Character counts for Lions' draft class

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

With the popularity of Twitter, Instagram and other social media, NFL players are constantly in the spotlight.

And even though football skills are still the best way to evaluate players making the jump from college, the Lions consider how players will represent them off the field more than in the past.

"In this day and age with the camera phones and the media access and Twitter and those things that we have, it's much more of an issue than it was 10, 12 years ago," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. "I can tell you for a fact that people did things in the NFL, players did things that never saw the light of day. Now, every time somebody does something, it's all over the Internet and social media, so I think that's an important factor that's changed the nature of this game and college football as well."

Looking at the seven-player draft class, it's obvious the Lions gave players better grades for good character.

Duke guard Laken Tomlinson (first round) and South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner (undrafted) both aspire to be doctors. Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah (second round) was a captain for three years.

As the Lions kept selecting players, the off-field accolades kept piling up, and in the past two years with coach Jim Caldwell's staff on board, the team seems to be avoiding players with a checkered past.

Caldwell's first season in Detroit provided an indication he wanted players with a strong moral fiber. He suspended defensive tackle C.J. Mosley one game and running back Joique Bell and tight end Brandon Pettigrew each rode the bench for a quarter for off-field infractions.

Coaches often say a player's best ability is availability, so if the Lions can trust a player to avoid punishment, he'll be considered a more reliable option. That's part of the reason teams didn't want to take a risk drafting LSU offensive lineman La'el Collins, who isn't a suspect in the homicide of a pregnant woman in Baton Rouge, La., but is wanted for questioning.

Mayhew declined to say whether Collins was on the Lions draft board.

"That kid's in a tough situation," Caldwell said. "Obviously, that family who lost someone is in a very difficult situation, and I understand the child passed away as well. That in itself, they need prayer rather than worry about a young man's draft position. I certainly don't want to talk about that."

And while the Lions are looking for players who are clean off the field, they also want guys who change their demeanor when they put on their helmets.

"You can have great character and you can have an edge," Mayhew said. "That's what I want. ... There are a lot of players in this league that have great reputations, are great in the community and do great things, but they're excellent players and they have an edge to them."