Red cards. Red lights. Red flags. I’m sure there’s a Wikipedia page detailing the history of how the color red got screwed. “He’s got red flags” is a phrase heard often around draft season as NFL talent evaluators are tasked with digging into the murky history of college kids who want to get paid. In recent years Johnathan Baldwin, Dez Bryant, DeSean Jackson and Percy Harvin saw the content of their “character” examined in detail.
Like clockwork, a number of 2012 draft hopefuls have had their own problems:
“On the same day in which defensive end Jack Crawford worked out for scouts at Penn State’s Pro Day, the apartment he shared with current Nittany Lion wide receiver Devon Smith was searched by campus police and found to contain marijuana.”
“Per the incident report, Rogers admitted to police that he purchased the marijuana. Kirkpatrick admitted he was in the vehicle when the purchase was made, but claimed he did not specifically know of the purchase at that time.”
“Four football players were among 17 TCU students arrested on drug charges Wednesday, and an arrest warrant for one of the players alleges that at least three players were dealing drugs.”
“Jenkins was frank, saying he was arrested three times. Twice was for marijuana possession, once for a bar fight. At Florida, he had one positive drug test and vows to never smoke again.”
To say some of the charges listed above are drastically different in their severity would be a gross understatement. Only one of the TCU four, LB Tanner Brock, was considered to be a possible selection in late April. And while I’m on the highest of horses, selling drugs is considerably different than smoking the occasional joint.
The vast majority of college kids have tried a substance that is deemed illegal. In the same vein, the majority of those kids do not receive a fraction of the attention as the Dre Kirkpatrick and Janoris Jenkins’ of the world.
Gearing up for your draft year is essentially one incredibly long job interview. Screwing up your drug test at the scouting combine is pretty indefensible – you know you have to take it. But the success enjoyed by Harvin and Jackson after they admitted to their marijuana use swayed some talent evaluators. Don Banks:
“Some players suspected of marijuana use in college in recent years, Philadelphia receiver DeSean Jackson and Minnesota receiver-return man Percy Harvin most notably, have been two of the top offensive players in the draft the past two years. Their early success in the NFL has possibly led some teams to take a more lenient approach to drafting talented players who are suspected of collegiate marijuana use, one team front office executive said.”
Banks quotes another source who said players just want to get their use out in the open.
Undoubtedly Jenkins has had his problems. Going from a football Mecca in Gainesville to obscurity in Northern Alabama, he’s paid for his mistakes. With that said, it’s more than ridiculous to assert that he can’t be a productive player in the NFL because he was involved in some unfortunate altercations while at the University of Florida. Today, the contrition in his voice is evident. The rejuvenation of his career under Northern Alabama Coach Terry Bowden has allowed him to salvage a dream he mistakenly took for granted.
The risk/reward aspect of the draft is obviously intriguing. Jerry Jones probably can’t watch highlights of the 1998 draft on a full stomach, knowing Randy Moss could’ve been a Cowboy. The Green Bay Packers took a chance on Defensive Tackle BJ Raji in 2009 after he tested positive for pot at the combine. They now have one of the best defensive linemen in the game.
There are examples to the contrary. Lawrence Phillips, Ryan Leaf, and Todd Marinovich serve as horror stories for scouts thinking about rolling the dice on supposed head cases. Missing on high draft picks is a leading cause for turnover in NFL front offices (I’d list several Bills first round busts from the last ten years; unfortunately the tears have destroyed my keyboard).
Evaluating talent is an inexact science at best, and that makes it entertaining theater for the rest of us.