It was the wrong year for red flags.
Victor Hampton realizes that now as he sits and waits for an NFL team to call and give him a chance to play professional football in 2014.
“I have never had a tougher situation,” Hampton told The State on Monday, two days after the NFL Draft ended without him being selected.
Other former SEC standouts – such as former teammate Kelcy Quarles, Florida defensive backs Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy and LSU defensive lineman Anthony Johnson – also went unpicked, but Hampton is the only one who has yet to find a home through a free agent contract.
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When the draft ended on Sunday evening, Hampton tweeted, “I promise I’m not a bad person.” He is wondering now if anyone believes him.
After working long and hard, emphasis perhaps on the long, to put a checkered past behind him – and mostly succeeding in his final season with the team, according to coach Steve Spurrier – Hampton found himself in the wrong kind of headlines again during the draft process.
First, he was wanted for questioning about an April assault at a New York City nightclub. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in that case, but he feels that the two weeks the issue took to be handled cost him.
“That was something I didn’t need by my name associated with even if I was innocent, I guess,” he said.
He also knows being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after an argument with his sister in April was a bad look.
“It scared some teams, I guess,” he said.
Hampton was told by the NFL’s underclassman advisory committee that he would be selected in the second or third round of the draft, and his agents at Relativity Sports were equally certain he would be drafted, he said. ESPN analyst Todd McShay graded Hampton “a fourth- or fifth-round” pick.
Instead, Hampton watched through seven rounds without a word, wondering if he made a mistake by giving up his final year of eligibility at South Carolina to enter this year’s draft.
“It was very tough,” he said. “All I could do was sit and watch those guys’ names get called.”
NFL teams have proven very forgiving of players’ transgressions in many cases, but this was the wrong year to be counting on that because of the depth of this draft, McShay said Monday. A record 89 underclassmen entered this year’s draft and 36 of them went undrafted.
“I think really it all comes down to this: When you’re 5-foot-9 and you run a 4.69 (40-yard dash) and you’ve got some intangible issues with the academic issues and the suspensions and so on and so forth, it adds up,” McShay said. “Teams this year, especially when there was so much depth in this draft class, teams just weren’t willing to use draft picks on players if they had enough issues in terms of measurables or intangibles. Those are kind of the red flags. I just think there were enough red flags there that he ended up falling.”
Hampton’s 40-yard-dash time probably was his biggest on-field weakness, McShay said.
“When you don’t have size and you don’t have speed, it’s obviously a big concern,” McShay said.
Hampton attended four high schools and had a scholarship offer from the University of Florida withdrawn partially for disciplinary issues. At South Carolina, he has acknowledged, he was close to being dismissed from the team on two occasions. In 2011, he was suspended for the first three games for a violation of team rules, and he did not start against Georgia or Wisconsin last season for separate violations of team rules.
“I just have to stay positive and continue to work and continue to pray about the situation,” he said.
Despite his missteps, Hampton started 22 games in his final two seasons at South Carolina and had 91 tackles, 13 pass breakups and four interceptions in that time.
“It’s a huge mountain that he has to climb, but he has enough talent and enough play-making ability that he can do it and he can contribute in the league,” McShay said.
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper believes Hampton will get a chance as a free agent. Hampton and Marcus Roberson were Kiper’s two highest-rated cornerbacks who did not get drafted, Kiper said.
“I am definitely confident,” Hampton said. “I didn’t get to this point for no reason.”