I've always hated when people identify winners after the first day of an NFL draft; so clearly I'm going to have some self-loathing issues tonight. Still, I can't help myself. I was that impressed with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his ability to think independently.
One of the dangers of having a commissioner who wields a mighty hammer when it comes to personal conduct is that teams sometimes act as if immaturity is a crime. Case in point: Oklahoma State wideout Dez Bryant.
He was widely regarded as the best player at his position, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound blend of size, athleticism and playmaking skills. But instead of going in the top 10, where someone of his talent normally is selected, Bryant plummeted to 24, where Jones traded up three spots to get him. The reason for his fall? Character concerns.
I could understand if Bryant had killed someone while driving drunk, or allegedly assaulted a woman in a bar bathroom, or failed a drug test, or tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. But his public rap sheet consists of lying to the NCAA about his relationship with former NFL great Deion Sanders, which resulted in him being suspended for all but three games last season; forgetting a pair of his cleats for his pro day workout; and being habitually late.
"Nothing bad," one scout said Thursday night.
This is not an attempt to paint Bryant as an angel and say he will never have a misstep. But for someone of his immense talents to fall for what amounts to immaturity is ridiculous. But maybe that's what it has come to in this age of the personal conduct policy, under which commissioner Roger Goodell wields a Thor-like hammer. The definition of "character risk" seemingly becomes broader each year or with each bad headline.
I remember having a conversation with respected sociologist Harry Edwards about this a few years ago. He recognized the need for personal responsibility but also cautioned that if you removed every player who had issues from the first round of the draft, the player pool would be comprised of Father Flanagans. Or should we now say Tim Tebows?
No doubt, Bryant has some issues. Several scouts talked privately about his "shaky" support system at home, his anger issues as a child and his habitual tardiness. But the fact remains that there is nothing criminal or bad-natured in his background -- at least nothing that has been served up for public consumption. Clearly, Jones did not see a "character risk" when he made the trade.
Jones saw a young man (21) who still has a lot of growing to do and a wide receiver who, in his last full season, had 87 receptions for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns. Perhaps Jones recognized the tremendous value of getting a top-10 player at No. 24, or maybe he thought back to 1998, when he passed on immensely talented wideout Randy Moss because Moss was dogged by character concerns that included a battery conviction and failed drug test. Jones, who needed a receiver, opted to take defensive end Greg Ellis; Moss fell to the Vikings at No. 21.
When the teams met later that year, Moss got his payback by burning the Cowboys for three touchdowns. I don't think Jones has forgotten that. What else to make of his decision to ignore more pressing areas of need to take a wideout, particularly when he has a lot of money already invested in receivers Roy Williams and, shortly, Miles Austin. But Bryant was too talented to pass on, again, particularly when considering he has never had criminal or legal issues.
"He will need multiple babysitters," says the scout. "But he's as talented as any."
Which is why the Cowboys get the highest marks on Day 1 of this year's draft. Jones will provide the support system for Bryant, and Bryant will provide the playmaking that will make other teams regret passing on him.