When he was coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Barry Switzer once said: "If Charles Manson ran a 4.2, and was out of prison, somebody would draft him.” That isn't the case anymore. Now, players like Oklahoma State wide receiver Adarius Bowman are falling down draft boards because of run-ins with the law.
With NFL commissioner Roger Goodell pushing for tougher player-conduct policies, the thought is many teams might take fewer risks in the draft. "The commissioner has certainly put a premium on character, and I think that's a good thing for the league,” said Browns general manager Ozzie Newsome. "On the whole, teams have done a good job over the years researching players. If you bring a bad guy, or a thug, onto your team, you're asking for trouble.” It's uncertain how Goodell's get-tough approach will impact this weekend's NFL Draft. Bowman is projected to be selected in the late rounds, much lower than originally slotted after he was arrested for possession of marijuana earlier this month. Some insiders say Bowman might not even be drafted. The key variable is how teams evaluate "red flags.” Bowman and others will have a red flag next to their names on 32 NFL Draft boards. A red flag represents legal or drug problems. A green flag represents medical concerns. It's the red flags that could carry more weight than ever before. Succeeding Paul Tagliabue in 2006, Goodell was labeled "the new sheriff” when he suspended players for off-the-field conduct before some were convicted of anything. NFL organizations often have taken the highest player on the draft board despite any off-the-field issues. Those teams used to be praised and analysts would rave how "they got a steal.” Now, teams are forced to make tough choices. Does a general manager take the more talented player despite the red flag or play it safe and select a player with no baggage? Some organizations, like the Atlanta Falcons, can't afford to take risks. Falcons quarterback Michael Vick made headlines for being involved in a dog fighting scandal. He eventually was sentenced to prison. "Character is something that was drilled into my head in New England,” said Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff, hired three months ago. "I feel strongly about it. "Going forward, we understand not everyone is going to have a clean slate. But we will be very particular about the type of player we're going to bring in.” Because of Goodell's low tolerance for bad behavior, will other teams place even more emphasis on those red tags? "It's a team to team thing,” said San Diego coach Norv Turner. "It's something we happen to value a lot higher than some other teams. "The new emphasis hasn't changed our approach because we've always made character a big priority.” Over the years, NFL teams have spent more time and money on background checks. Miami general manager Jeff Ireland said the Dolphins' 12 scouts are required to compile more than a player's time in the 40-yard dash or vertical leap. "We check everything,” Ireland said. "We've got guys checking academics, guys calling the local sheriff. We've got security people and (we) talk to trainers and strength coaches. "At the end of the day we're going to see what kind of football player he is.
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PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by Doug Hoke, THE OKLAHOMAN