Character Issues and the NFL Draft

The NFL Draft is next week, which means we’re right in the thick of the “stupid, baseless character assassination and rumor-mongering” phase of pre-draft hype. Take quarterback Robert Griffin III, Heisman Trophy winner and presumptive No. 2 pick. I don’t know Robert Griffin the Third. Maybe he’s nice, maybe he’s not. All I know is that for months now, the impression of Griffin that has been coming across via the media has been that of a good guy, a good teammate and a good player.

But because the NFL Draft is days away, and because people will report just about anything that relates to the draft (including the endlessly leaked, eminently meaningless Wonderlic scores), now we have our first report of Griffin’s — wait for it — “character issues.”

This happens every year, like clockwork. Last year, Cam Newton was basically hauled into the public square and shamed in the months leading up to (and following) the draft. It didn’t matter. Even thanks to a lockout-shortened offseason that briefly kept him from joining his team, he still had a phenomenal¬†record-setting rookie season. That’s because almost all of the blather is, was and always shall be irrelevant and just a way for teams and agents and players to try and get an edge, any edge, by driving up or down draft stock and salaries, trying to scare off other teams, trying to lobby one team over another and generally do anything they can to get whatever outcome they desire. And because there’s this inexhaustible desire for coverage of anything to do with the NFL and a corresponding paucity of actual news to report much of the time, you get media reports that are about basically nothing.

Meanwhile, an interesting new study suggests that some character issues — the ones that are obvious and out there, because they involve players who have been arrested — don’t matter, so teams should take the chance and draft someone with a criminal history. (It should be noted that “character issues” very often don’t actually relate to actual criminal records, by the way, but rather express generalized concerns that often have nothing to do with anything.) The study looked at every player drafted between 2005 and 2009 and found that the best players to draft were those who were arrested but never charged with anything. This is the result of looking at lots¬†of players, and obviously teams should evaluate each player on a case-by-case basis. But at least these findings come from a study, rather than the simpleminded blathering of a hairdo killing time on ESPN.

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