forgivable than a blatant lie? These are fascinating psychological questions, and we’ll get some answers when we learn where Shaw gets drafted.
Shaw has told the story more times in the past two weeks than he can count. Not that story, but the one he says is the real story. At the East-West Shrine Bowl last week and the Senior Bowl this week, scouts, coaches and team execs have peppered Shaw with questions. Why would Shaw jump off a balcony in Los Angeles, sprain both ankles and then concoct a story about saving his nephew from drowning in a pool 60 miles away in his hometown of Palmdale? Why would he allow USC to disseminate the lie, to hold him up as a hero, when he knew his story was bogus? Why would he rope family members into defending the lie, knowing they would be called liars as well when the truth emerged?
Shaw tried to answer those questions in a November interview with the Los Angeles Times. He said he had a loud argument with Angela Chilton, his girlfriend of almost eight years, on Aug. 23. A neighbor called the police, and Shaw said he jumped from the balcony to avoid the cops. Then, to explain his injuries to his coaches, he invented the story of the drowning nephew.
Shaw knows how stupid this all sounds. He has known it since August, and he had to think about it every day that he sat out between the exposure of the lie and his reinstatement to the Trojans on Nov. 19. He was supposed to be a team captain. Instead, he was only a bit player, logging time in the season’s final three games. “Usually, coaches want to go back and see your last season on film,” Shaw said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have many games in my 2014 season.” He’ll probably have to explain why regularly from now until the draft in May. “I realize where each of my mistakes were,” Shaw said on Wednesday. “I think that’s important to [NFL teams], that I know where I messed up and what I could have done different. It’s important to be transparent with them.”
Shaw quickly realized that NFL teams had done their homework. People had been sent to Los Angeles and Palmdale to ask questions, and Shaw knows that if his account doesn’t correspond to what the investigators found, he would dig an even deeper hole. “Every question they ask me, they already know the answer to,” Shaw said. “It’s important for me to just be honest with them.”
Shaw has offered no excuses for the lie. “I don’t point fingers,” he said. “Everything that happened in the past is solely because of me.” He hopes owning the situation will help convince an NFL team that he can move forward without further drama. That’s why he doesn’t get frustrated with the questions. He knows his answers will help shape his career path. “They want to look me in the eye and have me look them in the eye and tell the truth,” Shaw said.
Had Shaw left USC after the 2013 season, as he considered doing, he probably would have been a higher-rated prospect. He had nothing to explain then. His college coaches would have given him glowing references. Still, Shaw doesn’t regret returning to USC. “I promised my family I’d get my degree, and I did that [in December],” Shaw said. “So no second thoughts.”
The team that trusts Shaw enough to invest in him will get an intriguing player. His experience at safety makes him versatile, and his physicality should help against bigger receivers. He has worked this week on playing a yard or two off the line of scrimmage in press coverage instead of lining up in a receiver’s face as he did in college. Shaw admits his aggressiveness in press coverage has gotten him beaten on occasion, and welcomes the opportunity to learn a new style that lessens the risk of a receiver blowing by him if Shaw overextends himself trying to gain control.
Shaw will work on that while also trying to regain control of his own life story. He knows his lie will force teams to carefully examine every word he says between now and the draft. But he believes he’ll stand up to the scrutiny and emerge stronger. “I take full accountability for what happened,” he said. “I learned from what happened. I would never embarrass my family, myself or any organization ever again.”