Aaron Hernandez, TE of the New England Patriots, has a lot of legal issues to deal with right now. Accusations are flying around, including whether or not he shot one man who is trying to press charges or being involved in the death of another. Taken in the 4th round of the 2010 draft, Hernandez was drafted 18 picks later than Jimmy Graham, who was taken in the 3rd round by the Saints. Both are Pro Bowl tight ends, both are elite players at their position. Both had risk at the time they were drafted. One was a certain pro player with question marks on his character and his past while the other was physically gifted but lacked inexperience in football after playing for only one year. Should the Patriots have known better? How do we grade the Saints on their decision now?
Here is a video summarizing some of the issues with Aaron Herndandez:
Hernandez has had many red flags tracing back to his time in high school in Connecticut. According to Greg Bedard and Pete Thamel of SportsIllustrated.com:
Hernandez’s friends from back home in Connecticut always concerned the coaches at the University of Florida, according to one of Hernandez’s former coaches there. The coaching staff worried whenever Hernandez returned home to Connecticut.
The article (which can be found here) goes on to say that the coach always felt he was a great guy who surrounded himself with people who weren’t in his best interest. In addition, Bedard and Thamel report that:
Hernandez also admitted to NFL teams that he failed numerous drug tests prior to the 2010 NFL Draft. That disclosure combined with multiple NFL personnel sources telling SI.com that some teams had concerns that Hernandez was associated with some people with gang ties, reveals why so many teams passed on Hernandez in that draft.
It’s looking more likely that this situation, in which a homicide victim was found a mile from his home, will result in some sort of legal action. In the very least, serious problems will come from his civil suit in which the victim alleges he was shot in the face. It is times like this that we look back during the draft evaluation and wonder “could any team have known Hernandez might end up in this situation? How could the Patriots have chosen such a risky prospect?”
While it is impossible to predict the future of an NFL prospect, it is obvious that there were some indicators of the people Hernandez surrounded himself with. It can sometimes seem unfair to compare prospects where one has legal issues and the others do not and determine who was the better choice. Heck, Dennis Pitta of the Baltimore Ravens was the very next pick in the 4th round, right after Hernandez and while Pitta is by no means the same player, the argument is there that he was the safer choice considering Herndandez’s background. But that is the job of General Managers, scouts, and any other talent evaluators. These teams should know something of their prospects. You know the saying “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”? Considering choosing players with checkered pasts, I think we are way past the “twice” mark. The NFL should know better by now.
Graham was by no means a slam dunk prospect. He was fast, tall, and built perfectly to be a tight end. What he lacked was time at the position. He played one year and caught few passes. Think back how many times you heard the term “raw” used to describe some prospects in this years draft and consider how much time they had in college. Graham was RAW. But with the right conditions he blossomed into a star for the Saints.
This video helps to explain a little about his character and background:
At the time, I remember thinking that Hernandez seemed like the more sure prospect. And that is important in the NFL. Graham was a risk. But now, looking back on it, I see that the Saints knew what they were doing. Graham was trained and pushed. He learned, and then he became great. I am happy that the Saints decided to go with a different sort of risk on draft day in 2010. Because Hernandez, a top performer at Florida, is nothing like what Graham is. And, even if nothing comes from these legal issues, I will still respect the decision to draft Graham, because Payton saw a man he could mold into a football player, instead of a football player he could mold into a man.