Red star players was the catch phrase coming out of the Castle this weekend. Assistant general manger Eric DeCosta explained red star players, "...players that the scouts think are really just awesome, on and off the field. They are not necessarily the best players, but they are usually the very best kids - work ethic, demeanor, durability, character, practice habits, the way they carry themselves..." Ronnie Stanley, Kamalei Correa and Bronson Kaufusi, the Baltimore Ravens first three selections in the 2016 NFL draft, all fit this mold.
Beginning in the first round, the Ravens avoided drafting Laremy Tunsil, an offensive tackle that many considered to be a superior player to Stanley. There are conflicting reports on whether the gas mask video played a part in the Ravens decision. The Ravens were not the only team that passed on Tunsil, he fell all the way down to the #13 spot where Miami ended his slide. Tunsil's draft day fall due to drug concerns mirrors the 1995 Warren Sapp draft day experience, who was picked much later than expected due to a late report of drug use and went on to have a Hall of Fame career.
Then in the second round, the Ravens decided to forgo multiple players who were considered by many to be some of the best players available, including Myles Jack, Mackensie Alexander, and Noah Spence, who carried injury, attitude or drug issues respectively. Some of the local Baltimore sports personalities have speculated that the Ravens were too risk averse early in the draft, choosing prospects that were unlikely to be busts in lieu of potential stars. The Ravens did decide that the reward outweighed the risk when they drafted Alex Lewis in the fourth round, who has an assault conviction on his record.
It is no secret that head coach John Harbaugh prefers a certain type of player. He loves players with relentless motors, professionalism, and blue collar work ethic. The stain that Ray Rice put on the organization has certainly impacted the Ravens focus on prioritizing off the field character.
It was not always this way for the Ravens franchise. Three of the four most recent Ravens ring of honor inductees had questionable character traits. Both Jamal Lewis and Ray Lewis faced serious criminal charges at some point. And Ed Reed was known as a mercurial player who was difficult to coach at times. Chris McAlister is a player many believe deserves a spot in the ring of honor, but his off the field issues may be preventing the team from bestowing this honor on him.
Terrell Suggs also had some character issues before he was selected in the draft. And the Ravens have taken chances on players with off the field drama in the past, including James Trapp, Corey Fuller, Sergio Kindle, Donte Stallworth and Rolando McClain, among many others.
The Ravens of yesteryear also had more than a few Harbaugh type players. Jarrett Johnson, Kelly Gregg, Rob Burnett and Adalius Thomas are prime examples. But some pundits believe a championship team needs a mix of alpha dogs and overachievers. Sometimes the players with baggage are worth the headache based on their physical gifts alone. Look no further than Lawrence Taylor for an example of a player with serious off the field demons, who played through them to be regarded as possibly the best defender in the history of the game.
There was a time not long ago that the Ravens were know as the bad boys of the NFL. They were a bunch of cocky, tough guys who physically dominated other teams week after week. They seemed to revel in this mentality under brash head coach Brian Billick.
The 2016 Ravens still have some mean players on their roster, Steve Smith, Terrell Suggs, Marshal Yanda and Timmy Jernigan are known to play past the whistle. But the team also lost Kelechi Osemele and Courtney Upshaw, two of their toughest players from last season, to free agency. These departures were effectively replaced by two more veterans with strong locker room presence in Ben Watson and Eric Weddle - red star free agents.
Judging by the Baltimore Beatdown comments over the weekend, Ravens fans are mixed on the newfound focus on character. Some believe that the players with character flaws are not worth the risk it in a society that is now more in tune to athletes transgressions than ever before. Others don't care what the Ravens players do off the field, as long as they dominate on Sunday, they miss the Ravens old identity.
Is the Ravens 2016 draft class full of choirboys? Probably not, most football players are not great singers. Did the Ravens make the right decision to pass on riskier players in the draft? As with everything pertaining to the recent draft, only time will tell.