ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - When you take a gamble, you're risking potential loss in the pursuit of potential gain, and by that definition, the Buffalo Bills' selection of Seantrel Henderson in the seventh round of the NFL Draft was anything but a gamble.
The Bills have nothing to lose if Henderson proves to be a washout as many NFL teams believe he might be, but they have so much to gain if the 6-foot-7, 331-pound mountain of a man — who once was considered a possible first-round talent — stays out of trouble and finally lives up to his capability.
"We've talked to Seantrel (pronounced shawn-TREL) and he knows that he's got one shot," Bills general manager Doug Whaley said of the supremely talented Henderson whose dark history of drug suspensions sabotaged his career at the University of Miami, and rendered him an after-thought in the draft. "We're saying we'll give you this one shot. He's been dealing with some demons. Hopefully those demons are out of his life and why not give somebody — this is America — give somebody a chance."
Henderson and the rest of the newest Bills draftees and free agents completed Buffalo's three-day rookie mini-camp on Monday inside the fieldhouse at One Bills Drive. And Henderson, who possesses a humble confidence, was pleased with his showing in the mundane and generic drills.
"It went good," he said. "New place, new start, new people, new beginning. Just been trying to learn everything and it's been going good, working hard, studying the playbook and meeting extra with the older guys."
What he's most pleased about, though, is that he was in an NFL camp, period, because he knew his market value was the equivalent of a penny stock during the three-day draft.
"It was real difficult for me, just the fact that knowing in my heart I could have been picked earlier," said Henderson, who went No. 237 overall. "Waiting and getting phone calls and they weren't from coaches or owners, your heart keeps dropping every time because it's not, and then it turns into more disappointment. That's how I felt on Saturday, but when I got that phone call (from Whaley) it was a big relief knowing that I had another opportunity and I was going to be able to play football again. That meant the most to me."
Henderson was the definition of a stud in high school at Cretin-Derham in St. Paul, Minn. He was one of the most sought-after recruits in the country (some services had him No. 1) after leading his team to a state championship and being named USA Today's offensive player of the year in 2009, the first lineman so honored in the 28-year history of the award.
He originally signed a letter of intent with USC, then asked for a release when the Trojans were placed on probation following the Reggie Bush NCAA investigation, and he chose Miami where he spent a blustery four years. He started 26 of 43 games, was dominant at times, average at others, but most notably, he served three separate suspensions due to habitual use of marijuana.
He was invited to participate in the 2014 Senior Bowl, and he talked openly about his transgressions, vowing to overcome them. "I'm just being honest with every team and letting them know exactly what the situations were, and that I'm putting all the negative things behind me moving on to the next level," Henderson said.
But then he went to the NFL scouting combine in February and tested positive for marijuana, and for almost every team, that was the final straw, though not the Bills.
"I know what I saw is a good football player who has had problems and I did a lot of research," coach Doug Marrone said. "I knew exactly what we were getting. From a physical ability standpoint he's off the charts, it's just a matter of the structure and the discipline and doing all the right things consistently to show that he can play."
Marrone, Whaley and the rest of the personnel department performed deep background checks on Henderson, and while Marrone is always wary of the word "potential" he had to admit that Henderson had it, and it was worth taking a shot.
"I know a lot of people down there (in Miami), a lot of those guys down there I've worked with, and I even went further on the outside, we all did," Marrone said. "I found that, hey, he recognizes the problem that he has, and he recognizes that if it continues this is his only chance. From the standpoint of where we took him I'm not going to get too excited, or too down; I'm just going to keep coaching and as long as he's in, I'm in. The minute he wants to bail out, then we're out."
If Henderson can stay clean, he should provide competition for Erik Pears' right tackle spot along with second-round choice Cyrus Kouandjio. If not, he was a seventh-round draft choice, so no harm, no foul.
"I know this is my last chance," said Henderson, who has a daughter, Synneva, who is almost 3. "I could have not gotten a phone call and I probably would have been depressed, so I've got to take this like I won't have any more chances to ever play this game that I love to play. So this is my last chance and I'm excited."