NEW YORK – In today's NFL, character counts.
Dez Bryant and Jimmy Clausen learned that the hard way during Thursday night's draft. And on the flip side, Tim Tebow's squeaky-clean reputation and leadership skills helped push him into the first round.
Bryant was a top-10 talent who dropped all the way to No. 24 until picked by Dallas. He wasn't even the first wideout selected. That distinction was garnered by Georgia Tech's Demaryius Thomas, a Boy Scout in comparison, who was selected by Denver two slots earlier.
The Broncos had just traded one head case in Brandon Marshall. They weren't about to tempt the fates by messing with another.
Bryant's off-field problems at Oklahoma State overshadowed his ample physical gifts. Bryant was suspended for almost all of his junior season after lying to NCAA investigators. Media reports have painted Bryant as immature and irresponsible even when it came to something as simple as attending college classes on time. Although he denies those claims, Bryant didn't make a much better impression in pre-draft interviews with some interested suitors.
Heck, even Cincinnati passed on Bryant at No. 21.
In another era before first-round salaries escalated out of control, a team with an early pick and receiver need would have felt comfortable rolling the dice. But for most franchises, this isn't the type of 21-year-old you feel comfortable handing millions and millions of dollars.
"We mitigated a lot of the risk in the pick getting him where we got him as opposed to where we had him graded," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones admitted.
While the slide cost Bryant a huge chunk of change, he is entering a nurturing environment that should be conducive to NFL success. Led by Calvin Hill, the Cowboys have an outstanding support staff to help keep potentially wayward players on track (provided they don't ignore those efforts, a la Pacman Jones). Deion Sanders -- a long-time Bryant mentor -- and Michael "Do as I say, not as I did" Irvin will be around in Dallas to offer advice.
Bryant also will be surrounded by outstanding offensive talent. He won't be under pressure to immediately become an NFL superstar. Bryant will have time to develop, which is a luxury that Oakland's Darrius Heyward-Bey didn't have during a dreadful 2009 rookie campaign.
"They believed in me," Bryant told Cowboys media. "It's a blessing."
Clausen must be feeling cursed. He was long touted as this draft's second-best quarterback prospect. Instead, the Notre Dame standout will have to wait another day for his name to get called.
This, too, isn't a question of on-field ability. Even with damaged toes, Clausen did more than enough during his junior season to justify a first-round selection. He thrived in a pro-style system under esteemed offensive mind Charlie Weis. It would be hard to bash a team with quarterback needs like Oakland, Buffalo or Jacksonville had they used a top-10 pick on Clausen, let alone traded back into the late stages of the first round.
But Clausen can't shed the ongoing questions about his maturity and leadership skills that began even before his ballyhooed arrival at Notre Dame. One franchise I spoke with that had strong interest in taking a first-round quarterback soured on Clausen because it didn't like his attitude. Clausen may now become the fourth quarterback taken if a team likes undersized Texas standout Colt McCoy more.
That fourth slot was once believed to be reserved for Tebow, whose college throwing style wouldn't have worked in the NFL despite his achievements at Florida. It's much too early to tell whether Tebow's pre-draft attempts to overhaul his release and motion will work.
Tebow, though, couldn't ask for a better situation. He can spend at least one season learning behind Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn before making a push to start. Tebow also gets to work with a quarterbacks guru in Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who helped mold Matt Cassel into a starter while both were in New England.
McDaniels fell in love with Tebow and his intangibles this spring, conducting one final private workout Monday on the UF campus. Tebow left that session immediately for a speaking engagement at a Christian college in Tennessee. Unless his heavily religious lifestyle takes a 180-degree turn, McDaniels knows he won't have to worry about Tebow getting into a bar fight like Clausen did last November at Notre Dame.
Nor will McDaniels ever fret Tebow pulling a Ben Roethlisberger.
In a prime-time embarrassment for the NFL, fans at Radio City Music Hall loudly chanted "She said no!" as commissioner Roger Goodell and a young Make-A-Wish Pittsburgh Steelers fan approached the podium to announce the team's first-round pick. The jeers were in reference to sexual assault claims that led to Roethlisberger's four-to-six game NFL suspension.
The punishment Goodell administered Wednesday proved just how much character means to him. The draft fate of Bryant, Clausen and Tebow shows most teams feel the same way.
Alex Marvez and Ross Tucker will co-host from 7 to 11 a.m. EST Friday morning on Sirius NFL Radio.