The most discussed news of last night’s first round was Laremy Tunsil. The best player on most experts’ boards managed to drop all the way down to the 13th pick. The Ravens and Titans both passed over him to take other tackles.
And it’s hard to fault them for it.
Ravens Opt for Stanley, Avoiding Tunsil
Ozzie may say that they had Stanley as the highest rated player on his board. Maybe, he was, but only after they decided they were avoiding Tunsil for his one-man biology experiment.
Outlets like Deadspin have pointed out how ridiculous it is that a player would drop for smoking pot in college. “You had fans praying that their teams would select Tunsil,” Barry Petchesky writes, “and then team after team passing because weed is bad.”
The marijuana conversation at a societal level has evolved. The NFL, as a whole, hasn’t caught up. Petchesky is right in that regard. It’s easy, then, to cast blame toward individual teams, and it isn’t hard to fault the Ravens for passing on a player for marijuana-related issues.
That, however, ignores some important distinctions with the Tunsil case and the attitude of decision-makers toward marijuana in general.
1.) Tunsil let someone record a video of him
You can criticize the NFL’s archaic marijuana policy as much as you want. I’ll probably agree with you. You won’t convince me, however, that Tunsil displayed anything but incredibly poor judgment in allowing that video of himself to exist. Tunsil says it happened “years ago.” I have no reason to disbelieve him. But “years” could mean anywhere from 2 years to high school. Either way, he’s shouldn’t be in front of a camera.
2.) There were other issues before the video
Laremy Tunsil, like most college athletes of his stature, was provided with improper benefits during his time at Ole Miss. But he got caught. He has a pending domestic violence lawsuit in an ugly, ugly battle with his stepfather. Both of these issues could become enormous headaches for a team throughout training camp. On top of that, he struggled with injuries throughout his career. Maybe the video was just the cherry on top of all of these issues.
3.) There was very little time to make sense of it
NFL front offices have months to prepare for the draft. They work through tape, measurables, suggestions from their coaches, and scouting reports for their performance on the field. They research what they’re like off the field and any legal troubles in which they’re involved.
To make a decision on Tunsil, the Ravens had less than an hour to manage how they dealt with the video while evaluating the board and working on trades. Your gut would probably tell you right away to stay away from this guy. You have to ask yourself, “Could there be more and is it worth the headache?” You’re about to make a heavy investment in this player. It’s hard to become comfortable enough with this issue.
4.) The individual team doesn’t control the league’s policy
This is the most important distinction to make with this case. Individual NFL teams, GMs, personnel directors, scouts, and owners can be as forward-thinking as they want to be when it comes to marijuana. It will change nothing, at least not immediately. Maybe they can help to push forward the NFL’s mentality on marijuana. For now, though, they have to evaluate players under the current policy. A player who’s gone viral for smoking doesn’t jive with the NFL’s anti-pot image. They won’t be happy with it, and the league may look at a player like Tunsil with a more discerning eye after a video like that surfaces.
Off-field issues in general have little to do with what front offices think of them. All that matters is public perception. If a player like Tunsil could give a team constant public relations headaches, avoiding them entirely becomes an enticing option.
You may not agree with it. I know I would rather the Ravens have taken the better player with more upside and ignored the character issues.
But I’m not the one who has to sit in front of a crowd of reporters if he gets himself into trouble again. If I was, maybe Ronnie Stanley would seem like the better option.