All the talk about players with checkered pasts and character red flags heading into the draft ignores something important: Players who turn out to be off-field troublemakers in the NFL aren’t always the players who were viewed as character concerns heading into the draft.
One of the best examples of that is in San Francisco, where Aldon Smith’s repeated off-field troubles have led to questions about whether he has any future with the 49ers at all. And yet when the 49ers took Smith with the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, they viewed his character as a positive attribute, not a concern.
“I’m really impressed with him as a person, he’s an all-American young man,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said the day Smith was drafted, as noted by the San Francisco Chronicle. “Just great wiring, many blessings from Mom, Dad and God.”
The flip side is that when the 49ers drafted NaVorro Bowman in 2010, one of the reasons he was still available in the third round is that he had been in off-field trouble in college at Penn State. Shortly after the 2010 draft, one report card for the 49ers noted that Bowman was “a big risk due to his character concerns.” Bowman has developed not only into one of the best linebackers in the NFL, but also into a team leader.
So the reality is that just as no one knows for sure how well a mobile quarterback will develop into a pocket passer, or how a small-school prospect will match up against NFL competition, no one knows for sure which players who are drafted this week will turn out to have off-field problems when they get to the NFL.