Is Bryant the next Moss? (cont.)
Teams toward the top of the draft that clearly could use Bryant's game-breaking talents as a receiver and a punt returner include No. 7 Cleveland, No. 9 Buffalo, No. 10 Jacksonville, No. 11 Denver and No. 12 Miami. Of those, the Broncos and Dolphins seem the most interested in Bryant, although Denver's experience with controversial receiver Brandon Marshall and the Dolphins' organizational preference for drama-free players might preclude them from pulling the trigger.
Ironically, in my most recent NFL mock draft, I have Bryant going 21st overall to Cincinnati, the exact same slot Moss fell to in 1998. The Bengals, of course, are no strangers to taking on receivers who are either troubled (the late Chris Henry) or diva-oriented (Chad Ochocinco) and might snatch up Bryant in a heartbeat, creating a three-deep starting receiver set (Bryant, Ochocinco and the newly signed Antonio Bryant, no relation) in another echo of Minnesota from 12 years ago.
Former NFL receiver turned ESPN analyst Keyshawn Johnson told me he would love to see Miami draft Bryant, because he believes Dolphins football czar Bill Parcells could have the same kind of mentoring relationship with Bryant that Johnson had with the Big Tuna when he played for the Jets head coach in the late '90s. Johnson especially bristles that part of Bryant's draft stock has been connected at least tangentially by some to the 18-month prison sentence Bryant's mother once served on a drug-sale conviction. Bryant's mother had three children in her teenage years and Bryant's childhood was difficult by anyone's standards.
"It pisses me off to listen to some of these [draft analysts] talk about Dez,'' Johnson told me Thursday. "I heard someone on the network I work at say his stock is going to be questioned because his mother was a former drug user or seller. Are you kidding me? Are you serious? Because his mom did that, therefore his stock will drop? I think anybody who judges him and who he is based on his family, it's ridiculous. He's getting hit with a lot of stuff that doesn't have anything to do with who he is as an individual. It's OK for Colt McCoy to hang out with the Manning family and work out with them, but as soon as Deion hangs out with Dez Bryant, it's an issue. What kind of double standard is that?''
Johnson dismisses Bryant's irresponsibility issues as a byproduct of nothing more than his youth. "He's a kid,'' he said. "Who wasn't irresponsible at some point? I was when I was a kid. Deion Sanders was irresponsible. He wore gold chains and talked too much on TV. It sure looks like that worked out OK.
"This is a receiver who's at the head of his class at his position. He's a big (6-2, 225), physical receiver and it's pretty impressive that he returns punts at the same time. He fits the pro game very well and he should be a great player in the NFL. It's just irresponsible for people to try and peg him as a problem. I've talked to Bill [Parcells] on a number of occasions about Dez already, and I hope the Miami Dolphins draft him. I hope he's lucky like I was to work with someone (Parcells) who cared about me as more than a football player, but as a person.''
But to counter that, there are other sources within the NFL who say that Bryant's lying to the NCAA in an attempt to get out of a tight spot is a definite red flag that can't be ignored in the scouting process. As overblown as some of the issues that surround Bryant may be -- like him forgetting his favorite pair of cleats at his recent pro day workout -- telling the truth when the circumstances demand it is as straightforward a character test as life supplies. And Bryant, they say, failed that test,
Another former teammate of Moss's, ex-Vikings running back Robert Smith, said he believes teams are even less willing to take on a character risk like Bryant today than they were in the late '90s, when Moss entered the NFL. That much more money and potential trouble is now at stake with every first-round pick.
"It's kind of a different era,'' said Smith, himself an ESPN college football analyst who is very familiar with Bryant's career at OSU. "As far as things move in today's NFL, coaches and general managers are even more reluctant to take a player like that today. It can be such a black eye on a program and can cause you such a headache and be a distraction. In ways that the Vikings didn't have to worry about in 1998, with the team leadership we had in place, there are reasons why you're more reluctant to make those moves.
"Without knowing him personally, clearly the guy's got some issues. Anybody can get scared talking to the NCAA, but I think the concern is valid. It raises red flags that there was some depth to the lies that wound up getting him suspended for a year. It would concern me. You'd have to be concerned.''
No matter whether you view Bryant as more risk or reward, he is one of more intriguing prospects in the 2010 draft, and this year's foremost litmus test on the issue and importance of character in the scouting process. Only time will tell if the Randy Moss comparisons ultimately ring true.
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