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Arizona Cardinals add character grade to talent evaluation process

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, left, and general manager Steve Keim discuss the upcoming NFL football draft, Tuesday, April 19, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Character cannot really be quantified or graded, yet it’s of the utmost importance when trying to determine how successful a player will be.

Seventeen of the 23 players drafted under general manager Steve Keim were team captains in college, so it’s apparent the Cardinals have a “type.”

“There’s no doubt that the culture in your locker room is so important these days and I think Coach (Arians) could easily speak that we have a tremendous group of guys right now that love the game,” Keim said Tuesday as he and Bruce Arians held a pre-draft press conference at the team’s Tempe training facility. “But the biggest thing is is leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. Some guys are vocal guys, some guys lead by example.

“It doesn’t matter what type of leader you are, as long as you possess those qualities where guys look up to you, guys follow you; those are the kind of players we’re looking for.”

At the same time, issues with character caused Tyrann Mathieu to fall to the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, where the Cardinals chose him 69th overall.

Obviously, Mathieu, who was kicked off his team in college, did not come to town with the cleanest of histories, and in fairness even with him the Cardinals do not exactly have a history of choosing players with questionable track records.

No team wants to waste picks or resources on a player whose career will be derailed by off-the-field issues, but at the same time, there aren’t many who would sign up for passing on a potential star just because his life has had a few speed bumps.

In trying to get the best read on prospects as possible, the Cardinals have this season changed the way they grade draftable players.

“I think Steve and his staff did an outstanding job this year; we added a football character grade and a character grade to each and every individual player, and it’s really helped when we started stacking the 120 board,” Arians said. “Those two issues were standing there, staring you in the face. It was a great idea.”

Keim said this concept had been discussed last season, so it has been in the works for a while.

“Really it essentially is a checks-and-balances system where players are graded from A to F on personal character and graded from A to F on football character, so there may be players that have had some issues in the past — off the field a lot of these college kids make mistakes,” Keim said. “It’s a great balance to understand OK, he’s made some mistakes, but his football character is tremendous. He’s been a hard worker, he’s got great intangibles, he’s a great teammate.

“So if we’re willing to take a risk, it’s going to be a risk on a guy who has great football character.”

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