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Former first-round prospect La'el Collins goes undrafted

LSU's La'el Collins projected as first-rounder, but homicide investigation kept any team from picking him

The most bizarre and disturbing story of the NFL draft entered a new phase Saturday when Louisiana State tackle La'el Collins, a week ago considered a first-round prospect, went undrafted.

Collins essentially was deemed untouchable when reports surfaced that authorities in Baton Rouge, La., wanted to talk to him about the homicide of his ex-girlfriend, Brittney Mills.

Mills, who was pregnant, was shot and killed April 24. Her child survived for a week but reportedly died Friday.

Collins has not been named as a suspect, but is expected to meet Monday with police. He was among the 26 players invited by the league to attend draft festivities in Chicago. He was with those prospects the day before the opening round, but was not made available to the media.

The league subsequently denied a request by his agent to withdraw Collins from the draft and make him eligible in a later supplemental draft. League rules prohibit Collins from re-entering the draft next year, although it's possible he could sign with a team as a free agent.

Anchors aweigh

It's rare for an NFL team to draft a long snapper. Rarer still, drafting a long snapper with a military commitment.

But that's what New England did Saturday, taking Navy's Joe Cardona with the 166th pick — 33 selections earlier than the franchise took quarterback Tom Brady 15 years ago.

Cardona, the only long snapper invited to the combine, is the first Naval Academy player drafted in the past 20 years. The last was tight end Kevin Hickman, a sixth-round pick by Detroit in 1995.

Because Cardona must first be cleared by the Navy to play, he was something of a risky pick. Patriots Coach Bill Belichick has a strong Navy connection, as his father, Steve, was a coach and scout at the Academy from 1956-89.

Pay up

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, a former Oregon cornerback, had a disappointing draft — and a lucrative one.

He's in line to cash in on a $3-million insurance policy because he tumbled so far in the draft, going from a presumed first-round pick to the 241st selection, by Cleveland, in the seventh round.

According to ESPN, Ekpre-Olomu, a three-time All-Pac-12 player, took out a policy with International Specialty Insurance when he was projected to be picked around the middle of the first round. He later suffered torn knee ligaments during Oregon's preparations for the postseason. According to the report, the policy was triggered to pay a partial claim when he fell out of the first round and now is due to be paid in full.

Narrow escape

The draft was both joyous and difficult for Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, selected by Atlanta in the fifth round Saturday.

The day before, his family's home in Conyers, Ga., was severely damaged by a fire, one that started during a draft party attended by about 30-40 people. There were no reported injuries.

"It was just a really unfortunate situation," Jarrett told reporters, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "We haven't had the investigation done yet, so we don't know exactly what started it."

Jarrett, the son of former Falcons linebacker Jessie Tuggle, said the burned section of the home is "just really, really messed up" and he mostly lost trophies and other memorabilia.

"We were just watching the draft and smelt something a little funny and went to the kitchen and nothing was going on in there," he said. "Then some people came running down from upstairs. The fire had already started on the wall. It was too much for water to put out or a fire extinguisher to put out. We couldn't do [anything], but get everybody out of the house and pray for the best."

Bell ringer

San Francisco has a new weapon on the goal line. The 49ers drafted Oklahoma tight end Blake Bell with the first of three fourth-round picks. The 6-foot-6, 252-pound Bell, a former quarterback, was nicknamed "Belldozer" for his ability to muscle his way past defenders. He switched from quarterback to tight end a year ago, and caught 16 passes for 214 yards and four touchdowns last season.

Bell played quarterback for three seasons and was a dangerous weapon near the goal line. In 2012, he tied for the team lead in touchdowns with 11.

Closest of calls

Jamison Crowder was selected by Washington in the fourth round, and the Duke receiver has quite a story to tell. In 2012, he saved teammate Blair Holliday from drowning after a horrific watercraft accident. The two were riding Jet Skis and Crowder collided with Holliday.

The 6-4 Holliday floated unconscious and face down, and the 5-9 Crowder was able to drag him onto the back of his Jet Ski and, with someone else driving, hang on to his friend and get him to shore. The crash left Holliday in a coma from which he has since recovered.

A big man

Maybe it was Trent Brown's sleek physique that got him drafted.

The 6-8 Florida offensive lineman was taken in the seventh round by San Francisco. Apparently, the 49ers liked what they saw at a weigh-in at the combine.

"When I stepped on the scale, I wowed a lot of people," said Brown, who slimmed down by 30 pounds in the three weeks between the Senior Bowl in January and February.

He was down to a svelte 355.

"I didn't have the funds to really eat healthy so that was the reason my weight was so high," he told reporters Saturday. "It fluctuated. But, now that I have the funds and the means of income to eat healthy, I can maintain a healthy playing weight."

Birmingham burner

Arizona took Alabama Birmingham receiver J.J. Nelson in the fifth round, picking up the fastest player at the combine. Nelson covered 40 yards in a blistering 4.28 seconds.

Because UAB dropped its football program, Nelson is also the last player from the school to be drafted. Jake Arians, son of Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians, was a kicker at UAB and later played for Atlanta and Buffalo.

Bruce Arians first spotted Nelson at a high school state championship track meet in Alabama, while there to watch Jake's daughter, Presley, run. Jake pointed out Nelson, who had won the 100 and 200 meters, and little did anyone know all of their paths would cross again.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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