NFL Draft: How Much Does Character Really Matter When Drafting a Player?

Brandon Holstein@@BHolsteinNFLDM3Featured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2013

Alec Ogletree's recent off-field decisions have clouded his character and raised questions about his maturity level.
Alec Ogletree's recent off-field decisions have clouded his character and raised questions about his maturity level.Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

"Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily express our character."- Stephen Covey

It's often said that a man's true character is revealed when he believes no one is watching. For athletes and superstars, this line of thinking has been changed forever with the advent and popularity of social media.

Today, we as a society are obsessed and constantly connected and updated about the latest happenings of our favorite players and teams. 

Decisions and situations that once were kept in-house have been magnified by mainstream media, waiting to be discovered and dissected by a simple click of the mouse or Twitter feed update. 

So for players like NFL draft hopeful Alec Ogletree—who, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was recently cited for a DUI—how much do a lack of judgment and character issues feed into an organization's willingness to draft a player?  

The answer to that complex question is one that requires close supervision and diligent investigation.

Over the years, we have seen marquee college players with character problems transcend our realm of thinking and cause rifts and split consensus amongst loyal draft followers. 

From a recent example like Titus Young to big-time disappointments like Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell—nearly every draft has a few select players with serious off-field issues to discuss.

Because of this, teams are now putting a premium on finding talented players with the right attitude and mindset to become not only celebrated teammates and players, but also valuable members of their newfound communities as well.

Although essentially an inexact science, the premise behind flawed character ultimately comes down to two things: comfort and trust.

How confident are you this player has put his past behind him and what reasons and specific examples can you cite for this conclusion?

To do this takes work and a lot of digging into a player's past—and scouts will go to great lengths to get to the bottom of the issue to confidently assess a player's motivation for change.

Teams have multiple tools at their disposal when millions of dollars and jobs are at stake, including analyzing past decisions, talking with close family members and friends and even up-close-and-personal questions directly aimed toward the player themselves.

However, no matter how you slice it there, will always be oversight and players that teams miss the boat on. Historically, these are the players with so much physical upside and talent the risk/reward seems all the more bearable and easy to accept.

After all, from a very early age we are taught to form an opinion using a bottom-up-type approach.

For instance, in writing we learn to first decide what it is we want to write about before researching the topic and ultimately beginning the brainstorming process. 

Essentially, we must pour the concrete and lay the foundation before we can even begin the building process.

While a bottom-up approach may be the way to conduct our line of thinking normally, the easiest approach is not always necessarily the best way to conduct this type of business.

In fact, when it comes to character, a more top-down approach is likely to yield better results, as teams can save valuable time and energy by eliminating players early on in the process.

The quote below touches on this issue when evaluating players.

"It is not by muscle, speed or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character and judgment."- Marcus Tullius Cicero

We obviously live in a society in which manipulation is everywhere and used quite often. From emotional ads to commercials and advertising messages designed to evoke a human response, we typically overlook the real issue because we become distracted. 

The same can be seen when evaluating a player simply based on their skill and talent level. While extremely important, it's critical not to get too caught up in the glam and glitz. 

When you start with the head and work your way down, you become less likely to form a biased opinion and predispose yourself to making excuses for a given player, thus greatly reducing the chance of making a memorable mistake in the process.

At the end of the day, we will always be attracted and fascinated by beauty, athleticism, talent and bright lights. Getting caught up in the moment is a fact of life, and, unfortunately, we can sometimes become victim of our own nearsightedness.

While intangible and hard to accurately address, a player's character can ultimately make an above-average prospect average and turn a great player into an extremely risky proposition capable of busting.

Luckily, however, for every Ryan Leaf there's a Russell Wilson, and for every Titus Young, a Donald Driver. 

It's always easier to build and keep your character than to recover a tarnished image, and players like Alec Ogletree and Tyrann Mathieu must now lay in the bed they made for themselves.

Unfortunately for both, their past decisions have created more questions than answers and will assuredly be under an even closer microscope by fans, media and scouts from now on.