Character Counts: Raji vs. Monroe

by: Mike Parker

By now, we all know Tim Ruskell’s policy regarding character issues. It keeps the locker room from exploding into a Terrell Owens-inspired vanity riot, ensures the team signs players who will spend more time at practice and less time on police blotter, and have the potential to be leaders on and off the field.

In the past, there have been some exceptions to this, as with anything else. Ken Hamlin, Rocky Bernard, Jerramy Stevens, and Koren Robinson weren’t always community role models (and that’s saying it nicely, especially about Stevens), but overall, Ruskell has stuck to his policy. One could even use Koren as an example of someone getting a second chance after being released due to character-related issues, regardless of the increasing likelihood that he won’t return to the team next season.

The policy is going to be just as relevant in this year’s draft. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay at ESPN.com have the Seahawks picking OT Eugene Monroe and DT B.J. Raji, respectively, and something caught my eye while looking at the two players’ bios. To continue . . .

Here’s what they said about Monroe in his character evaluation:

Has never had an off-the-field issue to our knowledge. Battled back from some early career injuries. One of 16 children in his family, including 11 boys.

On paper, Monroe is a class act and a “Ruskell guy.” The fact that he overcame injuries and continued to play at the level of a top-5 pick is worth noting, as it shows that he’s a self-motivator. I heard that was a problem with this year’s draft class of offensive linemen. (Okay, one.)

And then there’s B.J. Raji, who, well, seems to be the polar opposite of Monroe in terms of attitude.

Ejected from the 2006 Central Michigan game and suspended for the first half of the Clemson game the following week after throwing a punch at a Central Michigan player. Academic issues and inability to stay eligible raise concerns about work ethic.

Though he’s undoubtedly one of the top-rated players in this year’s draft, do we really need a potential liability? Is Ruskell really going to take that big of a risk with the fourth overall pick?

The short answer is no. Raji has already raised questions about his work ethic and temper, despite how good of a player he is. I’ll agree with arguments that say the defense needs an extra live wire on it to add some ferocity, but you can provide ferocity without throwing a punch on the field.

I’d be more concerned if the attitudes of these two players was reversed. The Seahawks’ need for a standout offensive tackle (i.e. Walter Jones successor) is more immediate than a need for a defensive tackle at this point. (I’m emphasizing “at this point” because we still have yet to hear how Kerney’s doing after his third consecutive off-season shoulder surgery.)

But when all is said and done, if the decision at No.4 is to be made between Raji and Monroe, the smart money is going to be on Monroe. Detroit will likely snag Stafford first in an effort to launch a Falcons/Matt Ryan-style rebuild. The Rams’ release of Orlando Pace makes drafting Jason Smith all but imminent at this point, and the Chiefs would be hard-pressed to pass up Aaron Curry. And it’s bittersweet to say it, but I think the quality of receivers the Seahawks are carrying now is one of the best in the league (provided everyone’s healthy). With the signing of TJ Houshmanzadeh, I’m not sure if there’s even room for a player like Michael Crabtree there now. The team will likely set its focus on the offensive line next.

Expect to hear Eugene Monroe’s name called on April 25 when No.4 hits the clock. -END-

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