The NFL Draft is fast approaching, and with the NFL Scouting Combine getting underway next week, it's as good a time as any to start looking a little more in-depth at some of the top players. Anyone can do a mock draft, but we want to look at the guys who have to show more than just talent.
Over the last few years the NFL has taken a hard stance on the character and integrity of the players to make the league much more business like. This has caused a number of talented players to fall much lower in the draft than they, or any expert, thought they would.
Just last year WR Dez Bryant fell to the bottom of the first round because there were concerns about his character, despite being one of the most talented players in the draft class.
There is no shortage of talent in this draft, but there are also a number of talented players who have to prove that they aren't going to be a problem when they get in the NFL. If they can do that, they won't have to wait long to hear their name called on draft day. If they stumble in the interview process, they will have a longer wait in the green room than Aaron Rodgers and Brady Quinn combined.
Here are the 10 most tantalizing talents with the biggest character concerns going into the 2011 NFL Draft.
Even if you disregard his potential involvement in a pay-for-play scheme at Auburn, there are still all kinds of questions regarding Cam Newton's character as he prepares for life in the NFL.
He started his college career at the University of Florida in 2007. He was the backup QB for Tim Tebow his freshman year. In 2008, his sophomore year, he was arrested for allegedly stealing a laptop computer. The charges were later dropped.
At the end of the semester, he transferred, reportedly (account needed) because he didn't want to deal with a possible suspension or be expelled on account of cheating in his classes.
Despite all the good that Newton did for Auburn in his one year, he's never been considered a model citizen, and controversy seems to follow him around wherever he goes.
Robert Quinn is probably the second best defensive end prospect going into the NFL Draft, only behind Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers. However, he will have to answer questions about his character AND prove that he is in football shape after missing the 2010 season.
Quinn was suspended for the season because he received travel accommodations and jewelry from an agent and lied to the NCAA when questioned about it.
His problem, therefore, is twofold. He not only will have to interview well with NFL teams, but he will have to show that he kept himself in game shape since he hasn't played in a game since December 2009. One slip up either way and he could fall out of the top 10.
Marvin Austin is in the same boat as his fellow North Carolina teammate Robert Quinn. He hasn't played in a game since December 2009. He was kicked off the North Carolina team prior to the start of the year for numerous team and NCAA violations.
Austin will probably have to answer more questions than Quinn because not only did he receive improper benefits from an agent, but he was also under investigation for academic cheating. He will have to prove that those shortcomings are behind him.
This whole ordeal has already had an effect on his draft stock. He entered the year as a surefire first-round pick, but now has fallen completely off analysts' first-round boards.
Given all of his baggage, he will be lucky if he is a second-round pick.
On paper, Jonathan Baldwin should be one of the top players taken in this draft. He is nearly 6' 5", 224 lbs. and was very productive in college. However, there's a lot more that goes into drafting than just looking at raw numbers.
Baldwin has all the physical tools that you would look for, but there are questions among NFL people about how much he actually cares. He didn't always play hard at Pitt, and we have seen how guys who don't always try hard tend to bounce around in this league—hello, Randy Moss.
Plus, he was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor indecent assault, summary harassment and summary disorderly conduct in 2009. While they were dismissed, he will have to answer questions about the charges.
Cameron Jordan won't have to answer a lot of questions like some of the others listed here, but he did have one incident in 2008 that will no doubt raise a tiny red flag.
He was suspended for Cal's season opener because he was arrested on suspicion of DUI. It will probably not cost him too much because it hasn't happened since and doesn't seem to be a problem.
Nevertheless, these NFL people will no doubt talk to him about it.
There should be questions about Nick Fairley as the top overall player in this draft class simply because he only had one productive year in college. It was a great year, but it was still only one year.
Factoring in everything, Fairley will be grilled by NFL executives about a number of things. In high school he struggled academically and had to enroll in a junior college. There are also questions about his commitment to football and his work ethic.
Those are long-term questions, however, not questions that can be answered in a sit-down interview.
Adrian Clayborn is moving up a lot of draft boards with his great intangibles and physical skill set. However, he does come with a little bit of baggage.
He plead guilty to disorderly conduct in 2010 after punching a cab driver for honking at him.
On the flip side, he was being stalked by a woman in 2009. So not only do NFL teams have to deal with his baggage, but there are even crazed fans who follow him around.
Illinois had a hot head on their hands with Mikel Leshoure. He was very productive in his three years with the Illini, particularly this past season when he ran for 1,697 yards and 17 touchdowns. The problem was his temper sometimes got the best of him.
In 2008, he reportedly broke his jaw in a fight with a teammate and missed the last three games of the year.
In 2009, he was benched for a game for violating team rules.
2010 was his first "mistake-free" year with Illinois, and he is hoping to parlay that into a late-first, early-second round selection in the draft.
Butch Davis and the North Carolina coaching staff recruited a lot of talented, but sketchy, personalities. Though, I guess Robert Quinn didn't do anything that egregious.
Quan Sturdivant was arrested in 2010 for possession of marijuana. That's the only blemish on an otherwise clean slate during his collegiate career. The good news for him is that he is a second-round talent, so his stock probably won't tumble that much as a result.
Phil Taylor was thought of very highly when he was coming out of high school in 2006. According to rivals.com, he was a 4-star recruit and was one of the cornerstone guys to Penn State's excellent recruiting class that year.
However, he never quite settled in thanks to an off-field incident, although no charges were ever filed against him. He was suspended from the team and subsequently dismissed from the team due to the incident and academic problems.
He remade his image with Baylor this year and could be a first-round pick, though he will have to answer questions about his time at Penn State.