By Matt Waldman
In the end, we're going to overcomplicate the simple, and they're likely to oversimplify what's complicated. "We" are the media and fans, "they" are the NFL, and wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham embodies both "simple" and "complicated."
The ridiculously talented football player with a hyphenated last name (which is one part his mother's and the other part the high school coach who adopted him) is 6-foot-6, 225 pounds of twisted steel and receiving appeal. He's the closest thing that I've seen to Calvin Johnson since the former Yellow Jackets receiver was a one-man fireworks display at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
He's a football analyst's wet dream. There's no need for metrics, scheme, technique, the NFL Combine, or any Pro Day figures to tell you that Green-Beckham is good. Use that data for your own amusement if you must, but once you open your eyes to the film, your cerebral cortex will understand that Green-Beckham is a no-brainer.
He's more physically gifted than any of the receivers of the 2014 rookie class, a group that is setting the NFL ablaze with its collective production. Good enough that sooner than later, Green-Beckham could belong on a list of names like Johnson, A.J. Green, Andre Johnson, Josh Gordon, Dez Bryant, and Brandon Marshall, and because he'll be the answer to the question, "which one is not like the others?"
On the field, it's simple. Off the field, it's messy. Green-Beckham has been charged twice with marijuana-related offenses and suspected of pushing a woman down at least four steps of stairs while trying to force his way into his former girlfriend's place. It's why Green-Beckham transferred from Missouri to Oklahoma this spring and is now sitting out his junior year.
Whether Green-Beckham decides to make the leap now* or waits a year to strengthen his stock, some team will jump at the chance to acquire him. But the league won't allow us to think it's that simple during the months leading to the draft.
(*Don't hate, Bob Stoops. I agree that mock drafts before New Year's Day are stupid. Hell, they're little more than entertainment for the masses until at least March. Still, any analyst worth his salt has to consider the big fella giving the NFL a go or be remiss in his duties.)
There will be private investigations into what the prospect did with his Snickers wrapper on the last day of class in the seventh grade. There will be analysis about how he does during the NFL Combine interview event that someone ripped off from the Miss USA Pageant. And because NFL upper management gets wood at the mere thought of doing anything that has an armed forces influence, they will pay for player-personality assessments based on military style interrogations.
Then, when it's all said and done, this "confidential" information will be leaked by dozens of anonymous NFL personnel who will gossip more than their grandmas at a canasta table.
This pre-draft cloak-and-dagger will bait the general public into a frenzy of analysis that we go through almost every draft season. Is Green-Beckham worth a high-round pick because of his past? Can he stay out of trouble? Is he even as talented as people say?
The NFL does all of this because it wants everyone to think it has an in-depth process to support its decisions on massive talents with past behavioral issues. That way it can cover its ass on a decision about a player who could later become a public relations problem if he slips up managing his weed or his interpersonal relationships away from the game. Monitor the game for any length of time and you know better.
Even so, I am making an oversimplification. Some teams have a clear vision and process about the type of players they want, and they will not misuse these analysis tools to create a justification that sounds rock-solid on the surface, but laden with cognitive bias beneath it.
[ad placeholder 3]
Pair him with a veteran who overcame his troubles and can "relate" to him...
Give him a stricter curfew...
Drug test him so often that it will be a deterrent to him using...
Make sure he listens at the rookie symposium...
As one NFL personnel veteran told me, when it comes to personal issues bleeding into the workplace, most teams are no different than most people. They don't want to understand or deal with the root of the problem, and they prefer to manage the symptoms. When it comes to talents like Green-Beckham, my contact says that what often happens with some organizations is that they will wrap themselves around a pole only to make a stark decision either way in the end.
"Many general managers mean well, but they end up asking data to tell them they made the right call," says this veteran NFL employee. "Strictly data-driven decisions are something that high-powered business executives struggle with, regardless of field. The NFL is just especially error-prone."
I know that I've worked with clowns from that kind of circus before. Sad to say, I've even donned the suit and makeup from time to time. Green-Beckham's greatest risk as a prospect may come from the reactionary nature of the NFL in light of how the league was burned with Ray Rice and appearing draconian and arbitrary with Gordon.
This isn't new to the NFL. Lawrence Phillips was the sixth pick in the 1996 draft. By 1998, he was trying to land a gig with the 49ers after an assault at a Miami night club as a Dolphin in 1997. It was Phillips' second known assault as an adult. The other was at Nebraska when he assaulted his then-girlfriend and dragged her down a flight of steps by her hair.
The same year Phillips was embarking on what would be his last chance in the NFL, Randy Moss, a clear top-five talent, dropped to 21st overall. We'd be remiss not to consider that Phillips' issues sounded a clarion call to the collective NFL ownership. It's not that Moss didn't earn the caution flag, but there was a difference in the behaviors and the underlying motivations when comparing the off-field issues of Phillips and Moss. The NFL underreacted to the former while overreacting to the latter.
Or did they? Phillips will be in a California prison until he's 57 because he couldn't keep his hands off a woman and he used his car as a potentially deadly weapon on three teenagers. Moss repeated some of his past mistakes after becoming a pro. During his stint in Minnesota, Moss was charged with a felony for using his car to bump a traffic control officer and knock her to the ground. Although Moss pleaded out to a misdemeanor, the officer reportedly earned a settlement from a civil suit in the "low to mid six figures." Marijuana was also involved in the case.
Moss didn't learn his lessons right away, and neither did Dez Bryant, Josh Gordon, or Brandon Marshall. First and foremost, it is the responsibility of the individual to become a more mature, law-abiding human being. However, isn't it also good business for an organization to make a responsible decision on a multimillion dollar investment?
If the organization has prior knowledge about past behavior that could wreck that investment, it behooves that team to take proactive, well-researched steps to address that potential risk from the moment they claim that player as one of their own. Playing hall monitor with a piss bottle or giving the rookie the NFL's informal, unstructured equivalent of the Big Brother/Big Sister Program isn't enough. And if you think telling a player to change his behaviors based on 21 or more years of life because of what he heard during a one-week symposium is anything more than a decent first step, you need more life experience outside your cloistered suburban sprawl.
[ad placeholder 4]
There are elements to Dorial Green-Beckham's football story that remind me of Moss. He's a massive talent, he likes pot, and he has displayed a problem with handling conflict appropriately. He's also six to 18 months away from entering an NFL Draft environment that will be reacting to the bad PR it got from Rice, Greg Hardy, and Adrian Peterson in a similar way that it reacted to Moss two years after Phillips' cracks were beginning to show.
I have no issue with a team taking Green-Beckham in the draft based solely on his talent. It's a business decision that could pay massive dividends. But until the NFL does more than give lip service to at-risk players, and develops a long-term plan to assist in their growth rather than merely deterrents, they're complicit in what happens next.
Matt Waldman authors the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. available for download now. The guide covers 164 prospects at the offensive skill positions (QB, RB, WR, and TE). If you're a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 -- 2014 RSPs at no additional charge and available for download within a week after the NFL Draft. Best of all, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio (2006-2013) for just $9.95 apiece.