Character First

Donte Whitner's arrest this weekend shouldn't come on deaf ears. After yet another player getting in trouble with the law, the Bills must make a point to draft high-character players this year, BFR's Tyler Dunne says...

Russ Brandon should have his rule of thumb for draft weekend. No, he's not drafting for speed. Not for defense. Not for offense. Not for any tangible production at all.

After Donte Whitner's embarrassing run-in with the law , Buffalo's pre-requisite for every draft pick this year is clear: Draft on character.

Take the playbook-reading, curfew-abiding saints over the coach-killing, bar-hopping hooligans. Because one more misstep and this franchise inflates to a Bengals-sized laughingstock.

Buffalo's bizarre off-season took another strange turn this weekend with Whitner getting arrested (and Tasered) for aggravated disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Of course, this incident was preceded by Ko Simpson's humiliating "I am worth millions!" rant to police. And – in case you've forgot – Marshawn Lynch's second brush with the law.

That racket you hear off Route 219 is a circus developing in Orchard Park. Rather than take a team-wide stand again thuggish behavior, the Bills poured salt into the character wound by signing Terrell Owens. The Bills needed a Reagan Revolution and paid $6.5 million for one season's worth of Amsterdam. Those "T.O. in the B-Lo" shirts smattering HSBC Arena today will multiply, indeed the signing has already created a buzz. But at what cost? Whitner's latest Tasering may be enough for the Bills to become a punch line for comedians everywhere.

In two seasons, the actions of Lynch, Simpson, Whitner and James Hardy ( you remember) uprooted the groundwork Marv Levy tried to cement as general manager. Levy misfired on some of these players himself, but Brandon tossing T.O. into the mix is like pouring gasoline over a fire.

It's not too late to get back on track. Brandon can mold his precedent as general manager through the draft by sincerely drafting players on character. It's a key point in every G.M.'s stump speech this time of year (you never hear a G.M. vow to take pot-smoking drunkards in the first round). But in light of three starters blotting the police report this off-season, Buffalo doesn't have an option. Character must count. Several top-flight players at positions of need – tight end, defensive end, outside linebacker and (if Jason Peters is traded) offensive tackle – have dicey reputations.

Russ Brandon must channel his inner frat brother and dive into Facebook. A revealing report on Yahoo Sports showed how several teams are implementing such a covert strategy. By creating fake accounts with a curvy woman as the profile picture, teams are able to "friend" prospects and then peruse personal photos. This raw approach sifts through any bull a prospective prospect may pitch in a formal interview.

A picture of Matt Leinart holding a beer bong suddenly is Disney-tame compared to some raunchy filth on Facebook.

No team anticipates its players getting arrested one-by-one like clockwork. Russ Brandon can't be Marshawn Lynch's personal chaperone in California. But he can try to minimize future P.R. nightmares in two weeks by selecting players that bring humility to the organization. Back checks on prospects should be thorough – and from all angles. Any red flag – be it B.J. Raji's academic problems or Robert Ayers' misdemeanor assault in a fight – must be a negative factor. Just as Connor Barwin's relentless work ethic or Chase Coffman's humble upbringing as the son of a Green Bay great should be major positives.

This is a critical draft for the Bills. Whitner's ordeal was a blaring wake-up call the team must answer. The Bengals were atop the AFC North before their players started going through the jail cell as if it were a turnstile. Now, Cincinnati toils in obscurity. Buffalo is flirting with disaster. This year, Brandon's team must sift through the bad eggs and locate high-character prospects that will last for years.

Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of BuffaloFootballReport.com and also writes for The Packer Report. Contact him at thdunne@gmail.com.


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