No judgment zone: Reuben Foster accepted by Cardinals

Reuben Foster looks like a leader (0:36)

A fiery attitude and excellent skill set are the traits that lead Mel Kiper Jr. to think that Rueben Foster, a linebacker from Alabama, will thrive in the NFL. (0:36)

BRISTOL, Conn. -- Former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster knows it doesn't matter what he says, whether it's about testing positive for diluted urine or the altercation he had with a nurse in Indianapolis at the NFL scouting combine in March, because "everybody got their own opinion."

However, there was one NFL team who made Foster feel like they weren’t judging him for the two off-field issues that might, but are unlikely to, affect his draft standing in Thursday's first round.

Foster walked away from his visit to the Arizona Cardinals about two weeks ago feeling they didn't spend the day judging him. Instead, Foster said coach Bruce Arians never mentioned the incidents with the nurse or the diluted sample.

"While they give you facts of what your mess-up is, what your mess-up did, at the end of the day, they have you feeling comfortable about your mess-up," Foster told ESPN. "They made me love them more because they accepted you for you, and no judgment. That's crazy. You are a head coach and you're a GM [Steve Keim]. Like, that's crazy. You would expect them to be like, 'You just can't be doing that.' But they're really passionate about how they teach and what wisdom they put in you."

The Cardinals' approach was unlike any other team Foster met with, he said. While he said other teams might have exuded passion or love or were family oriented, the atmosphere around Cardinals' headquarters, where the meeting took place, was a combination of them all.

Under Arians and Keim, Arizona has a history of taking players with off-field incidents in their personnel file.

In 2013, the Cards drafted safety Tyrann Mathieu despite Mathieu not playing his junior year at LSU because he was suspended for failing multiple drug tests and then was kicked off the team for getting arrested.

In 2016, the Cards drafted defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche late in the first round after he slipped down from a potential top-five pick because he was involved with an incident at an Atlanta hotel in December 2015.

Arians' own background helps him relate to players who need a second chance. He was kicked out of his high school -- York (Pennsylvania) Catholic High -- and lost all but one of his college football scholarship offers in the process. Only Virginia Tech continued to recruit him. He became a Hokie, played under coach Jimmy Sharpe and eventually began his road to the Cardinals as a graduate assistant at Tech.

If Foster is available at No. 13 in Thursday's first round of the NFL Draft, there's a chance -- a good one -- that he could end up in Arizona.

It might not be the traditional second chance, but the Cardinals would be taking their third player with character concerns in five years. But Foster said not to worry about his character, that the incident with the nurse and the diluted sample are anomalies. He doesn't know how they'll affect his draft standing Thursday but said he hopes they won't.

"If you look back at my background check, no off-the-field [incidents], no failed test, no suspensions, so that should tell you something right there," Foster said.

"I never had no off-the-field [incidents], like nothing. Nothing. You can check back to all my background [going back to before high school]. Nothing with the police, law enforcement. That's crazy because that week [at the combine] was a horrible week."

Foster said the combine felt like one thing after another barreling toward him, whether it was coping with having just undergone rotator cuff surgery a few weeks earlier, the incident with the nurse or the diluted sample.

Foster said he's been trying not to let the string of off-field incidents "overwhelm" him in the lead-up to the draft.

"That week was just so crazy," he said.

Those few days at the combine, or the part of them he was there for, have shaped the perception of him -- good, bad or ugly. Foster said he's using other people's opinion of him as motivation to prove them wrong.

"I'm not a bad person," he said. "I'm not an awful guy. My character is wonderful. I can light up the room if I'm in it.

"To know Reuben is to love Reuben."

On the field, however, Foster said he'll accept a role sitting behind veteran inside linebacker Karlos Dansby but won't let Dansby keep the job without some competition.

"I'm willing to sit and learn but I'm going to try to go in there and try to earn my position and earn my spot," Foster said. "I love football and I don't want to come in and just sit. I want to come in and play because I'm going to do anything and everything to play, and start. That's what I want to do."

Keim compared Foster to former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis.

"Just in terms of size, movement skills, how explosive he is on impact, I mean Reuben can do it all," Keim said. "He has three-down value, he has cover ability, he can match up on backs and tight ends with ease and he is as violent a hitter as I have seen in some time.

"Reuben is a fantastic player and certainly one of the better players in college football."