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The NFL and its 'character concerns'

Character matters, right up until the player in question starts producing big-time results on the field. Joe Fortenbaugh

Print This February 25, 2014, 03:43 PM EST

Texas A&M quarterback and projected first-round draft pick Johnny Manziel spent the better part of last week underneath a microscope at the 2014 Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. One of the more polarizing prospects in this year’s draft class, the 21-year-old Manziel worked to elevate his standing among NFL talent evaluators and decision makers while being poked and prodded, timed and measured, questioned and interrogated. As an unproven commodity labeled with the stock-killing “character concerns” designation, Manziel’s mission in Indianapolis was to erase any doubt regarding his future prospects and ability to lead an NFL franchise.

Just a few days before Manziel began making the rounds in Indy working to persuade the NFL brass that he’s more than capable of living up to the “professional” label that will be bestowed upon him come May, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice—a proven NFL commodity—was caught on tape dragging his unconscious fiancée from an Atlantic City casino elevator. Rice was charged with simple assault-domestic violence on Saturday, February 15, and police now say that in addition to the aforementioned video, they have obtained footage of the Baltimore running back knocking his fiancée unconscious.

Standing just a shade under six feet tall, Manziel’s perceived lack of height has no doubt raised at least a few concerns regarding his ability to perform at a high level in a league that features quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, the Manning brothers, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and others who measure in at 6-2 or taller. But the success of second-year signal-caller Russell Wilson, who is listed at 5-11, helps somewhat to alleviate those concerns. In reality, the big issue as it relates to Manziel is his character. Can he lead? Will he party too much off the field? Is he too arrogant and too self-absorbed? These are the questions that have been asked before and will be asked countless times again as we approach the 2014 NFL draft in May. The reason? Because NFL decision makers won’t just be investing time and money into Manziel, they may very well be putting their livelihoods on the line. And since Manziel boasts exactly zero snaps of professional service on his resume, the decision makers must leave no stone unturned in their evaluations of this uniquely talented quarterback.

Manziel’s character matters.

Johnny ManzielManziel's character is of the utmost concern primarily because he has yet to produce on an NFL gridiron.

In six professional campaigns, Ray Rice has established himself as one of the league’s premier running backs. The 27-year-old from Rutgers has amassed 2,000+ total yards twice during his career, earned three trips to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, garnered two All-Pro nominations and won a Super Bowl. Rice has caught 58 or more passes in each of his last five seasons and, since 2008, ranks fourth in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (9,214). One can make an excellent case that since he entered the professional ranks six years ago, no player has meant more to the Baltimore offense than Ray Rice.

Rice’s character doesn’t matter.

The Baltimore Ravens, along with the league’s other 31 franchises, would love nothing more than to field a 53-man roster made up of high-character winners who serve as a shining light in the community. In a perfect world, this would be a perfect scenario. But ours is an imperfect world with a bottom line that values wins far greater than charity. The NFL is made up of a rare breed of physical specimen, where 1,300 yards on the ground is sometimes accompanied by a few character deficiencies. In order to win you sometimes have to make sacrifices, both on the field and in your evaluations.

Remember this when Ray Rice has his day in court. Keep this in mind the next time Rice’s lawyer tells you to “remember what a high-character, good person Ray is.” We don’t know all the facts regarding what happened that night in Atlantic City between Ray Rice and his fiancée, Janay Palmer. But ask yourself this: If your fiancée collapsed into an unconscious heap in an elevator, how many of you would react the way Ray Rice did in that video? Once those elevator doors swung open, wouldn’t you scream for assistance while simultaneously dialing 911?

Whether or not the Baltimore Ravens decide to part ways with Ray Rice remains to be seen. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Rice in purple and black next season. And if the team were to cut their star running back, it’s a guarantee that some other organization will swoop in to sign the six-year veteran to a contract. Should that situation present itself, perhaps the team that signs Rice would be the same team engaged at this very moment in discussions regarding certain draft prospects who should slide down their board due to character concerns.

That’s because character matters, but only up to the point where the player in question starts producing favorable results on the field. Johnny Manziel has yet to step foot on an NFL gridiron, so his character is of the utmost significance. Ray Rice has been producing big-time results for six years. His character will be of little significance as long as that production continues.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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