The Question of Character: Buffalo Bills Taking Chances in 2013 NFL Draft

Da’Rick Rogers went undrafted due to character concerns, but the Buffalo Bills are giving him a shot as a free-agent signing. (Photo: USA Today Sports Images)

BBD Staff Writer: Glenn Gifford

It is often said that the best indicator of future performance is past performance, but past production does not always indicate NFL draft position.

One issue that has been an important factor, however, when drafting NFL players for many teams is a player’s character. The Buffalo Bills are no exception to this rule.

Intangibles such as character are as important to some teams as talent is. Other teams do not seem to focus too much on character or have “strong” locker rooms or coaches that can manage character issues.

This year, the Buffalo Bills added multiple rookies who had various character issues coming out of College, including two draft selections in Oregon inside linebacker Kiko Alonso and Nevada strong safety Duke Williams, and high-profile undrafted free agent signing Da’Rick Rogers, a wide receiver out of Tennessee Tech.

All three men have talent. All three men also come with a little bit of baggage.

This break from the Bills’ previous draft philosophy of only drafting high-character guys is a positive move. Each individual story should put Bills fans a little bit more at ease about each rookie.

Kiko Alonso

Kiko Alonso was suspended twice at the University of Oregon, both involving alcohol. First, he was suspended for the entire 2010 season after being arrested for DUI that February.

His second suspension, which occurred after a May 2011 arrest, was a little more interesting. Alonso was arrested on charges of first-degree burglary, first-degree criminal trespassing and second-degree criminal mischief, and booked into Lane County Jail. A woman from Eugene, Ore. had complained to police that a man was outside of her home pounding on the door demanding to be let in. The woman fled the scene and authorities found Alonso in the home when they arrived: he had kicked in the door.  Alonso was released from jail that same day, and police later concluded there was no relationship between the home owner and Alonso.

Alonso is lucky he was not killed, shot or injured in this situation, and appeared to think he was somewhere else due to his intoxication. But Alonso, at this point in his life, had made some poor choices.

It is worthy to consider that Alonso owned his actions, took his suspension(s) and realized in a very brief time that he was having negative experiences as a result of his drinking. He has stated that he has quit drinking and has been, as far as we know, a model citizen and student since his 2011 arrest. One could say that he has matured. Clearly, the Buffalo Bills felt Alonso was worth the risk of a 2nd round draft choice.

While maybe not to the extent of Alonso, many of us have flirted with this type of alcohol-driven behavior. The true test is whether or not you learn from your mistakes. Buffalo felt Alonso’s recent performance on and off the field was worth the risk his alcoholic past.

Duke Williams

Another draft prospect who has learned from his mistakes with alcohol is former Nevada safety Duke Williams.

I wrote an article about Mike Pettine’s defense earlier last month, and mentioned Williams as a potential draft prospect for Buffalo. Williams is a tenacious hitter that will greatly aid the Bills. This, however, is not an article about his football skills, as Williams comes with a little baggage as well.

As a freshman, Williams was arrested for underage drinking. This was referenced and somewhat scoffed at as rather routine by Buddy Nix.

“Duke was a younger guy. He had not had any sense. Most of it was like a lot of things bad judgment. I think one of them was underage possession of alcohol, beer. Anybody in here ever done that?,” Nix jokingly questioned the media. “So we tried not to make that a huge issue.”

Williams was also suspended for his involvement with another teammate in a theft. Williams did not steal anything but was suspended. Also during his freshman season, Williams fought a teammate while drunk, which sent his teammate to the hospital.

Williams was also arrested again in 2011 on an outstanding warrant for failing to appear on an unpaid traffic ticket, after being cited for driving with an expired license and registration and without insurance.

As a former high school football coach, Williams’ story resonates with me. I have witnessed several Duke Williams’ in my life. This kid needed a wake-up call, and he got one.

Coaches very often see a kid for what they can be, not for what they are at that moment in time. One thing I liked at this year’s draft was looking at pictures of the draft choices as they were younger. One of my favorite clips was of Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson. He was a 6’8″ quarterback running a naked bootleg. He looked like a baby giraffe! Someone planted the seed and suggested Johnson move to left tackle. As a result, he was a top-4 NFL draft choice with arguably the most upside of any left tackle in the draft. Somebody saw the jewel in Lane Johnson when he was an unpolished rock.

Duke Williams is the same type of kid. Perhaps it was not a physical change for Williams, but rather morphing into a different person. The Buffalo Bills drafted Duke Williams based upon being a senior leader and role model of the Nevada defense, rather than his troubled past.

I’ve heard the expression “to get to the penthouse, sometimes you have to drive by the dump.” I think with Duke Williams and Kiko Alonso, we are past the dump portion of their journey.

What about Da’Rick Rogers?

The tweets and comments were flying on Day 3 of the draft when Da’Rick Rogers went undrafted. As each round passed and Rogers name was not called, it became apparent that something greater may be at play here.

Other players with serious character issues, such as Alonso, went much earlier in the draft. For example, former LSU cornerback Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in Round 3, even though he failed several drug tests, was kicked off of LSU’s football team prior to the 2012 season and was later arrested in October 2012 on marijuana possession. While some would argue that he would’ve been a first round talent if it were not for his well-documented drug issues, Mathieu may be the biggest high-risk, high-reward pick of the 2013 NFL draft.

But if Mathieu went in Round 3, why didn’t Rogers get drafted? Didn’t they have similar issues? Was Rogers not a projected Day 2 draft selection as well? Are the Bills potentially sitting on a winning lottery ticket with Rogers? Why did none of the other NFL teams draft him despite the risk? These questions deserve answers.

Rogers started his college football career at Tennessee, where he was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in his first year. Eventually, Rogers was suspended from the Volunteers in August 2012 for multiple failed drug tests, after which he transferred to Tennessee Tech, where he had another productive year on the field.

When referencing his time at Tennessee, Rogers has been saying all of the right things. In an interview with the Buffalo News, Rogers said his “immaturity” cost him. He told USA Today that his move to Tennessee Tech was “humbling”.  Rogers also claims he has passed 10 drug tests since his transfer, according to SB Nation.

The Bills took a flyer on Rogers, and ultimately, Rogers chose to sign with Buffalo. Maybe the prospect of cracking a wide receiver group that is a bit thin, although the Bills drafted two wideouts in Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, drew him to the Bills. Or maybe it has something to do with the city of Buffalo.

A Change in Philosophy?

When I think back to the “choir boys” of the early 90’s, I think we need to keep in mind that several of the beloved Buffalo Bills from the “glory years” had character issues. Bruce Smith’s on-field play overshadowed his drug suspensions, while several Bills were seen over in Canada taking in the “Canadian Ballet” on a Saturday evening.

Winning has a tendency to make one more forgiving.

The new draft class represents a change from previous drafts. Some of these players, while talented, come with question marks. I think it is fair to say that many of those questions have been answered. There are several things we have all done in our past in need of both forgiveness and “turning the page”.

Hopefully, the Bills’ new selections become model citizens and excellent football players. While it is easy to sit back and focus on the negative, it is important to summer our inner coach and see these young men as something they can be, not what they were a few years back.

I’d enjoy it if you shared your thoughts via comment.

Stay Classy Buffalo!

Tags: Da'Rick Rogers, Duke Williams, Kiko Alonso

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