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Ravens Will Take Chances On Some Players With Character Issues, Just Not Ones With Domestic Violence


As the Kansas City Chiefs take the field for today's AFC divisional playoff game, they have rookie wide receiver Tyreek Hill to thank for being there.

Hill's explosion in the second half of the season, including 12 touchdowns, vaulted the Chiefs to the AFC West title and the conference's No. 2 playoff seed.

But there's another side to Hill's story. In 2015, Hill pleaded guilty to domestic abuse of his pregnant girlfriend while at Oklahoma State. He was dismissed from the football team.

But Hill got a second chance. He moved on to the University of West Alabama, then the Chiefs selected him in the fifth round of this year's draft.

While Hill and the Chiefs are in the postseason, the Ravens find themselves on the outside looking in for the third time in four years.

During Tuesday's season-review press conference, Owner Steve Bisciotti and General Manager Ozzie Newsome were asked whether the organization has been too "gun-shy" about drafting players with character concerns.

"We weight the risks," Newsome said.

There's just one risk the Ravens won't weigh, not after what happened with running back Ray Rice in 2014.

"I think you know there are some people that we are going to take off our board that do real well in the league. That's just the way it goes," Bisciotti said. "Domestic abuse? Not taking them."

As Bisciotti pointed out, the term "character concerns" is quite broad. There are legitimate concerns and some that are not as legitimate. And sometimes players with legitimate problems can mature into responsible adults and professionals.

"We were all 22 – smoking pot and bar fights and cheating on tests and things like that," Bisciotti said. "If you're not willing to take chances and give people second chances, then yes, you'll be out in the cold. You'll miss a lot of good guys."

The Ravens have dedicated themselves to helping players grow, including by hiring Senior Advisor to Player Engagement O.J. Brigance (a Ravens Super Bowl XXXV champion) and Director of Player Engagement Harry Swayne (a former Ravens offensive lineman).

They work especially hard with rookies when they're first coming into the league, helping them adjust to being a professional and handle off-the-field issues. The Ravens also have a veteran mentorship program.

When the Ravens take a player, especially through the draft, they come up with a plan of what that player needs – not only on the football field, but off the field, Newsome said.

"I don't think we're afraid of 'character guys,'" Newsome said. "We want guys that, No. 1, love to play football, that are going to be here on time and hopefully not get in trouble when they leave.

"But we have to do any and everything that we can with 21- and 22- and 23-year-old athletes to help them so that they can go from being a young Ray Lewis or a young Jamal Lewis, who had issues, to end up being stellar leaders within the organization."

The Ravens have taken risks, even in the face of questions from the outside. They drafted cornerback Jimmy Smith in the first round of the 2011 draft, despite supposed character concerns.

"He wouldn't have slid to the 20-something pick, but everybody said he had 'problems,' and nobody at the school could figure out what they were talking about," Bisciotti said.

"It just got pumped and pumped and pumped to the top that he was a bad guy, and his coach and [the coach's] wife, she said that she was in tears when she heard that people were disparaging Jimmy Smith."

During other drafts, especially with their higher picks, the Ravens have selected players with sterling character.

The media brought it to the forefront this year when Baltimore passed on left tackle Laremy Tunsil after video of him smoking from a bong was released just minutes before the Ravens were on the clock. The Ravens have consistently said they had left tackle Ronnie Stanley rated higher.

"Ronnie Stanley is a real good football player, and he doesn't have any character issues," Newsome said. "But, we're not afraid of it. When we do take someone, it's upon all of us to make sure that that guy is doing everything he needs to do to change his life."

The Ravens will make determinations on a case-by-case basis, except with domestic violence. Bisciotti said he doesn't begrudge other teams that take risks because "they are 50/50 on them."

Sometimes the risks don't pan out. The Dallas Cowboys selected defensive end Randy Gregory in the second round in 2015. He's played in 14 games over the past two seasons and notched one sack, and, earlier this month, the NFL announced he would be suspended for at least one season.

"Dallas takes risks, and that one kid [Gregory] hasn't played a lick, and he is suspended again," Bisciotti said. "We liked him as a talent. Then they're benefitting from other guys that they took a risk on that cleaned themselves up."

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