Titus Young Serves as Worst-Case Scenario for Teams Drafting Players With Character Concerns

Titus YoungThe Lions can’t say that no one warned them. They took a risk on Titus Young, and well, it didn’t pay off.

Detroit selected the former Boise State wide receiver No. 44 overall in the 2011 NFL draft. His talent on the field was said to be comparable to DeSean Jackson‘s, but his behavior off the field was more Ryan Leaf. The Lions got just 81 receptions, 990 yards and 10 touchdowns out of a player who was supposed to take pressure off Calvin Johnson on the other side of the field.

Young’s character red flags weren’t obvious coming out of college, but they were out there. There were murmurs that he interviewed poorly with teams. He had an arrest for misdemeanor minor alcohol possession. He was suspended once for violating team rules.

Since Young’s been in the NFL, though, he’s basically been the Amanda Bynes of the league. It might be impossible to list all of the young wide receiver’s infractions, but his latest — getting arrested twice in 15 hours — is really an accomplishment for anyone. That’s right, he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, and again for trying to steal his car from the impound.

Young’s story may be why a player like Da’Rick Rogers went undrafted in 2013. Rogers had similar character issues coming out of Tennessee and Tennessee Tech, plus he had a glaring red flag for getting kicked off the Volunteers’ squad for failing multiple drug tests. Of course, Young is just the worst-case example of a character issue coming out of college, but it appears his troubles might have influenced teams this year.

The NFL seemed to be playing the draft as safe as any year before. The first player to come off the board with serious concerns was Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long, who  had substance-abuse issues in college. He also has an NFL pedigree, which may make him viewed as a safer choice. His father is Howie Long and his brother is Rams defensive end Chris Long.

After Long, DeAndre Hopkins (reportedly trashed his combine hotel room), Cordarrelle Patterson (reportedly interviewed poorly) and Alec Ogletree (multiple suspensions at Georgia) all went off the board in the first round, but teams held off on guys like Travis Kelce, Sam Montgomery and Marquess Wilson until the third round or later.

No one expected players like Rogers, Tyler Bray or Mark Harrison to go undrafted, but they did, and Young could be to blame. Drug and alcohol issues can be fixed. The worst that will happen in those cases are arrests, suspensions and distractions. But a player like Young, who appears to be a terrible teammate if he’s willing to put himself above the team to make a point, can’t be put up with in the NFL.

A player like Tyrann Mathieu is a perfect example of this trend. Mathieu had drug issues rarely seen in college football. He admitted he lost count of his failed drug tests. But by all accounts, Mathieu tried hard on the football field and was a good teammate. Rogers had similar drug issues, but obviously those alone didn’t make him go undrafted (see: Honey Badger). It was the other issues, like fights with teammates and insubordination on the field that made him fall off draft boards — or, “Titus Young issues.”

The Lions’ 2011 draft class is an interesting case study in the player with character concerns. Young was about as big of a bust as you’ll ever find now that he’s probably permanently out of the NFL after less than two seasons. But a player like Nick Fairley, who had more notable problems coming out of Auburn, could be viewed as a success early in his career despite those issues popping up again.

Fairley has been arrested for marijuana possession and driving under the influence during his two-year career, but it hasn’t stopped him from being productive, and it hasn’t kept him off the field. Once again, substance-abuse problems are largely ignored in the NFL because the repercussions are mostly minor.

Aldon Smith was taken off some teams’ draft boards in that same class. He still went No. 7 overall to the non-risk-averse 49ers and it’s paid off on the field, while his off-field behavior has been just as many teams feared. Smith has piled up an incredible 33 1/2 sacks in two seasons. He was also booked for a DUI in January 2012 and stabbed during an altercation in June 2012. Smith hasn’t been able to stay out of trouble, just as some teams suspected, but if the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter because it’s not affecting his play on the field or his teammates.

So when you see a player falling down the draft (or completely out of it), you will probably have players like Young to blame for thinking they’re bigger than the team or league.

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