How Much Does Character Factor into Scouting and Draft Day Decisions in the NFL?

Greg GabrielFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2014

Defensive back Tom Zbikowski, seated, of Notre Dame, responds to a question during an interview at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2008.  (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Draft day decisions have become an art and making the wrong decisions can ultimately lead to someone losing their job. Not only does a prospect have to have talent and be evaluated properly but he has to have character.

For too long, scouts just looked at the citizenship of the player. If there were no off-field issues and the player came from a good family background, they assumed everything was alright. 

That wasn't always the case as we have seen many players with top citizenship and top talent fail in the NFL. I have been burned by players who had talent and were great citizens but they didn't really love the game and failed as a professional football player.

What we have found out is that there are two types of character a scout must evaluate; personal character and football character. There is a distinct difference between the two yet they are almost always tied together. Before we go deeper into this discussion lets define what personal character/citizenship is and what football character is. 


Personal character/citizenship

Drew Brees is known for being a great person both on and off the field.
Drew Brees is known for being a great person both on and off the field.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

We can define citizenship as basically how the prospect lives his life. Is he a good person? How does he get along with and relate with people inside and outside of football? Is he involved with community service? How important is school to him? What is his personality like? What kind of teammate is he?

A scout also has to know about a player's background. Has he had any scrapes with the law? What kind of neighborhood did he grow up in? How many brothers and sisters does he have? Does he come from a two-parent home? What is the background of his parents and siblings? This is all important information that a scouting director and a General Manager has to know.


Football Character

Just as the decision-makers need to know about personal character and background they need to find out about the player's football character.

Football character is made up of four different components. They are toughness/competitiveness, smarts/football learning, dedication/passion for the game and a desire to be great. It's important to understand that if a player is lacking in any one of the four components it can prevent him from being the player he has the talent to be.

Adrian Peterson is a great example of a player who has displayed these traits. Check out his road to recovery after tearing his ACL:

A scout found out about this information by talking to the player's position coach, coordinator, strength coach, trainer and even teammates. You can never have too much information on a player.


How talent and football character tie together

A scout has a very difficult job. Not only does he have to grade the talent level of the prospect but he has to grade both the personal character and football character of the player.

For a prospect to become a top player in the NFL he first and foremost has to have a high degree of talent at his given position. He has to have the required height, weight and speed as well as be very good in all or most of the different position specifics required. Needless to say, if he doesn't have the talent he won't succeed.

Having the talent is only part of the equation. He also has to have a high degree of football character. It's a simple equation: High level of talent and high football character should provide a winning NFL football player. What many people don't realize is that most players bust because they don't have a high degree of football character.

We have seen this many times through the years, a player with great promise, who gets drafted high and a few years into his career has failed to live up to that promise and is waived.

In most cases this happens because he lacks a strong passion for the game and a strong desire to be a great player. He had talent but didn't work at becoming as good as he could be. Yes, there are cases where an injury comes into play or the player was mis-evaluated as to his talent level but for the most part it comes down to the player failing because he lacked desire.

Conversely, we have also seen a number of cases where say a mid-round pick comes in and becomes a top player for his team and has a long career. Why does this happen? Because he loves the game and has a very strong desire to be the best he can be.

London Fletcher, a former undrafted free agent, became one of the greatest linebackers of his generation through his hard work.
London Fletcher, a former undrafted free agent, became one of the greatest linebackers of his generation through his hard work.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press/Associated Press

When a player has talent he is always going to be given the benefit of the doubt and be given second and third chances but sooner or later his lack of football character will catch up to him and he will be out of the game. We used to say this type of player was "cursed with talent".


How personal character and football character tie together

Just as we have seen many cases of talented players fail because they lacked a degree of football character, we have also seen cases where a player with questionable personal character has become a top NFL player. How does this happen?

When making the decision to draft a player with personal issues the decision-makers have to weigh in his football character. If a player has a strong desire to become a great player he can/will change his lifestyle so it won't interfere with his ability to play football.

His desire to be a great player will overcome the immaturity or poor decision-making he had in college. He will turn his life around because he knows what football can do for him and his family.

Peyton Manning is the perfect example of a player with high personal and football character.
Peyton Manning is the perfect example of a player with high personal and football character.Julio Cortez/Associated Press/Associated Press

On the other side of that equation is the player who has poor personal character and poor football character. He will never succeed because he lacks the drive to overcome his lifestyle.

Obviously, if the personal character issues are too severe to deal with, you have to pass on the player. A problem we have in the league today is that in some cases there are coaches or front office types who don't look at the personal character information close enough to make a good decision.

They let the "talent" of the player affect their decision. In some cases they say that "we can fix him" but they don't have the support people in place to really deal with the problem. Having the support people to deal with personal issues is just as important as having outstanding coaches. Clubs are making a huge investment in players and if they don't have the proper professionals to deal with personal issues their large monetary investment can go down the drain.  

Clubs that have strong, experienced scouting and support staffs that can give the decision-makers the proper information on a player's talent, personal character and football character are the clubs that hold an advantage over others. Teams will always make mistakes in the evaluation process, it's the teams that make the fewest mistakes that are the consistent winners.