INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 26: Quarterback Robert Griffin III of Baylor looks on during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 26, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Surprise! RG3's a terrible person, say a couple of NFL scouts, so disregard everything you've learned from three years of watching him. The NFL has spoken.
This would all go over so much easier if somebody was scouting the scouts. As it is, we don't really know whether a player without a criminal record getting the "character concerns" tag means he's robbed a car-full of scouts at gunpoint (the scouts didn't alert police, most of whom aren't waist-benders), been the subject of a long gaze by a scout's wife, or said one abrupt thing to one scout a year ago.
Imagine if reporters were able to cite scouts of scouts when evaluating scouts.
Draft scout Dan Welters is sending up plenty of red flags as of late. One scout scout said, "He's accurate when it comes to defensive linemen, but has an attitude about him. Great eye when motivated. Takes sloppy notes late at night." I talked to another scout scout who said Welters "doesn't look you in the eye." Concerning.
This would also go more smoothly if we took care to understand what's happening when scouts tear down players who are going to be picked in the top five anyway. Any scout asked to evaluate Robert Griffin III already knows Griffin's going to be picked No. 2. There's no reason to dwell on the many lovable things about the player in this case, especially when it's a player who doesn't fit any standing NFL mold. (There's also no reason for scouts of teams that know they aren't going to get RG3 to do anything but bury him, but there's a conspiracy theory.)
The NFL is a machine, and every year some incoming college players don't fit. In some cases -- like Cam Newton's and maybe Tim Tebow's -- that's a great thing. It keeps the league's creativity from dimming. Otherwise, every team just does whatever Bill Belichick did the season before. Sort of expecting 13 tight ends to be picked in the first round next week.
Last year, the case was Nolan Nawrocki tapping into the (fading) negative sentiment about Newton, calling him disingenuous, entitled, immature and fake of smile. Newton proved to be a big kid who takes his job more seriously by the week. This year, we have a last-minute rush of scouting hipsterism, a real twist ending: sweet cuddlebug RG3 is actually an awful person, and we've known about it for months. We were just too busy to tell you at the time.
College football fans and most Draft observers were annoyed, as Griffin's had a stellar reputation for years. It's not even that Griffin's above reproach, though plenty of Baylor (and Redskins!) fans would stop just short of saying so. If he's a bad guy, then the only people he's showed his true nature to are NFL scouts, like a movie villain who gives away his whole scheme once he's got the hero in a flimsy cage. Save us, NFL scouts! Maybe RG3 had a traumatic event as a child involving an NFL scout.
It's more that people are sick of character surprises coming out days before the Draft.
It all started with this, via the well-regarded Bob McGinn:
"Everybody is just assuming because of the Heisman and the socks and all that bs. . . . they are ignoring a lot of bad tape that he's had," a third scout said. "I don't think he has vision or pocket feel, which to me are the two most important components of quarterbacking. He's just running around winging it. He's (Michael) Vick, but not as good a thrower." [...]
"He has better arm action and is more accurate with his deep ball, but he's not as good as Cam Newton," a fourth scout said. "As much as is written about his athleticism, his athleticism under duress in the pocket isn't even close to Cam Newton's. This guy, the only way he gets big plays with his feet is if he's got a wide-open field and the sea opens for him. He's got a little bit of a selfish streak, too. Everybody was laying on Cam, but for some reason this guy has become gloves off. He doesn't treat anybody good."
Many of the on-field concerns are legit, but I'd trust the average casual fan to tell you Griffin's a better thrower than the rookie Vick was. When a skills evaluation over-reaches and seems to tip off intent, it's hard not to wonder if the following personality evaluation is doing the same, even though it comes from a different scout.
Elsewhere in that collection, Kirk Cousins, Kellen Moore and Ryan Lindley get praised for being good people, with Moore noted as being as "married." Griffin is engaged, for what that's worth. Those are all white guys, while the only two first-round quarterbacks from the past two years to earn concern over character, without specific reports of ongoing bad behavior involved, are black. All scouts aren't especially racist, but it's hard not to talk about this when black quarterbacks keep having to justify their own personalities.
Then the NFL Network's Albert Breer joined in, and we had ourselves a Thursday.
Breer was hammered by Baylor fans, among others, with some who claim to know Griffin personally writing to defend him. Breer's shared fair criticisms of Griffin before, and it's worth noting the reporter wasn't passing along his own observation, of course, but rather the word on the street among scouts he's been in contact with, some of whom apparently were unimpressed with Griffin's conduct at some point last year, though there's no film or stats to refer to.
But this is the problem we arrive at when people who are paid to analyze physical motion based on years worth of film try to analyze human behavior based on anecdotes and interviews. Some things are obvious. If a player lies a lot, then he has a character problem. But what are we supposed to do with, "He doesn't treat anybody good"?
Maybe there's just a backlash element to it. Griffin is going to enter the NFL as one of the 10 or so most popular players, more popular than the NFL-modeled player scouts find to be superior. Griffin hasn't proved he can run an offense with pre-snap adjustments and complex reads, and that's a valid concern, but it just means Mike Shanahan will have to come up with a simpler offense for the time being. How dare this kid make Mike Shanahan do that.
He played in Art Briles' relatively simple system, one highly unlike Gus Malzahn's run-heavy attack Newton operated but still demanding little as far as under-center gesturing and tongue-twisting play calls. It's an insult to the NFL's tacticians to think that kind of player can succeed in the league before spending years being broken down and re-prototyped, even though reciting one of Jon Gruden's paragraph-long plays may count as a feat of strength, but Malzahn's two-digit calls contained just as much information. But that's just my guess, as a biased college fan.
Nice guys have failed at sports before. Stars with great reputations have turned out to be assholes. Scouts have been wrong, scouts have been the only ones that get it right and scouts play games just like everybody else. So no fan should let a NFL employee alter his or her opinion of a NFL player.
Now let's all watch some NFL Draft videos from SB Nation's YouTube channel: