NFL Draft 2011: 10 Guys With Character Questions
If the past few seasons have taught us anything about first-round picks in the NFL Draft, it is that character is more important than ever as a factor in determining when a player gets drafted and how much success they have thereafter.
Is Cameron Newton the next Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, JaMarcus Russell or Ryan Leaf? These are the questions NFL decision-makers must ask themselves before investing in Newton, or anyone else.
Newton's checkered past at Florida and Auburn notwithstanding, though, he is a relatively small character concern. There are talented players with much more troubling question marks regarding their personal conduct.
Sticking strictly to top-100 prospects, let's look at 10 players who could tumble down draft boards because of character problems.
1. Nick Fairley
Well, we haven't wasted any time here. Fairley is a very real candidate for the top overall pick, but there are multiple questions on the table that must be answered first.
First of all, there are work ethic and conditioning questions. He was not perceived as a gym rat or a particularly intense figure at Auburn, especially off the field.
He could balloon by overeating once he gets a fat contract, or he could prove too apathetic toward weight-lifitng and film study to reach his full potential.
On the flip side, he has a dangerous mean streak. He registered multiple personal fouls for unnecessary roughness, and some of those offenses were fairly egregious. Fairley has to play (and live) with a more controlled brand of intensity.
2. Robert Quinn
Quinn was suspended for all of last season after accepting improper benefits during the offseason.
He comes from a long line of good pass rushers at North Carolina, but he must demonstrate more discipline than he did in college.
The perception seems to be that guys who take money in school need not be viewed with suspicion in the NFL Draft. I disagree with the premise.
It may not be against the rules to have money anymore, but a pro star has to deal with even more varied and nefarious temptations.
3. Ryan Mallett
The drug allegations that have found their way within striking distance of Mallett seem ill-formed and unfounded. More worrisome, though, are multiple reports that Mallett is a poor leader of men and has been reticent to work on his sloppy footwork. He had better be willing to work on those things, because his arm merits top-10 consideration but the rumors of disinterest are driving him down draft boards.
4. Adrian Clayborn
We're slowly finding out what an utter mess the Iowa football program is, and Clayborn is one exemplar.
He punched a cab driver in the face in 2009 without much provocation, and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for it in 2010.
He is a terrific talent but will need to prove he is committed to getting bigger and stronger.
5. Cameron Newton
I said he was a minor character concern, but that comes far short of saying he is not a concern at all.
Newton's father may or may not have looped in his son when he tried to extort money from as much of the SEC as possible, but his father was certainly not responsible for the trouble surrounding a stolen and destroyed laptop during Newton's time at Florida.
Add to that whispers that Newton is somewhat stubborn about his long release mechanics, and you have a player who may never live up to his athletic potential.
6. Jon Baldwin
Baldwin is not a bad guy, per se. The problem with him is more accurately described as makeup than character.
He has resisted constant urging to improve his sloppy and lackadaisical route-running, yet he frequently takes exception on-field when he feels ignored within an offense.
He will need to prove his work ethic and team ethos are in the right place for teams to consider him in the first round.
7. Greg Little
Like Quinn, Little was suspended for his senior season after taking improper benefits from an agent. Again, that goes to questions of discipline that Little must answer more convincingly.
Even before that incident, Little had shown a converted running back's thirst for the football and did not like it when the ball went elsewhere in the Tar Heels offense.
8. Justin Boren
Boren originally chose Michigan, but transferred to Ohio State while complaining about the conditioning requirements in place at Michigan.
He's been somewhat vindicated on that front, but NFL scouts will certainly take note of Boren's choice to speak out.
It helps him not at all to have moved directly from Michigan to its most bitter rival.
9. Jake Locker
Again, the problem here is more accurately makeup than character. Locker has looked rattled under pressure for the past year and he has thought way too much on the field.
He needs to prove he can make quick decisions when NFL teams bring blitzes against him.
He gets frantic in the pocket of late, and his feet start chopping. That interferes with his field vision.
More poise is prerequisite to Locker being worthy of a first- or second-round pick.
10. Chris Rucker
Rucker is a great physical prospect: He is tall, has some speed and makes plays on the ball in the air.
Unfortunately, Rucker also got suspended as a junior after a brawl in his dorm hall, and he spent time in jail on a DUI charge in October of last year.
A talented but troubled corner or safety, Rucker could be a steal in the third round, or he could be a miserable bust.