Today, on the most overrated day in all of sports, Gabe Carimi, Ryan Mallett and J.J. Watt will help us find out what character means in the NFL.
The NFL draft is a circus. Something that should take place in a poorly-lit room full of cigar smoke and grumpy, disheveled general managers is now a primetime television event, complete with lights, a stage and an audience not afraid to cheer or jeer. It’s kind of sickening.
And still, we’re all going to watch it.
We’ll watch it because we all have an opinion. And what better time or reason to have an opinion than the most publicized crapshoot in the country?
Of all the things that ultimately make the difference between going in the first round or third round, character and injury history matter more than anything else. And like everything else involved in drafting, character matters both incredibly and not at all.
Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg recently cited a great example: Charles Rogers and Randy Moss. The two were extremely talented wide receivers with character concerns. One was drafted second overall, the other 21st. And we all know how that story ends.
So where’s the fine line between prioritizing character over talent, or vice versa?
Carimi leaves the University of Wisconsin as a 49-game starter, someone who stepped into 2007 No. 3 overall draft pick Joe Thomas’ place and hardly skipped a beat, winning the Outland Trophy as a senior.
But reports out of the scouting combine in Indianapolis didn’t focus so much on the great numbers he put up, but how he fared in interviews.
According to some scouts and reports, Carimi is being viewed as arrogant or entitled. Pro Football Weekly said he had “a white-collar attitude at a blue-collar position.” In interviews, Carimi stated his case as an NFL-ready tackle, pointing out the competition he’s faced and his own self-confidence.
And this is a character issue?
I obviously wasn’t personally there for those interviews. But if you’re going to ask a guy in what is essentially a job interview to say why he’s better than everyone else, what kind of answer do you think you’re going to get?
Carimi’s point about going up against top talent isn’t an exaggeration. In facing Watt in practice, as well as Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn, Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward and Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, Carimi held his own against four likely first-round defensive ends. That might be bragging, but it’s also fact.
And isn’t confidence a good thing? It certainly takes a level of belief in oneself to make the transition from college to the NFL. The problem is, there’s a fine line between extreme confidence and arrogance, and depending on who you’re asking, they might be the same thing.
Having personally dealt with Carimi, he’s never come off as arrogant. He always deferred credit to his teammates on the offensive line, and I have a hard time believing he could sound entitled to things.
But for all I know, that issue could drop Carimi under other guys in this year’s crop of offensive tackles.
And then there’s the Legend of Ryan Mallett. If Carimi is arrogant, Mallett is the Donald Trump of quarterbacks. The former Arkansas signal caller has no shortage of confidence and possesses the physical talent to back it up. But again, character issues (allegedly he’s often “partying, partying, yeah”) and his perceived inability in the clutch could drop him to the second round.
And as my colleagues Michael Bleach and Max Henson have pointed out in the past, we all know what a thorough job NFL scouts do on every potential prospect. Yes, that was sarcasm. All it takes is one rumor or one bad second-hand impression to knock someone down the draft boards.
On the other hand, sometimes character doesn’t do much for you. Watt might be the single best human being in this draft class. But even with his talent and versatility, that probably won’t make him the first defensive end taken tonight.
Watt’s story is well-known to Wisconsin fans, as is his “Dream Big, Work Hard” motto, as evidenced by all the wristbands he’s sold (for charity, of course). He’s got his own charity and at Saturday’s spring game, took the time to sign autographs and shake hands with fans. And the one fan I saw ignored in his autograph request while Watt was shaking hands? If Watt had found out about him, I’m sure he would have tracked the kid down and given him a signed jersey; that’s the kind of guy he is. He’s a formidable force both on the field and on Twitter and will be a great member of the community wherever he lands.
But Don Banks has three defensive ends being taken ahead of Watt in his mock draft. Peter King has five. Todd McShay and Mel Kiper have Watt as the first end taken, but neither mentions anything about his character.
TCU quarterback Andy Dalton might win the character competition among quarterbacks this year, according to reports of his interviews. All he’s done as a Horned Frog is win. But he’ll go in the second, maybe the third round. There are also voiced concerns about the fact he’s red-haired. These are the kinds of things scouts worry about.
In the end, talent will win out, as it always does. Pac-Man Jones knows this. Charles Rogers knows this. And when Mallett is the second quarterback taken, he’ll know it too.
It’s a sad hypocrisy that so many organizations talk about the importance of character, yet it’s only an excuse to drop a prospect’s stock, never to elevate it. It might seem a little two-faced, but then again, character doesn’t win Super Bowl rings.
Adam is a senior majoring in journalism who made a giant mistake in his story yesterday. Excited to see where the Badgers go in the draft? Would you take talent over character? Email him at [email protected]