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Bills take a chance on Rogers

Da’Rick Rogers didn’t get drafted.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t good enough to be an NFL receiver. Rogers can play.

Character issues are the concern.

The Buffalo Bills are taking a low-risk, high-reward chance with Rogers. They reached terms with the former Tennessee receiver on a free-agent contract shortly after the draft concluded Saturday night.

The News also has confirmed Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel, Eastern Washington receiver Brandon Kaufman, Howard linebacker Keith Pough and Southern California cornerback Nickell Robey will be among the Bills’ initial crop of undrafted rookies.

Rogers, though, is the headliner. He might be the NFL’s most significant undrafted rookie this year.

Scouts agree Rogers has game-breaking talent, but he failed multiple drug tests at Tennessee and was suspended indefinitely in August. Rogers transferred to Division I-AA Tennessee Tech for his junior season and entered the draft a year early.

Many analysts figured he would be drafted Friday night, when the second and third rounds were conducted, but every team passed. After 254 draft picks, Rogers’ name wasn’t called.

“It’s frustrating, but I did it to myself,” Rogers said of his draft stock two months ago at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. “And I realize how hard I have to work now that I’m behind the 8-ball. It’s going to make me work that much harder.”

If Rogers can’t hack it, then the Bills can cut him without having invested a draft pick.

If he pans out, then the Bills will have added a gem to a receiving corps undergoing renovations.

Top target Stevie Johnson is back, but the Bills declined to renew contracts for David Nelson and Donald Jones. The Bills used a second-round draft choice on Southern Cal receiver Robert Woods (a likely opening-day starter), and a third-round pick on Texas receiver Marquise Goodwin.

Rogers, from Atlanta, was a blue-chip recruit at Calhoun High. He was a Parade All-American in 2009, when he caught 88 passes for a state-record 1,641 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Rogers made an impact at Tennessee. He was an All-Southeastern Conference selection as a sophomore, catching a conference-high 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns.

But he didn’t play another down for the Vols. Rogers failed repeated drug tests.

Last year for Tennessee Tech, he made 61 receptions for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Rogers has admitted to testing positive for marijuana three times at Tennessee. He claimed he hasn’t touched marijuana since his transfer and passed 10 tests at Tennessee Tech.

“It’s simple: Immaturity,” Rogers said at the combine. “I had to take full responsibility, look in the mirror at who I was and what I was doing wrong. I did those things when I went to Tennessee Tech, and it humbled me a lot.

“I was working on those things, and I’m still working on those things. It’s a work in progress.”

The NFL, however, has a history of drafting works in progress. The league is rife with players who’ve failed drug tests in college.

The Bills drafted a pair of players – Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso in the second round and Nevada safety Duke Williams in the fourth round – who were arrested and suspended multiple times in college because of alcohol problems.

Rogers fared well at the combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds, recorded a 39.5-inch vertical jump (third among all receivers) and made a 132-inch broad jump (tied for second with Olympic long jumper and new teammate Goodwin).

Two of Rogers’ former Tennessee receiver mates were drafted. The Minnesota Vikings took Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round. The Tennessee Titans selected Justin Hunter in the second round.

A few days before the draft, Bills scout Tom Roth said Rogers was “the most polished of those three Tennessee receivers, in my opinion, in terms of route running and all that.” Roth compared the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Rogers to former Bills star Eric Moulds.

“He’s got all the physical stuff,” Roth said of Rogers.

That a player as talented as Rogers would slide completely out of the draft raises suspicions there’s more to his story we don’t know.

“I’m trying to become the kind of person you want to have on your team,” Rogers said at the combine when asked about meeting with team executives. “I know they want to see if I’ve changed, if I’ve matured, and those are the kinds of things I’ve been working on since I left Tennessee.

“It was a real humbling experience for me. I guess God does His work and everything happens for a reason.”