OWINGS MILLS — The NFL isn’t unlike most discerning employers.
Akin to how companies operate on Wall Street or along the Silicon Valley, the league has standards for behavior and will eliminate or downgrade prospective job candidates based on their conduct and background.
As the Baltimore Ravens prepare for the NFL draft next week, part of their evaluation process involves weighing the merits and demerits of players’ character.
It tends to be a subjective exercise as NFL teams try to determine if a player is truly contrite for past off-field incidents or likely to be a recidivist offender.
Everything from criminal activity, failed drug tests, a history of domestic violence, family issues, a low score on the Wonderlic intelligence exam or just a bad attitude can cause the Ravens to either remove a player entirely from their draft board or downgrade them to a lower round.
What constitutes a red flag for the Ravens?
"They’re probably a lot of the same red flags that would stick out for you," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "Any kind of character things are major red flags. There’s no absolute sort of thing. There’s a slotting scale of things that would be major character concerns because society has changed.
"Some issues that would be major flags 10 or 15 years ago might not be as major of a flag now and there will be some new things that we’ll look at character-wise that we really didn’t have to deal with 10 or 15 years ago as much."
The Ravens routinely remove five to 10 players annually from draft consideration based on a variety of character issues.
Among the players whose stock has likely been affected around the NFL by their actions:
North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins was dismissed from the University of Florida football program after being arrested three times, twice for possession of marijuana and once for his involvement in a bar fight. He denied a report that he continued to use drugs after enrolling at North Alabama.
"I wasn’t smoking marijuana at North Alabama," Jenkins said in a telephone interview. "I wasn’t partying. They’ve been saying a lot of things about me that aren’t true without getting my side of the story. It’s been a humbling experience.
"I’ve matured. My past is my past. People can judge me for how far I’ve come. I want to know why all of a sudden this is out there about me. Why didn’t it come out after the combine when I was straightforward with the scouts? The timing is very interesting to me."
Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams tested positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine, which is regarded as a particularly troubling mistake considering players are warned that they will be tested for drugs.
Adams also had issues while playing for the Buckeyes and was suspended twice, including one for violating NCAA rules.
Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was charged with possession of marijuana this year, but the case was dropped when another passenger in the car took responsibility for the drugs. Teams will still scrutinize the incident.
West Virginia pass rusher Bruce Irvin was an admitted teenage drug dealer who was recently arrested for destruction of property at a sandwich shop, hours after his campus Pro Day workout.
And McNeese State safety Janzen Jackson had a history of failed drug tests at Tennessee and was involved in an armed robbery incident where the charges were later dropped.
"Character concerns vary from team to team," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. "Some teams look at it and say, hey, we’ve interviewed the guy, our take on the interview and the research we did is different from another team. There are a lot of guys who have red flags. How many will be affected and impacted severely, I think the one that’s going to be impacted the most would be Janoris Jenkins because he would have been a top 10 to 15 pick."
LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne had an extremely low score on the Wonderlic test, a four out of a possible high of 50 on the timed exam.
Claiborne has a learning disability that makes timed testing difficult for him. He’s expected to be drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the fifth overall pick of the first round.
"We do look at the Wonderlic test," DeCosta said. "In regards to the Wonderlic test, we treat that like a lot of other things, it’s a flag. It could be a concern. It could mean that we have to do more work on a guy, bring a guy in, spend a day with him here in Baltimore, interview a guy at the combine, have the coaches spend some time with him, have him watch some football tape, talk to some other people at the school to get some more information.
"We don’t base our decisions on a Wonderlic, just like we don’t base our decisions on a 40-yard dash, a vertical jump and, in most cases, on a guy being arrested. We take the whole body of work, we look at it, we compare each player and we make our decisions.”
Rather than simply disqualifying a player because of one incident, the Ravens study how often there’s a repeat of similar mistakes.
Ultimately, a player that continually causes trouble could become unavailable to play due to an NFL suspension or serving jail time. Plus, players with character issues tend to create distractions in the locker room. Not to mention they’re a public relations problem for their team.
“It’s not necessarily that the guy does one thing that is really, really stupid,” DeCosta said. “But when you see a pattern develop over the course of two, three, four years where he continues to do destructive things, whether it’s substance related, whether it’s domestic-type stuff, whether it’s criminal-type stuff, that’s when we really get concerned."
Two years ago, the Ravens drafted outside linebacker Sergio Kindle in the second round despite a driving under the influence arrest, an incident where he crashed his car into an apartment building for driving while texting and him suffering from narcolepsy, a sleeping disorder.
Kindle fractured his skull prior to his rookie season when crashed down two flights of stairs, missing the entire year before returning to play sparingly last year. He also had a driving under the influence arrest in Maryland as a rookie that has since been resolved with a guilty plea with no trouble since that case.
Last year, the Ravens drafted cornerback Jimmy Smith in the first round after he had off-field issues that included a positive drug test for marijuana, a third-degree assault charge and a pair of underage drinking charges.
Since joining the Ravens, Smith hasn’t had any incidents and contributed as a rookie with 20 tackles and two interceptions.
The final determinations on if the Ravens will take a risk on players with character concerns are ultimately made by general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti.
The Ravens also evaluate everything from mental illness to learning disabilities.
“Obviously any sort of mental concerns would be a red flag because football is a game where you have to think quickly,” DeCosta said. “We’ll investigate any sort of mental learning issues with any player that we like because we feel that is critical to a guy’s success or lack of success.”
NOTE: Quarterback Curtis Painter’s one-year contract with the Ravens is worth $615,000 and includes no signing bonus.