Dynasties, player character among top story lines at NFL draft

By Scott Guthrie and Connor Morgan
Additional Reporting by Hannah Beery

Here are nine story lines to watch Thursday through Saturday at the NFL Draft in Chicago.

1) Who wont be in Chicago?

Former Florida State quarterback and projected No. 1 overall pick, Jameis Winston will not attend the draft. He will watch with his family in Alabama.

Heisman Trophy winner and former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the possible No. 2 overall pick, also will skip Chicago and watch with his family in Hawaii.

Another potential top-five pick, former Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, won’t attend, either, although reports have not said why.

The last No. 1 overall pick who did not attend the draft was former Ohio State defensive Dan Wilkinson, chosen by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1994.

2) Who will be in Chicago?

Defensive linemen Leonard Williams (Southern California) and Dante Fowler Jr., wide receiver Kevin White (West Virginia), linebacker Shane Ray (Missouri), and running backs Todd Gurley (Georgia) and Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) are among the 27 top prospects who will wait in the Auditorium Theatre for their names to be called.

3) Will a running back go in Round 1?

How long Gurley and Gordon will wait should be intriguing. A running back hasn’t gone in the first round since 2012, when there were three, starting with Trent Richardson by the Cleveland Browns with the third overall pick.

This trend reflects the NFL’s pass-oriented mind-set today. Offenses build around quarterbacks and often employ committees of running backs. Why use a highly valued first-round pick for a part-time player?

Last year, the first running back drafted (Bishop Sankey) went in the second round, 54th overall, to the Tennessee Titans. It was the latest the first running back was selected in a draft.

4) Will another QB sneak into Round 1?

Winston and Mariota are first-round locks, but they might be the only quarterbacks considered worthy of being drafted on Day 1. That’s significant, considering most teams are looking for franchise quarterbacks, and some team will inevitably reach to draft one higher than it should.

Bryce Petty (Baylor), Garrett Grayson (Colorado State), Sean Mannion (Oregon State) and Brett Hundley (UCLA) are considered the next-best prospects.

5) Whom will the Bears select?

The Bears have six picks this year, including the seventh overall selection.

Don’t be surprised if the new brain trust of general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox choose a wide receiver to replace Brandon Marshall. The Bears traded the controversial Marshall to the New York Jets after the season, and they would prefer a faster receiver to pair with Alshon Jeffrey.

As much as the Bears need defensive help, they might not resist if White or Cooper is available at No. 7.

6) Will Teams Place Higher Value on Character?

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson headline a list of NFL players suspended or placed on the commissioner’s exempt list over domestic violence cases.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell tried to toughen penalties after he admittedly was too lenient with Rice’s initial suspension.

With players facing harsher punishment now, this draft figures to be a test of how teams would respond. Would talented prospects with perceived behavior issues, particularly those who faced questions about violence, drop significantly in the draft?

Winston apparently won’t be affected.

He has been accused of rape (he was not charged, but was sued by the alleged victim), was cited for shoplifting (he now says a store employee gave him the seafood for free), and was punished for standing on a table and yelling an obscene and sexually explicit phrase in the school union (he served a one-game suspension).The Tampa Bay Buccaneers apparently will overlook any character questions and make Winston the No. 1 pick.

How about wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham?

On ability alone, he would be a first-round draft pick. At 6 feet 5, 235 pounds, with 4.49 speed in the 40-yard dash. But Green-Beckham was dismissed from Missouri’s team after being arrested twice for alleged marijuana-related incidents (one charge was dismissed, and he pled guilty to a lesser charge in the other) and accused once of pushing a female down some stairs (although no charges were filed). Beckham transferred to Oklahoma, but never played, sitting out last season because of NCAA transfer rules.

At what point is the talent worth the risk? At which pick?

And if this is the Character Draft, what about players whose issues involve drugs? With laws changing involving marijuana, what about players who have used that?

Outside linebacker Randy Gregory is considered one of the top prospects in this year’s draft, a possible early-first-round pick. However, he tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine. He told NFL.com he had tested positive for marijuana twice at Nebraska and was warned he would be kicked off the team if there were another failed test.

And former Missouri defensive lineman Shane Ray also seemingly destined for the first round, found himself in the news this week. He reportedly received a misdemeanor citation for possession of a small amount of marijuana early Monday morning.

Former NFL linebacker John Holecek, now Loyola Academy’s football coach, said pro teams try to vet prospects through personality tests, interviews and an extensive vetting processing comparable to “a job interview multiplied by 10.”

“They’re going to do their homework,” Holecek said.

If teams ignore the character issue in this draft, especially in terms of domestic violence, it will open the league up to potential criticism again. In September, Goodell hired three women who are experts on domestic violence and sexual assault as senior advisers. And Anna Isaacson, vice president of community affairs and philanthropy, had her role expanded to include VP of social responsibility.

But Cece Lobin, Women’s Empowerment program coordinator at YWCA Evanston/North Shore, wold like to see more from the league’s players.

“I know there is retribution and I believe that people make mistakes and I understand that people can heal and learn from those mistakes,” said Cece Lobin, Women’s Empowerment Program Coordinator at YWCA Evanston/North Shore. “But I don’t get that sense right now from a lot of NFL players.”

7) Will Chicago be one-and-done?

Fans and the NFL will watch closely to determine if the first draft away from New York City in more than 50 years goes smoothly. If Chicago is a hit, the league might see this as a traveling road show instead of rewarding the Windy City with the 2016 draft.

Los Angeles lost to Chicago for this year’s draft, but could be next in line while it tries to secure another team. Dallas is another possibility.

8) Is a dynasty building? 

The Seattle Seahawks have represented the NFC in the past two Super Bowls, winning in 2014 and losing dramatically in 2015. The Seahawks already have added three-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham in the offseason and now have an NFL-high 11 draft picks this year.

The Seahawks lost their first-round pick in the Graham trade to New Orleans, but this is nothing new. Seattle hasn’t drafted in the first round since 2012.

9) Or is the dynasty somewhere else?

The New England Patriots won last season’s Super Bowl but lost four starters in free agency, including cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

Coach Bill Belichick is known for trading down and stockpiling future draft picks. With nine picks this year, including two each in Rounds 3 and 4, Belichick could be busy again, filling some holes and setting up the team with more picks in the coming years.