Character may play factor in Lions' draft choices

BY foxsports • April 10, 2012

When a team has had three of its most recent draft picks arrested for marijuana possession in recent months, it only makes sense to try to avoid taking any similar risks in this year's draft.

That's the position the Detroit Lions are in after news that defensive tackle Nick Fairley, running back Mikel Leshoure and offensive tackle Johnny Culbreath - their first-, second- and fifth-round selections last year - had run-ins with the law over the last few months.

It should - and quite likely will - make the Lions that much more careful when they're on the clock for the NFL Draft on April 26-28.

The Lions need a high-end cornerback, but two of the top prospects in the draft come with some baggage. Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick was arrested in January for marijuana possession. The charge was later dropped after Kirkpatrick's friend took full responsibility for the marijuana.

Still, it raises a red flag, especially for a team in the Lions' predicament.

Then there's North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins, once considered definite first-round talent. Jenkins started at Florida for three years before getting kicked off the team following two marijuana-related arrests.

Terry Bowden, his coach at North Alabama, has said Jenkins passed every drug test there and insists Jenkins doesn't have a drug or alcohol problem. But there are still concerns about Jenkins' character.

So what do you do? Completely rule those two out, or take a close look and maybe roll the dice?

The Lions, seemingly on the verge of becoming a Super Bowl contender, shouldn't overreact to what happened with Fairley, Leshoure and Culbreath, and pass up the opportunity to land a quality player, especially at a key position like cornerback.

It puts the front office, scouts and coaching staff - anyone involved in the selection process - in a tough spot. They have to determine whether the potential draft pick made a youthful mistake that will be corrected, or whether it's a more serious problem that is likely to occur again.

There are never guarantees in these types of cases, but if the Lions expect the player to clean up his act and not be disruptive to the locker-room chemistry, there should be no hesitation in pulling the trigger on draft day.

Mayhew and company can't let what happened with last year's trio affect this year's decisions. Be smart, don't take bad risks, but also don't be scared.

Athletes have become so high profile these days that they can harm an organization's perception by getting into trouble off the field. Decision-makers such as Lions president Tom Lewand, general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz are under increasingly more pressure to evaluate character as much as football skills.

When a club has a run of bad publicity as the Lions have had lately, that pressure to bring in players with quality character only intensifies.

For the first time since the Lions released a statement last week, Lewand addressed the ramifications of the Fairley and Leshoure incidents during an interview Monday on Detroit radio station WJR.

Lewand is in an interesting position considering that less than two years ago, he was suspended and fined by the league following a DUI arrest.

"You are held to a high standard," Lewand said. "I know that firsthand. When we make mistakes we've got to learn from them and grow as human beings."

While Lewand expressed disappointment with the rookies' arrests, he also made it clear that he still stands behind them.

"People make mistakes," Lewand said in the radio interview. "You want to give guys opportunities to correct those mistakes, learn from them and move forward."

"They are good guys," Lewand added. "We still have to remember at times, and this is not to excuse anyone's behavior, but guys are young. I think when all of us were in our early 20s, the feeling of invincibility was a lot higher than maybe it is today."

Kirkpatrick and Jenkins certainly are young, too. But are they good guys or potential troublemakers?

NFL teams, especially ones in need of a cornerback like the Lions, have to make that determination in the next couple weeks, if they haven't already.

The Lions just have to make sure their decision is based solely on what they believe about Kirkpatrick, Jenkins or anyone else, and not because of what happened with Fairley, Leshoure and Culbreath.

EXTRA POINT

The Lions announced that they have extended a relationship with Channel 7 in Detroit to televise their preseason games for the next four years.

The deal also includes pre-game shows during the regular season, along with a one-hour draft preview that will air April 26, the night of the first round, from 7-8 p.m.


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