Who's bad? They are
This is by Dan Pompeii of the Sporting News.
May 18, 2006
Thankfully, I can leave the job of separating the saints from sinners to a higher power.
NFL teams aren't as fortunate. They have to judge the character of every player entering the draft -- which can be a complex task, an impossible task in some cases. Teams draw the line in different places. Some teams draw the line with permanent marker; others draw it with pencil.
Teams such as the Bengals have taken chances on players others would have nothing to do with. A cartoon on profootballtalk.com portrayed the Bengals' stripes as jail stripes. I asked coach Marvin Lewis whether he is concerned about the how the team is perceived. "The team's image is a concern," he says. "There's no question about that."
In fact, three days before the draft, Lewis made a point of saying the Bengals would pay more attention to character issues this year. He says the team took players off its board who had failed drug tests, such as defensive tackle Claude Wroten, as well as players who had faced gun charges. Lewis also says the Bengals had no interest in players they perceived as having poor work ethics.
Lewis is a good man who wants to do the right thing. He's not a win-at-all-costs coach. But he has not affected the Bengals' longstanding and ignominious tradition of drafting players with questionable pasts. Cincinnati drafted three players -- defensive end Frostee Rucker, linebacker A.J. Nicholson and receiver Reggie McNeal -- who were off one team's board because of character concerns and signed a fourth, fullback Naufahu Tahi, as an undrafted free agent.
Look, I believe in forgiveness and second chances, and I realize a lot of kids do stupid things and become fine adults. But when a team takes a player off its draft board, it usually is for sound reasons; no club wants to eliminate a player from consideration unless it absolutely has to. Often, the allegations or charges that have surfaced are only the fin of the shark.
Rucker and Nicholson were downgraded on the Bengals' draft board because of character concerns, and Lewis points out they were not chosen in the first two rounds. Rucker was accused of sexual assault and pleaded guilty to a reduced charge; Nicholson was suspended for a game by Florida State after he was accused of sexual assault. Those weren't the only incidents that scared some teams away from Rucker and Nicholson.
Lewis says the Bengals did not downgrade McNeal. "I don't see how you can consider Reggie a character risk," he says. Other teams' concerns with McNeal were less about citizenship than about his work ethic and willingness to conform. From that standpoint, Lewis points out it's unfair to lump McNeal into the same category with players who have been charged with crimes.
The Bengals took another player with a history of being difficult to control last year and got mixed results. Linebacker Odell Thurman played wonderfully as a rookie but gave Lewis a few headaches in the process. Sources say he was fined close to $90,000 over the course of the season for various violations of team rules, though Lewis refused to confirm that.
Receiver Chris Henry, from the same draft class, also caused waves. Henry was busted for marijuana possession and charged with waving a stolen gun at a crowd of people. He has pleaded not guilty to the felony gun charge and is awaiting trial on that incident. "Chris Henry did not have a marijuana problem or a gun problem in college," Lewis says. "If he had, he wouldn't be here."
Some teams knew enough about Henry and Thurman to take them off their boards. My suspicion is the Bengals don't gather as much intelligence on players as some teams. They have some fine evaluators, but their scouting staff is the NFL's smallest. Lewis says the size of the staff is not an issue.
It's possible the Bengals don't spend as much money on private investigations of players with questionable pasts. Asked how the team approaches such circumstances, Lewis says, "You have to investigate, but it's not proper for the team to talk about what you do. That's kind of our business."
Perhaps the Bengals need to take a harder look at how they do their business in regard to character risks.
A game of chance
The Sporting News obtained the list of players who were taken off one team's draft board over the past five drafts. These teams drafted the highest number of those players:
Re: Who's bad? They are
I assume they would be: