It wasn't long ago that the Bengals' draft strategy included taking fliers on players who arrived in Cincinnati with plenty of off-field baggage. But that philosophy has changed in recent years, so much so that during the 2010 NFL Draft team, owner Mike Brown avoided Aaron Hernandez altogether.
Hernandez left the University of Florida as a Mackey Award winner (given annually to college football's best tight end), but concerns about his behavior away from the game saw him last until the fourth round when the Patriots finally drafted him. The Bengals, meanwhile, had their sights on another player.
“That one is no secret," Brown told FoxSports.com's Alex Marvez. "We just stayed away from [Hernandez]. We didn't question the playing ability, but we went for [Jermaine] Gresham.”
In three NFL seasons, Gresham's numbers compare favorably to Hernandez's. The Bengals tight end has 172 receptions, 1,804 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns; the former Patriots tight end has 175 receptions, 1,954 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. Gresham, a two-time Pro Bowler, has also remained out of trouble since the Bengals took him in the first round.
Hernandez, meanwhile, is facing first-degree murder charges in the shooting death of Odin Lloyd. The Patriots released Hernandez last week, hours after he was arrested, and now he's in jail awaiting trial.
Brown explained how the Bengals went from pursuing high-character individuals some years back to at one point recently having more players arrested than any other team in the league.
"Going way back to when my father was here, we were very conscious of picking people we thought were people you could live with [and] the right type of person,” Brown told Marvez. “And then, lo and behold, one of the teams we played seemed to reach out and bring in guys who weren't always what they should be – at least that's how it appeared to us. But they were good football players. They sort of had us for lunch. We then began doing some of that.
“Sometimes you win doing that, and sometimes you don't. There's no way to tell going in how it's going to work out. We had some people that we had question marks on at the time of the draft. A few were really tremendous players, but there came a time when for the most part they made life difficult. It wasn't always the case, but there was enough of it. In the last few years, we've gone back to our old formula. We bring in guys, but only when we know that they're sound people.”
The Bengals weren't alone in shying away from Hernandez in 2010. Then-Colts president Bill Polian felt the same way.
“We were not in the Hernandez business,” Polian told the Wall Street Journal recently, saying that the team "never got that far" in the evaluation of the tight end.
"There were questions there," Polian added, "which is why a guy of that talent lasted until the fourth round."
The Journal also reports that, shortly before the 2010 draft, a scouting service prepared a psychological profile available to every team that described Hernandez as "living on the edge of acceptable behavior," and that he could become a "problem" for any team that signs him.
Three years into Hernandez's NFL career -- and 10 months after the Patriots rewarded him with a $40 million contract extension -- that appears to be what happened.
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