Time to Focus On the Talent

Nate Levinson, Sports Editor

Every year in the months leading up to the NFL draft, scouts, general managers and entire personnel departments of all 32 NFL teams spend countless hours poring over the résumés of hundreds of young 20-somethings fresh out of college.

Unsurprisingly, many of these players don’t have entirely clean records, and it’s left up to these NFL decision-makers to discern which players will be cancers in the locker room, which won’t work hard on the field and which were just young people making common, stupid mistakes.

There’s an old adage that says talent trumps all for NFL decision makers, but this doesn’t stop them and members of the media from analyzing every questionable decision made by an athlete before they enter the league.

This year, potential top-five picks South Carolina defensive end Jadevon Clowney and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel have come under scrutiny for their alleged lazy work ethics and off-field actions.

Clowney is one of the most talented defensive players to enter the draft in the past 10 years, and the former Heisman winter Manziel is a potentially transcendent playmaker at the next level, but, too often, discussion of their physical talents has been put on the back burner.

Critics say that Manziel is too much of a partier and Clowney isn’t willing to work hard enough to maximize his talents.

While I understand the emphasis on crafting teams that are made up of quality individuals and not just fantastic athletes, the priority has to be finding the best football players, and Manziel and Clowney are just that.

This is not to say that I don’t understand the NFL’s obsession with character. The first overall pick in this year’s draft will receive a contract with a total value exceeding $22 million. The stakes are high in the NFL, and wasting a first-round pick on a player who won’t work hard on the field and can’t stay out of trouble could cost some general manager his job.

But if teams want to ensure that players stay out of trouble once they get into the league, they need to look internally and ensure that the locker rooms foster strong habits on and off the field. The best teams in the league consistently take the so-called chances on players with character concerns and watch them blossom into top players in the league because they offer support systems that help young players realize their full potential.

One must look no further than this year’s Super Bowl champs, the Seattle Seahawks, when searching for a team that has seen great success despite relying on a number of players with allegedly shady character. Running back Marshawn Lynch was arrested in 2009 and charged with a misdemeanor weapons charges and 2012 first-round draft pick Bruce Irvin dropped out of high school and was arrested in the months leading up to the draft. But neither player has had any off-field issues since joining the Seahawks, one of the most well-run organizations in the NFL.

Physical talents like Clowney and Manziel don’t enter the league very often, and not drafting them due to character concerns would be foolish. As long as they end up in situations where their physical talent can shine, expect the two to be stars and for concerns about their character to quickly become an afterthought.