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Character a major concern for some top cornerbacks available for NFL draft

By Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press –

INDIANAPOLIS — This year’s NFL draft is sprinkled with good cornerback prospects who have major character concerns.

Dre Kirkpatrick had an All-America career at Alabama but opened himself up to scrutiny when he was arrested last month for marijuana possession. Oregon’s Cliff Harris was suspended in October and kicked off the team in December after his own traffic and drug citations. And most prominently, Janoris Jenkins was booted from Florida after multiple arrests and finished his career last fall at Division II North Alabama.

Harris interviewed Saturday with the Lions, while Jenkins and Kirkpatrick are potential first-round picks who’ll have scouts doing their homework well into the spring to determine whether their character flaws are worth the risk for a team thin on secondary talent.

Already, the Lions visited with Jenkins at the Senior Bowl last month, and they plan to use one of their 30 pre-draft visits to bring him to Allen Park.

“We’ve talked to Janoris (Jenkins) at the Senior Bowl and plan to talk to some other guys here who’ve had some off-the-field situations, and we evaluate those on an individual basis,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. “I think the key thing is to go into it with an open mind. (You can’t) go into it with, ‘I read this about this guy so I’m prejudging him and I think he’s going to be this way.’

“We just go into it and just have a conversation with him about their past and about their future, really. That’s what’s really important is what their future is.”

Mayhew called Jenkins “an impressive young man” and joked about his choice of college (Mayhew played at Florida State). But Jenkins admitted Sunday he has been arrested three times, fathered four children and failed one drug test at Florida.

In 2009, he was Tasered after he was involved in a bar fight, and last year he was cited twice in three months for possession of marijuana and eventually dismissed from the team. In January 2011, police officers observed Jenkins rolling a marijuana cigarette in the bathroom of a nightclub, and in April he was spotted smoking marijuana in a car.

Speaking generally about prospects Friday, Mayhew said “rarely is a single incident reason to take a guy completely off the board.” Asked if multiple incidents are a bigger concern, Mayhew said, “Could be.”

“(Multiple incidents are) less of character, that’s just stupidity,” NFL Network analyst Brian Billick said. “It’s like testing positive at the combine. You’re too stupid to play for me if you test positive at the combine when you knew you were going to be tested. So it’s more of an intelligence issue than a character issue.”

Billick told a story Saturday of one prospect he interviewed at the combine years ago who had a rap sheet of “nothing really serious but enough stuff to know this guy’s been around.”

It was late at night and Billick was direct with the player.

“He sat down, I said, ‘Look, you’re tired, I’m tired, let’s cut to the chase. Are you a thug or are you stupid, which is it?’” Billick recalled. “And he goes, ‘Are those my only options?’

“The toughest thing is, what are the issues? Young people tend to do stupid things. Do you have a sense that he understands that he’s got to change his behavior? Is he willing to have the people around to now change that behavior? And now going forward, is this an ingrained part of his character or did he just do some stupid things. And if it’s the latter, yeah, you can be optimistic about the NFL and what’s at stake for him will help sort that out. If it’s an innate part of the character, that’s where you don’t want to make that mistake.”

Billick said the player he interviewed went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL and never had an issue. Jenkins, who measured 5-foot-10 and 193 pounds, said Sunday he can be the same way.

He said he has been humbled by playing on Thursday nights in front of 3,500 fans at North Alabama, a far cry from the 95,000 fans he thrilled every Saturday in the Southeastern Conference. And he said he has give up marijuana for good (“I’m done with it forever, man. I can’t do it. I can’t let myself do it again,” he said) and motivated by his children Janoris Jr., Legend, Janorion and Paris, who range in age from 3 years to 3 months.

“(Teams) just want to know what kind of kid I am, and I’m just coming here to show them that I’m not a bad kid. I made a few mistakes and I learned from them and everything I did, I did,” Jenkins said. “I’m admitting it. I did it and I’m looking to put that in my past and moving forward.”

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