We all know the qualifications that a player needs to have a chance against the big boys of the NFL.
What was his 40-time? Is he quick or fast? Does he have physicality or is he slight in frame? Does he play the game with sound technique? Does he stretch a defense? Can he beat jams at the line? Can he mirror and slide? Does he have great vision? Does he have good instincts? Is he a solid wrap up tackler? Can he convert from DE to OLB in a 3-4 scheme?
I could go on and on about the qualities that teams desire at each position, but one thing that stop-watches and game tape fail to reveal is a player's heart.
If a player has all-world ability but no heart, will he make it in the NFL? If he has average talent but the heart of a lion, will he have success in this league of stats and over-analysis?
I tend to think that the measure of a player's heart is something that no one really knows until they play the games. Does he lift his team to victory or does he sit on the bench looking at the ground like a man with no interest in the game's outcome?
Players like Ray Nitschke, Mike Singletary, Ray Lewis, Tom Brady, Walter Payton, and Reggie White never quit and inspired their teammates to strive for excellence, even in the face of defeat. They refused to let their team down and, through their actions, motivated others to give their all. Other players with lesser roles like former Cowboy Bill Bates and Danny Woodhead of the Patriots, are great examples of men with seemingly average talent but when you factor in the measure of their heart, they become one of the most valuable players on the roster.
With all of the private workouts and interviews that take place prior to the draft, there are a wide array of questions that are asked to potential draft picks. Some make no sense at all and hardly seem to have any bearing on a players ability to play this game at a high level.
But then again, how do you ask a player if he has heart? If you ask, they will always say yes, regardless if their answer is true or not. So, teams can only rely on their instincts in determining a players heart.
Until there is a solution to this problem, teams will have to simply rely on scouting reports and interviews with players and those people closely associated with them to make an assessment of said players "heart."
Perhaps a closer study of how an NFL Draft prospect affected his college team's play, both in a positive and negative way, is the best way to gauge how that player will carry himself as a leader for the team that drafts him.
In this year's draft, leaders will emerge and years from now we will discuss how big a heart that player had during their career.
For now, we will have to wait and see.