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Hernandez has history of drug use

Patriots' 4th-rounder failed marijuana tests

The Patriots chose Aaron Hernandez in the fourth round of the draft. The Patriots chose Aaron Hernandez in the fourth round of the draft. (Associated Press)
By Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / April 27, 2010

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Aaron Hernandez, whom the Patriots chose in the fourth round of the NFL draft Saturday, had earned the reputation as perhaps the most dangerous pass-catching tight end prospect.

He had also earned the reputation as a risky selection.

According to sources with three NFL teams, the Florida product’s precipitous fall was because of multiple failed drug tests for marijuana as a collegian.

Hernandez was open about his marijuana use at the Scouting Combine in February. “He admits to it,’’ said one longtime NFL executive who interviewed him there.

“It’s good he did that,’’ said a college scouting official from one AFC team. “But it was enough to scare people so that he fell through three rounds.’’

Attempts to reach Hernandez were unsuccessful and the Patriots didn’t respond immediately to calls from the Globe.

The Florida tight end passed his drug test at the combine, according to the executive, so he won’t start his NFL career in the league’s substance-abuse program. But because of his history, he is subject to more tests.

A source close to Hernandez said to his knowledge, the tight end failed just one drug test at Florida, in February 2008, but conceded the player’s marijuana use had been a problem and was the primary reason for his fall down the draft board.

The source added that the Patriots were aware of the circumstances.

The explanation Hernandez gave to teams in February was that his drug use stemmed from the 2006 death of his father, Dennis, who died of complications following hernia surgery while Hernandez was a junior at Bristol (Conn.) Central High.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the drug problem followed him to Gainesville, where he enrolled in 2007.

“It’s not like he failed one test,’’ said the AFC college scout. “He had repeated issues with it, to the point where you worry about whether he’ll be able to lay off the stuff at our level. To be honest, he’s super talented and, even with the issues, I’m surprised he fell as far he did.

“Depending on who you talk to, some people thought he was a late first- or early second-round prospect. Eventually, the risk was overcome by the value.’’

An SI.com report in March had many in the league concerned about the high level of marijuana use among prospects.

One unnamed NFL coach estimated that “one-third’’ of players on his draft board had some sort of history with marijuana use that required “an extra level of evaluation’’ as part of the scouting process.

“These kids, they don’t get it,’’ an AFC personnel director told the Globe. “[Hernandez] cost himself a lot of money.’’

Hernandez played extensively as a true freshman at Florida and, after an injury to now-Eagles tight end Cornelius Ingram, moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore. The tight end broke out as a junior, with 68 catches for 850 yards and five touchdowns, prompting a decision to declare early for the draft.

He posted those numbers despite sitting out the Nov. 21 game against Florida International.

Coach Urban Meyer told the media at the time that Hernandez “wasn’t ready to play’’, although it wasn’t clear why.

Meyer shares a close relationship with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, so it’s likely the Florida coach helped allay any New England fears.

“He’s not a tight end, he’s a big receiver, but he’s talented — he can run and catch, a damn good athlete,’’ the longtime executive said.

“He had multiple positive tests, so he either had issues or he’s dumb. One or two tests? Fine. But four, five, six? Come on, now you’ve got an addiction. He’s not a bad kid. He just has an issue.’’

Despite all of this, each NFL source the Globe spoke with lauded the Patriots for getting Hernandez with the 113th pick.

“That’s tremendous value for a guy that could’ve been a late first- or second-round pick,’’ said the AFC college scouting official. “You can cut a fourth-round pick. You’ve got a good player there, and that’s a bonus.’’

“It comes down to when the risk outweighs the reward,’’ said the AFC personnel director.

“With the financial implications, and how there’s more guaranteed money now, you have to weigh everything. And with your first-, second-, third- and fourth-round players, you’re hoping for starters. So when is it worth taking the risk? The league’s not kidding around with this stuff.’’

On Saturday, Belichick said he was happy to snap up Hernandez to complement free agent addition Alge Crumpler and second-round pick Rob Gronkowski at the position.

“He was a player that we, quite frankly, were surprised to have the opportunity to draft him in the fourth round,’’ Belichick said. “But I’m glad we did. I think he’s got a good opportunity to help us at that position. I think, with Alge, Rob, and Aaron, we have three players that give us good competition at that position.

“Hopefully, they will complement each other.’’

Albert R. Breer can be reached at abreer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at abreer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer.

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