Mar 5, 2011
When NFL teams evaluate draft prospects, they hope to do their best to avoid drafting the next Ryan Leaf or JaMarcus Russell. Leaf was a hot head who blamed his failures on others, while Russell turned out to be both unmotivated and overvalued. The only thing Russell cared about was his contract. Players with character questions like Leaf and Russell not only cost teams a lot of money upfront, they can also set franchises back many years.
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is one of the most–if not the most–high profile player in the2011 NFL Draft for reasons other than his talent. The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner needed a strong performance at the recent NFL Scouting Combine to quell concerns about his character and to demonstrate that his skills will translate to the NFL. Most draft experts agree that Newton was effective in how he dealt with the media, deftly answering questions and showing an affable personality. However his success on the field was a mixed bag. While Newton demonstrated athleticism in many of the Combine drills, including an impressive broad jump of 10 feet, six inches and a 40 time of 4.58 seconds, he repeatedly overthrew passes and struggled with accuracy during the throwing workout. Although Newton will have to show more consistency in his throwing, there is no doubt that the Combine results had a positive impact overall on his draft stock. He looks like a certain first-round selection in April’s Draft.
While Newton may be the poster child for red flag character questions in the current Draft class, he is by no means the only prospect to have them. This article looks at six other prospects who head into the 2011 NFL Draft with one or more red flags raised about their characters. We’ll also discuss the impact that their participation in the Combine likely had on their draft stock.
1. Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
Defensive tackle Marvin Austin possesses the athleticism and talent d that NFL teams go crazy over. Heading into the 2010 college football season, Austin was considered one of the top defensive tackles in the country. A good senior season would’ve easily catapulted him into the top 10 on Draft Day and perhaps even the top five.. Unfortunately, Austin was a central figure in an NCAA investigation involving improper contact between players and agents that wreaked havoc on North Carolina’s football program. He was found to have accepted money and jewelry from an agent and had to sit out the entire season after the NCAA ruled him ineligible to play. In addition, he was the only player that the school dismissed for accepting improper benefits. Though Austin has a reputation for dominating on the field, he’s also known for taking some plays off and for not always putting his team first.
Despite his suspension from North Carolina, Austin was invited to play in the annual East-West Shrine game this past January. He played well and even recovered a fumble for a touchdown late in the game. Austin also made the most of his Combine experience. He showed no apparent signs of rust, running the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds and bench pressing 225 pounds an impressive 38 times. He might have done enough to remain a first-round prospect. Austin’s expressed remorse about his past actions, however the team that drafts him might need to ensure that he stays motivated after he ink’s his first NFL contract.
2. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
Considered one of the top wide receivers in the Big East Conference, former Pitt Panther Jonathan Baldwin is hard to ignore on the field. He stands 6’5” and weighs 230 pounds and has an incredible pair of hands. Baldwin had eight touchdowns and a team-high 1,111 receiving yards in 2009 as a sophomore and another 52 receptions for 810 yards last fall. In an interview with NFLDraftScout.com in December, Baldwin reportedly complained about his role on Pitt’s offense during the 2010 season and said that he felt they were deliberately trying to lower his draft stock. Almost as soon as Baldwin declared early for the draft, he was labeled as selfish and his attitude and work ethic were called into question by some NFL scouts. This came on top of a legal case in which the two-time All-Big East pick was charged with indecent assault, harassment and disorderly conduct in May 2009 for slapping a female student on her buttocks while the two were on a campus shuttle bus. Baldwin admitted to “goofing around” and slapping the female student’s behind, however a judge dismissed all charges after hearing witness testimony in the athlete’s non-jury trial. Nevertheless Baldwin was disciplined internally by Pitt’s football program with 10 hours of community service.
Heading into the Combine, Baldwin was considered a late first-round pick that could move up with a strong showing at the event. Unfortunately, Baldwin underwhelmed with a 4.52 second time in the 40 instead of the expected 4.30 and to make matters worse, he fell down during a receiving drill. To his credit, Baldwin dealt with character questions during Media Day in mature fashion, though it looks like a less-than-expected Combine performance might not be enough to counterbalance those concerns and he could fall to the second round.
3. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Had Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn left school after his junior season in 2009, he likely would’ve signed a lucrative contract worth millions. Once considered a top-10 talent, the All-American and Orange Bowl MVP Clayborn went on to have a subpar senior season compared to his outstanding junior campaign. The potential impact of his not-so-good season on his draft stock is compounded by character concerns. Consequently, the talk in recent months has been about the volatility of his draft stock. Some predict that it could fall anywhere from the middle teens overall to the middle of the second round in April’s draft. Clayborn was charged with assault causing bodily injury after he allegedly punched a cab driver who honked at him in January 2009. He eventually pled guilty in March 2010 to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct. The school stuck by Clayborn and it later came out that the cabbie had used a racial slur toward him. The former Hawkeye was also the target of a female stalker who was eventually sentenced to 30 days in jail and ordered not to have contact with him for five years. A versatile and gifted athlete, Clayborn has excellent size and weight (6’2 5/8”, 281 pounds) for an NFL defensive end, however there are minor concerns about his eating habits and long-term commitment to fitness. Clayborn didn’t do much to allay these concerns with a tweet he sent from the Combine: “After the Combine I’m goig [sic] to the store and I’m getting chips cookies donuts soda oatmeal pies frozen pizza and I’m going to Shorts!!!”
A few Combine observers thought that Clayborn looked a little “soft” in the midsection, although this didn’t appear to hamper his performance in the drills. He turned in a 40-yard time of 4.81 and finished first at his position in the 20-yard shuttle with a 4.13 second time. Clayborn declined to participate in the bench press reps until Iowa’s Pro Day on March 20. He was personable and even-keeled during Combine interviews, dutifully responding to questions about the cabbie incident, his drop off in production during his senior season and Erb’s Palsy, a nerve damage condition that he suffers from. There’s nothing about Clayborn’s experience at the Combine to indicate that he did anything to negatively impact his draft stock. In fact, his versatility, passion for the game, physical skills and ability to get in the faces of opposing quarterbacks are likely to far outweigh the 2009 cabbie incident.
4. Greg Little, WR, North Carolina
Former North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little is another high-profile prospect who brought “character baggage” with him to the NFL Combine. The versatile receiver and one-time running back was one of three Tar Heels (Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn are the others) caught up in the improper benefits from agents scandal that tarnished North Carolina’s football program in 2010. Little was ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA after it was determined that he had received $4,952 in extra benefits including jewelry and travel accommodations to the Bahamas, Washington D.C. and Miami then lied about it.
Little had a chance to prove himself at the Combine, both on the field and off, and by most accounts he acquitted himself well in interviews and drills. Little measured in at 6’3”, 220 pounds and finished among the positional leaders in the vertical jump (40.5”) and broad jump (10 feet, 9 inches). He also performed 27 reps on the 225-pound bench press. More importantly, Little was open and honest about his role in the scandal, took responsibility for the actions that derailed his senior season and expressed genuine remorse during interviews with the media and teams at the Combine. It looks as if Little did enough to boost his stock as high as a late second, though more likely, third-round selection in April. Considered one of the best after-the-catch receivers in the 2011 NFL Draft, Little will have another chance to showcase his skills at UNC’s Pro Day on March 30.
5. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
It’s easy to see why Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett was considered one of the top pro prospects at his position in 2010. He set a number of UA single-season records as a junior, while starting 13 games and completing an impressive 266 passes for 3,869 yards and 32 touchdowns. In addition, Mallett led the SEC in passing yards per game (297.6), passing touchdowns (32) and completions of 30-plus yards (30) to name a few. Mallett stands 6’7” tall, weighs 253 pounds and his style of play has drawn comparisons to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Unfortunately for Mallett, he shares something else in common with Roethlisberger: concerns about his leadership ability, personality and more significantly, his character. Unlike Roethlisberger, Mallett’s character issues have nothing to do with women. Mallett has dealt with rap that he’s self-absorbed and aloof with his teammates. Even worse, rumors of serious drug abuse, possibly addiction have dogged him for more than a year. Some say that it’s the reason why Mallett didn’t declare for the draft following a highly successfully sophomore season in 2009.
Mallett faced heavy scrutiny at the Combine and the first question asked by a reporter at his Saturday media session was about the drug abuse allegations. Although he acknowledged the rumors, he refused to answer questions and eventually walked off the podium, leading many to speculate that his draft stock would plummet. However representatives from NFL teams who met with Mallett had largely favorable things to say about him, stating that he responded to their questions and his demeanor was fine. What’s more, Mallett was the most impressive quarterback prospect during Sunday’s on-field workout. His strong arm and pinpoint accuracy were well on display. His performance was called the best quarterback effort at the Combine in the last 10 years. More importantly, there was no evidence of standoffishness as he smiled and had great rapport with the other quarterbacks and wide receivers. Word from the Combine is that franchises interested in Mallett had him on their Draft boards in Rounds 2 or 3. No doubt he helped his draft stock with his performance last Sunday.
6. Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Among the many interesting storylines of the 2011 NFL Draft is the number of North Carolina Tar Heels expected to go in the early rounds. What makes this story noteworthy is the fact that the NCAA ruled three of the highest profile Tar Heel prospects ineligible to play for accepting improper benefits and each sat out the 2010 college season. Like his teammates Marvin Austin and Greg Little, an investigation found that defensive end Robert Quinn accepted jewelry (two black diamond watches and a pair of diamond earrings) and travel accommodations to Miami, reportedly totaling more than $5,600. The 6’4”, 265-pound Quinn is considered by scouts and draft experts to be one of the best pass rushers in a Draft class filled with top-notch defensive talent despite the blemish on his character and the fact that he hasn’t played a down since the end of his sophomore season when UNC lost to Pitt in the 2009 Meineke Bowl. While Quinn could have appealed his suspension, he decided to leave the program and focus on his future.
By all accounts, Quinn’s overall performance at the recent NFL Scouting Combine was solid. He posted a time of 4.70 in the 40-yard dash, which is good for a man his size, but slower than what some expected. It’s also been reported that Quinn looked a bit rusty in some of the position-specific drills, not too surprising given that he’s been out of football for more than a year. Those who interviewed Quinn during the Combine gave him high marks for being straightforward, honest and remorseful when answering questions about the circumstances that led to his suspension and its impact on his team. He also responded to concerns raised about his health. As a high school senior, Quinn suffered from headaches and blackouts caused by a brain tumor. Emergency surgery showed the tumor was benign, however its location prevented doctors from removing it entirely. Unless something changes between now and April 28, it looks like Quinn will be in New York for the 2011 NFL Draft and he should hear his named called on Day 1.