Character counts at NFL draft time

Discussion in 'Draft Zone' started by Arch Stanton, Apr 27, 2006.

  1. Arch Stanton

    Arch Stanton it was the grave marked unknown right beside

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    Character counts at NFL draft time

    By MARK CRAIG, The Star Tribune
    Thursday, April 27th, 2006 09:49 AM (PDT)

    (SH) - Knowing when or if to pull the trigger, so to speak, on a noted troublemaker is an unfortunate part of every NFL team's draft preparation. This year is no different as teams weigh the pros and cons of players who are heading for the NFL with excess baggage.
    Sometimes, the reward validates the risk. Think Randy Moss with the 21st pick in 1998. Or Warren Sapp with the 12th pick in 1995. Both slipped out of the top five because of off-the-field issues, but became potential Hall of Famers.

    Sometimes, the risk has little or no reward. Think Lawrence Phillips with the sixth pick in 1996. Or Maurice Clarett in the third round last year. Phillips accumulated a bouquet of red flags at Nebraska, continued his law-breaking ways as a St. Louis Ram and was unceremoniously dumped. Clarett was a shocking first-day selection who didn't even make Denver's opening day roster, and now he faces more legal problems.

    "There is no clear-cut answer when to steer away from a guy who has had problems off the field," New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "It's an individual, case-by-case situation. You can't generalize it."

    The league office provides criminal background checks on prospects. Some teams snoop on their own as well. But there are limits to accessing information because of privacy laws.

    "Sometimes, the background checks are very helpful," Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson said. "And sometimes there are holes in them."

    So teams gamble. Or maybe they don't. After all, high-risk characters aren't exactly in vogue these days.

    The New England Patriots, for example, have won three of the past five Super Bowls with a philosophy that stresses character and unselfishness. The Pittsburgh Steelers won it all last season with similar ideals.

    Other teams, such as the Minnesota Vikings, are trying to overhaul images tarnished by embarrassing off-the-field incidents. So they try to distance themselves from troublemakers.

    "Character will be as important as anything we look at as we evaluate players," Vikings vice president of player personnel Fran Foley said at the NFL scouting combine in February. "(Owner Zygi Wilf) has made that a priority for this organization."

    Identifying another person's character can be subjective. So teams wrestle with what constitutes crossing the line, particularly given the age of the players.

    "These kids are still maturing as people," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "I've watched players we've had mature tremendously in a short time, and then sometimes it takes players three or four years. These are still young men. You can't ever lose sight of that."

    Winston Justice, A.J. Nicholson and Marcus Vick are three players with excess baggage that probably will be affected differently during this weekend's draft.

    Justice, an offensive tackle from USC, is likely to be selected in the first round. Nicholson, a linebacker from Florida State, is projected by many as a third- or fourth-round pick. And Vick, the Virginia Tech quarterback and younger brother of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, might not be drafted at all.

    Justice was kicked out of school and missed the entire 2004 season because he pulled a toy gun on a fellow student.

    "Me and some friends were playing a game," Justice said at the combine. "We thought we knew the person in the car that we pulled the toy gun on. That wasn't them."

    Justice laughed.

    "That's it?" a reporter asked.

    "That's the story," Justice said. "It's something that I'm always going to regret doing. I'm always going to be sorry about it. And I'm always going to be kicking myself for it. But it's in the past. Now I'm trying to live day by day to show people that I am a good character guy."

    Nicholson is having a harder time with that. He was arrested on two alcohol-related incidents, including a drunken driving charge, and was sent home early the week of the Orange Bowl after being accused of sexual assault at the team hotel.

    "It hurt me in the draft, because it kind of damaged my character and put me in a light that I don't want to be put in," Nicholson said. "Teams know I'm a good player. People that know me or get to know me know I'm a good person with character."

    Vick's behavior on and off the field was so poor, Virginia Tech suspended him for a year in 2004 and kicked him out of school for good after he purposely stomped on the left calf of Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil during the Gator Bowl last season.

    Despite all the evidence - the charges and accusations of marijuana possession, reckless driving, serving alcohol to underage girls and pulling a gun on three people in a McDonald's parking lot - Vick insists he's "not the person that some people make me out to be."

    "And what type of person would that be?" a reporter asked Vick at the combine.

    "Some kind of bad guy. Like the villain," he said. "I'm not that kind of person. I wasn't raised that way. Anybody that really knows me, knows that."

    Vick lost a lot of money because of his behavior. But he will get his shot in the NFL. He's too talented not to.

    "I think Marcus Vick has had to carry a burden that the rest of the guys don't have to carry, which is a famous, very talented older brother," Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green said. "We haven't looked at him as closely, but I think that he'll probably grow up. I'm sure some team will be realistic in what role Marcus or anyone else can have when it comes to helping them."

    (Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,
  2. Hostile

    Hostile The Duke

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    That was a great read. Thanks.

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