It’s be­come a risky busi­ness

There are char­ac­ter ques­tions about sev­eral top col­lege prospects for the draft, com­pli­cat­ing the de­ci­sion-mak­ing for some teams

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - SAM FARMER ON THE NFL

CHICAGO — Char­ac­ter counts. But how much? That ques­tion will be on dis­play Thurs­day night, when the first round of the NFL draft un­furls in prime time be­fore a na­tional TV au­di­ence.

Sev­eral of the top col­lege prospects are con­sid­ered char­ac­ter risks, be­gin­ning with the player ex­pected to be cho­sen first over­all by Tampa Bay, Florida State quar­ter­back Jameis Win­ston. He will not at­tend the draft, choos­ing in­stead to watch it with his fam­ily and friends.

But Mis­souri de­fen­sive end Shane Ray will be in at­ten­dance when the event kicks off at the Au­di­to­rium Theatre of Roo­sevelt Uni­ver­sity, the first time it has been held out­side of New York since the 1964 draft in Chicago.

Ray, among the top pass rush­ers in this class, was

pulled over by the Mis­souri High­way Pa­trol on Mon­day and cited on sus­pi­cion of mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion. He lamented his poor de­ci­sion to re­porters Wed­nes­day at a “Play 60” event with lo­cal Chicago youths.

“What hap­pened Mon­day was a ter­ri­ble de­ci­sion that I made,” Ray said. “I’m def­i­nitely very sorry for the po­si­tion I put my­self in and every­body else. What needs to be un­der­stood is every­body makes mis­takes. I made a mis­take, and it just so hap­pens it’s right be­fore the draft. One of the most im­por­tant days of my life.”

Louisiana State of­fen­sive line­man La’el Collins at­tended the same event, although he didn’t stick around af­ter­ward to speak with the me­dia. He had to head back to Ba­ton Rouge, where au­thor­i­ties want to talk to him about last week’s un­solved slay­ing of his ex-girl­friend, whose body was found with sev­eral bul­let wounds. She was preg­nant, and the in­fant sur­vived.

Po­lice have not named Collins as a sus­pect, but they want to know if he has in­for­ma­tion that would be help­ful to them. Sev­eral NFL eval­u­a­tors said the un­cer­tainty of the Collins sit­u­a­tion could cause him to drop out of the first round.

With the league com­ing off its most tur­bu­lent year — when the off-the-field trans­gres­sions of Ray Rice and Adrian Peter­son dom­i­nated the head­lines — NFL Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of good be­hav­ior to the prospects in­vited to the draft.

“We met with the play­ers as a group, as we al­ways do at the draft,” Good­ell said. “We talked to them about the next few days, ob­vi­ously, but more im­por­tantly the days af­ter that. What it’s like to be a pro­fes­sional, what it’s like to be in the NFL. They have a re­spon­si­bil­ity, the re­sources we have to sup­port them, and to tell them that we want them to be suc­cess­ful on the field but we also want them to be suc­cess­ful off the field.”

Win­ston, a Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner, was ac­cused (though never charged) of sex­ual as­sault, cited for al­legedly shoplift­ing crab legs and suspended for stand­ing on a ta­ble in his school’s stu­dent union and scream­ing ob­scen­i­ties di­rected at women.

This could be the sixth draft in the mod­ern era in which the top two play­ers se­lected are quar­ter­backs. There’s a strong pos­si­bil­ity that Ore­gon’s Mar­cus Mar­i­ota, also a Heis­man win­ner, will be cho­sen No. 2 by Ten­nessee, or by an­other team that might trade into po­si­tion to get him.

Whereas there are red flags sur­round­ing Win­ston, Mar­i­ota has a solid rep­u­ta­tion and his char­ac­ter is con­sid­ered among his top sell­ing points. How­ever, the Buc­ca­neers have thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gated Win­ston and say they are com­fort­able with the idea of draft­ing him.

Quar­ter­backs went 1-2 in the draft 17 years ago when In­di­anapo­lis picked Pey­ton Man­ning, fol­lowed by San Diego pick­ing Ryan Leaf. Man­ning is a fu­ture Hall of Famer; Leaf was among the big­gest busts in NFL his­tory.

For­mer NFL ex­ec­u­tive Bill Po­lian, gen­eral manager of the Colts when they chose Man­ning, said there was “a wide gap” be­tween those two prospects, both as play­ers and as peo­ple. He be­lieves the Win­ston-Mar­i­ota de­ci­sion is a far more dif­fi­cult one.

“I’m not privy to the psy­cho­log­i­cal re­ports, nor am I privy to the in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter-slash-se­cu­rity re­ports that ev­ery team in the league has — and that’s a big part of the equa­tion — and I don’t have the ap­pro­pri­ate in­for­ma­tion to make an in­formed judg­ment,” said Po­lian, now an ESPN an­a­lyst.

“That said, it strikes me study­ing tape, talk­ing to peo­ple at Florida State and Ore­gon, talk­ing to peo­ple around the league who know the two young men in­volved, talk­ing to Jameis, that this is a lot closer.”

Like Win­ston, Mar­i­ota is not among the more than two dozen top prospects at­tend­ing the draft. He, too, will be watch­ing with fam­ily.

One of the elite prospects who will be in at­ten­dance is USC de­fen­sive line­man Leonard Wil­liams, widely ex­pected to be a top-five se­lec­tion.

“It’s go­ing to be hard when I look at my mom,” he said. “She’s al­ready emo­tional. When I first saw her out here, she started cry­ing. It’s go­ing to be hard to hold back when all my fam­ily’s there, and it’s one of the big­gest times of my life.”

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