The three day, seven round NFL draft concluded over the weekend, finally putting an end to the constant analysis of every little thing certain college football players do on and off the field. Often the media and teams bring up "character" issues or concerns, as players like Randy Gregory, who tested positive for marijuana at the NFL combine, Frank Clark, who was dimissed from his team for domestic violence charges, and Jameis Winston, who has dominated the headlines with sexual assault allegations and the apparent theft of crab legs. In light of the Ray Rice scandal, Greg Hardy's current domestic abuse history, and Aaron Hernandez being convicted of murder, it appears as though NFL teams and media members have more and more concerns over player's behavior and attitude off the field. It has led to certain prospects being drafted later than their game tape or athleticism might suggest. Reports even come out to signify that certain players have been "removed" from draft boards, which brings me to something I've been thinking about addressing for a long time.
After his Pro-Day, it was reported by Tony Pauline, that a "number of teams have removed [Zack Hodges] from their board. ... I'm told his interviews, dating back to the Senior Bowl, have not gone well and rubbed people the wrong way." If you are unaware who Zack Hodges is let me explain: Hodges is a two time Ivy League defensive player of the year for Harvard, setting a school record with 27 career sacks. Hodges storied career had many bumps in the road, not the ones which you would expext, which show his true character. When Hodges was only one year old, his father passed away of a brain tumor. Hodges' mother often worked multiple jobs, and at points in time Hodges was homeless and going nights without meals as a teenager. At the age of 16, Hodges' mother died of a massive stroke when the pair was living in the Charlotte area. Hodges was in the home and carried his mother to the ambulance. The day of her burial, Hodges played in a football game for Independence High School because he knew that game meant a lot to his team and teammates. Hodges moved then to Atlanta with his Aunt and Grandmother, and committed to Harvard over many big time programs, including Stanford, because of the opportunities he would receive with a Harvard education. Before shipping off to Harvard, Zack Hodges spent a year at Phillips Exeter Academy, where we were teammates, and friends.
I played next to Zack Hodges on the defensive line. A talkative, unique personality, Hodges played every snap hard and fast. We were quite different in our upbringing, our personalities, and our backgrounds, but that didn't stop us from being friends. Hodges took his studies extremely serious, often taking notes in assembly when other students were chatting, challenging himself with teachers and classes that were perceived as extremely difficult. Hodges, already commited to Harvard, was pulled from a philosophy class at Exeter by advisors, but instead of accepting that outcome, Hodges met with the teacher every week for 90 minutes at a time because he felt like he was missing an opportunity to learn. He challenged himself beyond what was expected, as he wanted to take the most of the opportunity. He wanted nothing handed to him. I came to learn that in my year playing and hanging around Hodges.
As I watched Saturday's draft coverage to hear my friend's name, I didn't buy the reports that he was removed from draft boards. Hodges wasn't a troublemaker. He had immense college production, albeit at an FCS program, is exceptionally smart compared to most prospects, has incredibly long arms for his size, great speed, and explosive off the line. Hodges did not end up being selected. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts shortly after the draft.
After all I had heard about media, the NFL, and character, this report came back to me. How can this kid be removed from your board. The report previously claimed "Hodges is a bit of a tweener, so attitude issues could spur a draft day tumble", but what "attitude" were they referring to. Hodges has a unique personality, is a talkative player, and is a confident young man, but he is also genuine and concerned with his fellow teammates and friends. Hodges, who has overcome every inch of adversity thrown his way, and who is graduating from Harvard with a double major in government and philosophy, was removed from draft boards yet Dorial Green-Beckham and Frank Clark go in the second round? NFL teams may try to emphasize character, but to remove Zack Hodges from the draft board shows an incredible double standard. Now many times character risk players work out, and I'm not against drafting flawed people off the field, but where did this kid go wrong? Production, smarts, measurables, all the community service, and his love of fellow man and teammates, yet an interview where you couldn't mesh with his uniqueness caused you to remove him from your board?