Monday, April 18, 2011

Pro Football Weekly: Character Counts

Keen analysis from PFW’s Nolan Nawrocki, in which he describes how NFL teams assess character and decide whether to take a chance on a talented prospect with less-than-stellar intangibles. Notable in the story is the first published report that former Arkansas Quarterback Ryan Mallett admitted to having a drug problem during team interviews at the NFL Combine last February. Also notable in the story is that of the six prospects assessed with the greatest risk, three are from SEC schools.

Mallett joins former Auburn Quarterback Cam Newton and Defensive Tackle Nick Fairley. Of those three, Fairley is probably the one teams would be most willing to roll the dice on, because as Nawrocki explains, you can get away with a lot more at that position than others.

Without the character issues, both Mallett and Newton are solid locks for first round selections in the NFL Draft that begins April 28. Nawrocki notes Mallett’s substance problem, but goes out of his way to finger Newton as an immature egomaniac who is ill-suited to fill a leadership role at the position that requires it most.

Newton is a freakishly good athlete and his college coaches have said he is as capable as any they’ve coached at that position. And let’s be honest—in two years as a starting Quarterback, Newton has won two national titles. The question is, did he excel at Auburn because he worked in a system designed for him by evil offensive genius Gus Malzahn? Check out the first few minutes of this conversation with Chuckie Jon Gruden:

 

Both Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick are cut from a similar physical fabric as Newton. Both have proven their worth on the field. It remains to be seen if Newton can do it, or if he becomes a spectacular bust like JaMarcus Russell (in Russell’s defense, he was drafted by an absolute dumpster fire of an NFL program). Ironically, it would probably be better for Newton’s long-term success in the league if he was not one of the earliest picks in the draft. It would mean he “falls” to a better team with more room to let him develop his football IQ.

Mallett is a loaded dice roll. His physical skills are unquestionable, but the “big time party guy” will be tempted sorely by big time NFL money, even if he slips to a late second round pick as many draft gurus project. Last month, former Tennessee and current NY Jets Quarterback Erik Ainge opened up about his long-term struggle with drug addiction. Ainge wasn’t expected to make a major impact when he was drafted in the fifth round in 2008. Mallett, given his resume at Arkansas and his work under gifted Quarterback/Offensive Guru Bobby Petrino, will be. That is, if he can shed the monkey on his back and get his life straightened out.

To put it mildly, this is one of the riskiest NFL Drafts in recent memory. There are a host of unanswered questions about the biggest names available. Teams that take chances will either win big by gambling on the question marks or, like the Raiders did with Russell, lose big.

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