If you look at a player like Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap on paper, you could easily convince yourself he would be a great addition to the Baltimore Ravens.
At 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, he's big enough to play right away, and his speed and athleticism are off the charts. He has the potential to be scary good, considering he can probably move around and play multiple positions. He's the kind of guy who, at least in theory, could give the Ravens pass rush a much-needed boost in 2010.
Problem is, Dunlap has a history of not playing particularly hard all the time. And was suspended for the most important game of the Gators season, the SEC Championship against Alabama, after he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. There is a reason he could be available when it's the Ravens turn to pick in the first round, and that reason can be summed with a phrase that gets a ton of mileage each year during the NFL Draft: We have concerns about his character.
"Character concerns" can cover all manner of sins when it comes to pre-draft evaluation. It's a nebulous criticism that has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years. It might mean a guy doesn't play hard all the time, or that he won't listen to his coaches. It might mean he's been in legal trouble. It might mean he nearly flunked out of school, or that he's immature. It rarely precludes a player from getting drafted if he's talented enough, but it typically hurts his stock. Exceptional character can even raise a player's stock, which is what we're seeing with Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
The Ravens definition of character, like most NFL teams, is usually applied on a case-by-case basis. Head coach John Harbaugh is fond of saying he wants players who "Play Like A Raven," which he generally describes as a combination of on-field desire and ego-free, team-oriented preparation. But acknowledges he understands there are certain players who are talented enough that you need to work to motivate them or keep them in line.
"Every coach thinks they can get through to any player," Harbaugh said. "When you take a chance on a guy, then you feel like you're going to be able to make the difference, and a lot of times, it depends on where he's coming from. When you say ‘lack of motivation,' is it football? Is it school? Is it personal life stuff? What is it that's been his issue and can we overcome that and turn him into the kind of player and teammate we want? Sometimes it's just a matter of, ‘No, there are a lot of options, there are a lot of good players up there with this pick, and let's take the guy with the minimal downside.' "
Former Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant has been one of the most talked about players in this year's draft mainly because of vague "character" concerns. Bryant is widely-regarded as the best wide receiver in the draft, but he was also suspended for the majority of his junior year after he lied to the NCAA about contact with former NFL cornerback, and former Raven, Deon Sanders. When scouts showed up to watch him run the 40 yard dash at his pro day, he admitted he forgot to bring his preferred pair of cleats. As a result, some mock drafts have predicted Bryant will slide down the board so far, he'll even being available when the Ravens pick at 25.
"We have a profile," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. "Steve [Bisciotti] has made the statement in the end-of-the-season press conference that we are willing to take risks on players. To a lot of people in the League, taking Michael Oher was a risk last year. So, we are not averse to taking risks, but we do our homework. We have very good scouts, and one of the best things they do is get us information. And when we get the information, I think we do a good job deciding what information that we need and what we can just kick out."
Newsome made it a point to seek out Oklahoma State cornerback Perrish Cox at the Senior Bowl and impart on him that he wasn't impressed with some of his choices. Cox is a big, physical corner with excellent speed, size and ability on special teams, but he was suspended from playing in the Cotton Bowl after he missed curfew twice to sneak out and be with his girlfriend. He's also been arrested for speed and driving without a license.
"[The Ravens] were one of the ones that harassed me, gave me a hard time about the curfew thing," Cox said. "I kind of listened to [Newsome], took in whatever he was telling me. I don't want to get suspended again, get harassed like I've been getting harassed. I learned from it. It won't happen again."