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Character concerns and the Buccaneers - Football character vs Life character

Character concerns? I call them 'touchdowns'.
Character concerns? I call them 'touchdowns'.

When people talk about draft prospects, 'character' always comes up. When talking about QBs it's often the first thing brought up, as with Cam Newton this year. People drop in the draft because of character, and different teams place different levels of importance on character. The Panthers got burned by a few prospects with character flaws early in their history, most notably Rae Carruth, and have since insisted on only drafting high-character players. To what extent they stuck to that is debatable though, given the presence of Steve Smith. The Bengals have taken an entirely different route, completely ignoring character and focusing on talent. But this analysis is a little short-sighted, as not all character problems are created equal. I'd classify two different versions of character in reference to football players: football character and life character. The first is about a players attitude toward the game, and the second about his attitude to, well, life. These are two disparate issues but they are often treated the same when discussing draft prospects. 

Aqib Talib is a great example of a player with good football character but poor life character. He's consistently gotten into problems off the field, making poor decisions and putting himself into troublesome situations. But there are no on-field problems with Talib, and he was even seen as a leader on defense last year. The same can be said for Ben Roethlisberger, who had to miss four games due to rape allegations but has been a great player for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Another example then: Warren Sapp, who entered the draft haunted by drug allegations that dropped him to the Bucs. Stories abound of Sapp's abrasive personality, his confrontations with referees and his treatment of fans, but no one can doubt his character as a football player. He did anything to win, and he was a leader on the great defenses the Bucs put together. 

As for poor football character, but good life character, these players abound. They're players for who football isn't important, who see it as just a job or a way to make money. They're the ones who stop playing to their level when they get a big new contract (like Derrick Ward) or the ones who just never worked at it (like Mike Williams - the Seahawks WR, not the Buccaneer). And, of course, there are examples of people who have poor character in both respects. Michael Vick (at least the old version) comes to mind, but he's certainly not the only one. 

So how does this apply to the Bucs? Well, the Bucs have consistently said that character is important to them, but while everyone thinks they mean off-field character, it seems on-field character is something they actually select for. They're willing to do their due diligence and figure out people with poor off-field character, people who made mistakes but may not make them in the future. People like Mike Williams and Legarrette Blount. What they're not doing is take a risk on a talent who doesn't care about football. They're not taking anyone like Andre Smith in the draft, someone with superior talent but who doesn't care about football. What they're doing is similar to what the Patriots have done for years: find the players who love football for the sake of the game. 

Whether they're going to bypass off-field character in the process is a question, though. The incidents with Talib and Tanard Jackson must've convinced them that some things and some players just aren't worth it, no matter how much they love football. At the same time, it's not like Talib and Jackson haven't been valuable players for the Bucs. The presence of Mike Williams and Legarrette Blount suggests they are willing to take some chances - but not on certain things. For one, both Williams and Blount ran into trouble with their football program, but not the law or drugs. In Mike Williams' it was a problem of discipline, and in Blount's case one incident of violence against another player. Neither of these problems is uncorrectable, and neither of those problems would lead to much league discipline if they re-occurred. And as long as these players love football, the problems may not be so relevant. 

So when you look at draft prospects with character issues, ask yourself what kind of problems those prospects have. Are they unmotivated? Are they getting in trouble with the law? Are they failing drug tests for anything other than marijuana? Or have they been suspended by the NCAA, or kicked out of their program? In the first cases, I think the Bucs are going to say "no thanks" and move on. But in the latter cases they're going to try to figure out whether these kids are motivated or not, and if they are they're going to have no qualms about drafting them. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bucs get a talented player with reputed character concerns later in the draft, but I'm not concerned about the long-term character of this football team.