FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2013, file photo, Miami defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad (98), right, chases Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston (5) in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears, File)

Phil Sears

Al-Quadin Muhammad nearly squandered his NFL opportunity. 

Muhammad's career at Miami was pockmarked by a year-long suspension in 2014 for fighting a former student and roommate, breaking his nose, and eventually was dismissed before the 2016 season for receiving illicit benefits from a rental-car company.

The New Orleans Saints used a sixth-round pick on Muhammad on Saturday, betting that the talented defensive end has put his mistakes in the past and is finally ready to take advantage of his potential.

"I put them in the past," Muhammad said. "Quite honestly, I haven't been focused on that, because I've moved forward. I learned a lot from it, and I learned not to make those same mistakes twice, not to make those same mistakes again." 

Muhammad leaned on the coaching staffs put together under Al Golden and Mark Richt to repair the damage he wrought on himself, motivated by his 5-year-old son, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Jr.

"I also thought about my son a lot," Muhammad said. "He depends on me, he looks up to me."

But the man who dismissed him for his role in the rental car infraction is also the man he can thank for convincing the Saints to take him. Miami coach Mark Richt has a long history of vouching for players he believes deserves a second chance, even if he had to kick him out of the program.

"Mark Richt played a major part in this (process)," Muhammad said. "After the situation that happened at the University of Miami, he didn't look at me any different, he welcomed me with open arms."

Richt convinced the Saints to look past Muhammad's infractions and focus on the football skill. When he was available in 2015, the 6-foot-3, 253-pound Muhammad made 54 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. New Orleans likes Muhammad's potential as a pressure player, and the Hurricanes staff eased some of the concerns about his character after the dismissal forced Muhammad to sit out the entire 2016 season. 

"When you talk to those people at the school, they had a strong opinion about him in regards to football makeup," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Certainly, he made some mistakes, but they were ones that we were very comfortable with. ... We sat for a good round and a half waiting on this selection."

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.