Joe Mixon is a controversial choice by Bengals in second round of the NFL draft
Playmakers from either side of the Los Angeles college football rivalry — and either side of the line of scrimmage — learned their futures Friday on the second day of the NFL draft.
USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was taken in the second round by Pittsburgh, and UCLA cornerback Fabian Moreau was selected by Washington in the third.
Later in the third, Oakland took UCLA defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes.
But the story of the night, one sure to give the league heartburn, was the Cincinnati Bengals using the No. 48 pick on Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, regarded as untouchable by some teams after video surfaced from 2014 of him punching a woman, breaking her jaw and several bones in her face. Mixon was charged with a misdemeanor, given a deferred prison sentence, and was suspended for the 2014 season.
He returned to the team in 2015, and went on to rush for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns in the next two seasons, emerging as one of the top prospects in this class, talent-wise.
Much like the case of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, however, the controversy flared again when video was released of Mixon punching the woman. Some NFL teams said they took him off their draft boards, and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was widely criticized for not kicking Mixon out of the program for good.
Having completed the legal process in Oklahoma, Mixon settled the civil suit last week with the woman he struck, Amelia Molitor.
Enter the Bengals, who have an established track record for signing players with significant character issues, among them Tank Johnson, Vontaze Burfict, Adam “Pacman” Jones, Odell Thurman and the late Chris Henry.
Bengals owner Mike Brown has long made it clear he’s not looking for choir boys, he’s looking for football players. But the controversy surrounding Mixon could escalate the scrutiny to a new level. Coach Marvin Lewis defended the selection Friday to reporters.
“We’ve done such a lot of work regarding Joe Mixon, throughout the entire process this year and based on all the time, all the research, we felt that we can continue to move forward,” Lewis said. “Joe’s situation kind of came to a settlement in all ways this week, which also led us to feel better about the opportunity here to move forward. We have done all our due diligence we could do, time spent, interviewing people, everybody around him, everybody around his background, people that have coached at Oklahoma with insight regarding him and how he has carried himself since that day.”
Elsewhere in the AFC North, the Steelers didn’t have to defend the drafting of the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Smith-Schuster. He had 213 catches for 3,092 yards and 25 touchdowns in his career, finishing fourth on school’s all-time list for catches.
“Really kind of a do-it-all guy; can play inside, outside,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley told reporters. “If you had to say what he excels at, I’d say his ability to catch the ball in combative situations, 50/50 balls as we call them, he usually comes down with them.”
The night started Friday with a flurry of deal-making. The first five picks of the second round came by way of trades. Washington cornerback Kevin King was the opening selection of the night, taken by Green Bay. Two more Huskies defensive backs quickly followed, with safety Budda Baker going to Arizona with the fourth pick of the second round (No. 36 overall) and cornerback Sidney Jones going to Philadelphia at No. 43.
Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, taken 52nd by Cleveland, was the first quarterback selected on the second day, and will be heading home, as he grew up in Toledo, Ohio.
The Chargers, looking to beef up protection of quarterback Philip Rivers, took a pair of guards: Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp in the second round, and Indiana’s Dan Feeney in the third.
As for the UCLA players, Vanderdoes has traveled the long road back from an injury, and Moreau is walking that path now.
Vanderdoes missed most of the 2015 season with an ACL tear in his knee, and wasn’t at his best last season. He has trimmed down in recent months, however, and recently said he feels better than ever. He joins a Raiders team in need of an interior pass rush. Oakland ranked last in the league with 25 sacks last season.
Moreau probably would have been selected earlier, perhaps even in the first round, had he not suffered a torn pectoral muscle while bench pressing at UCLA’s pro day last month. He underwent surgery and won’t be back to full speed until August at the earliest.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer