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Green-Beckham brings troubled past to draft process at the worst time

INDIANAPOLIS -- Nothing about this makes sense.

The player is announced as a Missouri wide receiver, but he didn’t play at Missouri last season. He didn’t play anywhere, but he was on Oklahoma’s roster, ineligible to play after transferring last summer. So it is: Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, even though Missouri would probably prefer to have nothing to do with a player kicked off its team 10 months ago.

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The player is humongous. He’s just measured 6'5" at the NFL combine, and at 237 pounds, he’s put on about 12 since he last played for the Tigers in 2013. He’s Calvin Johnson-sized, which is to say, he looks like the kind of receiver all 32 teams should be scrambling to draft.

But only a few people are talking about those measurements. In his 10-minute media session Thursday, Green-Beckham fields a question about his weight, an inquiry into how he uses his size to his advantage, but other than that, the mental trumps the physical in Indianapolis. His size? His speed? His on-field strengths? None of that seems to matter.

It makes more sense when you consider who Green-Beckham is and what he’s been through over the past year—over the past four years, really. The wide receiver was the nation's No. 1 high school recruit in 2012 when he committed to his in-state school, Missouri. At that point, he was the prized recruit with a tragic backstory—in and out of foster care, adopted by his high school coach, a little brother battling leukemia—but a clear path to the NFL in front of him.

Two years later, he was gone. After multiple drug-related arrests and failed drug tests, Green-Beckham finally reached the limit of what Missouri coach Gary Pinkel would tolerate when he was accused of forcibly entering his girlfriend’s apartment and pushing a woman down a flight of stairs. Pinkel greased the way for a transfer to Oklahoma, but the NCAA waiver that Green-Beckham hoped for never came down, and he never played a down for the Sooners.

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Which explains the "Missouri" tag, sort of, along with why this monster of a receiver’s combine media session is an onslaught of prove-it questions. It makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense, though, is why he’s here, now, on this platform, speaking to the media for the first time in a year. He’s allowed to be by NFL rules, of course, and if he had this body and a different past, well, no one would blink. But he doesn’t, and he’s here, and he doesn’t even really have a good reason why.

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The 2014 NFL season was the Year of the Scandal, and most of those scandals concerned crimes that fall under the same umbrella as the allegations that sealed Green-Beckham's fate at Missouri: domestic violence. The season kicked off with explosive revelations in the Ray Rice case, and barely a week after the Super Bowl, it wrapped up with the news that charges against Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy had been dropped because the victim of his alleged abuse had disappeared. Cringe. In the days before the combine kicked off in Indianapolis, representatives from all 32 teams spent nearly an entire day in meetings that focused on anti-violence initiatives, and the league's record on domestic violence will continue to be a talking point until the NFL shows it’s made tangible changes.

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And here’s a man who could go back to college, get a few more highlights on tape and wait for this cloud to pass farther into the distance. But instead he’s in Indianapolis, preparing for the draft, fielding questions from teams who are almost certainly leery of the potential p.r. nightmare he could become.

So, why? Green-Beckham’s answer is vague. "Personal-wise, I just felt like it was the best decision for me and my family,” he says. “I just felt like I had a lot of things going on for me in my life that I’ve overcome."

But asked if staying at Oklahoma for a season would have helped his draft stock, the receiver gives his clearest answer of the day: "One more year could have prepared me, could have boosted my draft stock a lot higher."

O.K. Then why didn’t you stay?

It’s hard to make sense of any of this. Green-Beckham was flustered at times, tripping over his words, but he was also repentant. "All the decisions I made, I wish I could take them back," he said. "It happened. I was young. I made mistakes. I understand that."

"I know what’s at stake," he continued. "I know what type of person I am, and I realize what the NFL is looking for in me as a person. I want them to know that I’m going to go out there and give it my all."

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The problem is this: Green-Beckham has yet to provide any evidence he’s changed, that he’s grown up. An issue-free year on the field and in the spotlight at Oklahoma would have been evidence. A stellar combine performance will only affirm what we all know: that Green-Beckham is an elite talent with a chance to put together a memorable career and a track record that says he won’t. Former Missouri teammate Mitch Morse says he thinks the receiver will be fine, that he’s "paid the toll." But he qualified it: "I’m not going to be a fortune teller."

Green-Beckham will be drafted. High. Without his transgressions, he could be a top-5 pick. With his history ... well, that’s where this gets interesting. After the NFL’s nightmare season, the receiver is one of the league’s test cases in the new landscape of heightened sensitivity to domestic violence crimes and other red flags. How much do teams value the p.r. nightmare that a player like Green-Beckham might be? How much do his physical skills render the past irrelevant? And how successful will his future team be at making sure he matures and stays on the right track? Are his chances better than they would have been a year ago?

In the end, the combine will be a useless exercise for Green-Beckham. There’s no way to prove to a team that he’s truly changed, and every measurement and workout will only serve as a nod to his talent. The real test comes later, once the spotlight dissipates, once Green-Beckham’s every word and action is no longer coached and rehearsed. Maybe he’ll be picked early and have a standout rookie season. Maybe then we can look back and say this all makes sense.