INDIANAPOLIS -- There are certain elements of a player's game that NFL teams can quantify. However, there are crucial aspects which cannot be defined by statistics. Character is one of them.
Teams have to project how players who had issues in college will handle living under the microscope of the NFL. How will fame, money and new living situations change people? In every draft room, there will be debates regarding which players are worth the risk and which ones to pass on.
"When you're looking for guys that have off-field incidents you're trying to get as much information as possible first," general manager Howie Roseman said. "You are the information gatherers. You want to evaluate the situation. You want to make sure you feel you're not penalizing someone for something improperly. That's the first part of it. Then you want to sit down and talk to them and talk to as many people that know those people, get all the information and then make a decision based on that information and the specific player, as opposed to making a general statement."
LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu is one of the most talented players who will not be drafted as high because of off-the-field concerns. In 2011, Mathieu was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and earned Associated Press All-America first-team honors as a true sophomore. On the stat sheet, Mathieu recorded six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries (two of which led to touchdowns), 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and nine pass breakups.
However, Mathieu was dismissed from the LSU team in August 2012 for drug problems. He entered a drug rehab program, but returned to LSU for the school year less than a month later. In October, Mathieu was arrested for drug possession. A promising football career was almost destroyed. Mathieu entered rehab and has a support system of current NFL players including former LSU teammates Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne, Darrelle Revis and Corey Webster. The 5-8, 186-pound cornerback expects to test well at the NFL Scouting Combine. He knows he has cost himself "millions," but wants to show teams that he "is accountable for everything he did" and trustworthy.
"My best friend right now is honesty," Mathieu said. "I'm trying to be as open right now because I'm trying to rebuild my trust."
Mathieu said that he's been clean since October 26. He understands what his life is like without football and knows he must approach life "a little bit different" once he has football again. Mathieu claims that if he's in the spotlight again he'll know how to understand the attention and outside pressures this time around.
"I know what it's like not to have football, not to be the center of attention. I know what it's like to be humiliated," Mathieu said. "To go back down that road? Not a chance in the world. Not a chance in my lifetime again."
Mathieu is certainly not the only player with off-the-field concerns. Far from it. The question is whether teams believe that Mathieu, or any other player with character questions, is truly changed. And if the answer is yes, how high a draft pick will a team invest?
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