NFL Draft Prospects | Focus on Character

NFL Draft Prospects | Some Thoughts About Character

By Chris Barry,

NFL Draft Prospects Character ConcernsAs I led off a recent blog post with, June and early July are normally the only relatively quiet times on the NFL calendar.  Unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons, that’s not the case here in 2013.

The vast majority of NFL players are solid citizens, but stories about players visiting children’s hospitals don’t sell newspapers or drive ratings, so we tend to hear the negative stories more than the positive ones.

Recent events involving legal issues for several NFL players really got me thinking about individual character as it relates to what our members care about in terms of projecting a future for NFL prospects.

Obviously, the story (justifiably) getting the big headlines is the Aaron Hernandez murder case.  We’ll see how it plays out in court, but it sure looks today like the ultra-talented tight end has basically thrown his life away (not to mention Odin Lloyd’s life, and possibly others’.)

Hernandez was widely viewed as having R2 or even R1 talent coming out of Florida in 2010, but slid to the middle of R4 on character concerns.  The Patriots drafted Hernandez 113th overall with a pick they acquired from the Broncos that allowed Denver to move up from 24th overall to 22nd to draft Demaryius Thomas.

Hernandez delivered on his promise for three years, amassing 175 receptions and nearly 2,000 yards, and providing yet another challenging weapon for New England’s opponents to defend.  The team rewarded him with a big five-year contract extension in August of 2012.  Less than a year later, it appears over for him.

Alfonzo Dennard, also a Patriot, was arrested for suspicion of DUI on July 11th.  Another very talented player, the former Nebraska cornerback was also viewed as having borderline R1 talent at the time he came out in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Ourlads Guide to the NFL Draft had him as their 5th-best corner.  He was coming off a major injury, which clearly would be a factor in where he was drafted.  But, then, just prior to the draft, he was arrested outside a bar for assaulting a police officer who was trying to break up a fight.

Dennard slid all the way to the end of R7, where the Patriots snapped him up.  Like Hernandez, Dennard seemed to be a steal, playing in ten and starting six games as a rookie, providing much-needed help for the beleagured New England secondary.

Then, last week, Dennard was arrested again, this time on suspicion of DUI.  He disputes the charge, and we’ll again follow an “innocent until proven guilty” policy here.  Regardless of the outcome of this situation, he has put himself at risk of being deemed to have violated his probation from the prior conviction.  And, he has certainly jeopardized his NFL future.

But, this isn’t about the Patriots or these two players in particular.  It’s about how hard it is to detect character issues and predict their impact at draft time.  Ourlads, for example, is run by Dan Shonka, a veteran NFL scout.  There’s noone who knows more about scouting or the NFL Draft.  And their Guide didn’t mention anything about character issues for either player.  Going back over my personal notes, I had nothing on them either, with the exception of the Dennard arrest, which happened long after Ourlads went to press.

I was discussing all of this with a good friend who has been an invaluable help in planning and testing our site for years now.  Like me (and like a lot of our members,) he drafted Dennard for his value late in the 2012 draft, and felt good about the pick as Dennard produced on the field.

And again, it’s not just detecting character issues – it’s figuring out whether the player will overcome them or succumb to them.  For every player who runs into trouble, there’s another who goes on to do just fine.

A perfect example of the latter is Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict.  I can’t imagine a prospect appearing headed for failure in the NFL more than he did in 2012.  The former Arizona State star had a disappointing senior season.  He was out of shape at the Combine, and when he had a shot at redemption at his Pro Day, he was still out of shape.

Reports emerged that Burfict had tested positive for marijuana at the Combine.  Mike Mayock called him “non-draftable,” and indeed he went undrafted.

The Bengals signed him as an undrafted free agent, and he went on to start 14 games and lead the team in tackles.  Go figure.  Of course, he’s got to prove it over time; if this article were written in May, I might have cited Hernandez as a positive example.

As virtual GMs running teams in iGM here on, we have access to so much information today.  It’s a different world than it was in 1996, when I first started running my original team on an Excel spreadsheet.

But, we still aren’t privvy to the information that NFL teams gather on character.  And, I’m not so sure how much of a difference it would make, anyway.  Just look how often the NFL teams get it wrong in real life, after all.

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