Missouri defensive lineman Shane Ray was projected to be a top-10 draft pick, but an admission of marijuana use could change that. (Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

One of the many subplots for the NFL draft, which starts with Thursday’s first round, is where a pair of highly regarded defensive prospects, Shane Ray and Randy Gregory, will go. Both players are prized for their abilities to get to opposing quarterbacks, but both have also admitted to marijuana use, in Ray’s case just days before the draft.

Now NFL teams must weigh their evaluations of the players’ abilities against their concerns about character issues and possible future suspensions. For some teams, decisions on Ray and/or Gregory, who failed a drug test at the NFL draft combine in February, will come down to how they feel about usage of the drug in question, marijuana.

One unidentified general manager gave some insight into his team’s thinking, as reported Wednesday by Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman:

Those comments indicates that perhaps the transgressions of Ray and Gregory won’t count too heavily against them, as league insiders understand that many players use marijuana. In fact, the GM’s “30 to 40 percent” estimate may be low — former defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley, whose 10-year career ended in 2006, told the Associated Press last year that half the players in the NFL use marijuana, at least occasionally.

In that report, Wiley noted that the use of pot was often for medicinal reasons, to help cope with the game’s physical and mental toll. “They are leaning on it to cope with the pain,” Wiley told the AP. “They are leaning on it to cope with the anxiety of the game.”

In 2012, former offensive lineman Lomas Brown also estimated that 50 percent of NFL players use marijuana. “I just don’t think you’ll be able to curb this,” Brown told the Detroit News.

Wiley’s viewpoint was corroborated by another former defensive lineman, Marvin Washington, who had this to say to the AP:

“It’s not, let’s go smoke a joint. It’s, what if you could take something that helps you heal faster from a concussion, that prevents your equilibrium from being off for two weeks and your eyesight for being off for four weeks?”

Of course, in the cases of Ray and Gregory, we’re not talking about players who have been trying to cope with the NFL grind, but players trying to get into the league, and that puts their usage in a different light. College football can certainly inflict its own punishment, but NFL evaluators have reason to question the pair’s decision-making abilities, given the millions of dollars they potentially cost themselves by not staying away from a substance they should know is banned by their soon-to-be employer.

Speaking of that ban, the GM cited by Freeman offered an interesting opinion on that, as well:

That scenario makes sense in many ways. For one thing, it’s conceivable that, in five years’ time, marijuana will be legal in many more states than the current four (plus D.C.). The NFL is not required to to test for pot, and if it feels that public attitudes have changed enough, it may not fear a backlash if it drops that provision.

For another thing, the league already essentially allows marijuana use during the season. It only conducts one test, and that comes somewhere between April 20 and Aug. 9, except in the cases of previous offenders. If and when more medical evidence emerges that pot smoking can be beneficial for brain injuries, in particular, the league may decide that testing for it at any point is not in its best interests.

For the time being, though, the league does test for marijuana, even at its pre-draft combine, a fact of which Gregory was made painfully aware. Thus, he and Ray could be sweating it out on Thursday, and possibly even into Friday and Saturday, wondering which team is least offended by what they did.