Arizona Cardinals Add “Character” To NFL Draft Evaluations

Josh Weinfuss, ESPN (

There’s a new column on the Arizona Cardinals’ draft board this year.

After debating evaluating a prospect’s character on and off the field last year, the Cardinals decided to make both attributes part of their scouting process this year. Along with grading physical and mental traits, the Cardinals have assigned a letter grade to a player’s football character and overall character.

Coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday the character grades have “really” helped the Cardinals scouting department build its board of the top 120 prospects.

“Those two issues were standing there staring you in the face,” Arians said. “That was a great idea.”

The Cardinals discussed the idea of adding a character grade during the evaluation process leading up to the 2015 draft but didn’t implement it. This year, every prospect on their top 120 is given a grade from A to F based on both football and off-field character.

Arizona general manager Steve Keim called it a “checks and balances system.”

“There may be players who have had some issues in the past,” he said. “Off the field, a lot of these college kids makes mistakes and 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.”

In addition to Arizona’s area scouts compiling reports on prospects, Cardinals assistants had a larger role in evaluating players this year.

Keim sent more assistants to hold private workouts this year than he has before his three previous drafts as general manager. Having a coach dissect a player’s physical tools and mental capabilities gives Keim and his staff different insights than what a scout can determine.

“When our coaches go out and they come back, we talk to them in meetings, we want to understand how far along is this guy mentally,” Keim said. “Is he going to be a rep guy? Is he going to take some time to grow and develop? Again, leave no stone unturned in this process.”

The Cardinals narrowed their board over the last two-and-a-half weeks with meetings that lasted eight to 10 hours per day in their draft room. Keim said “great conversations” and “great debates” took place. He said the communication among his staff, the scouts and coaches has been as good as he has been around.

The Cardinals’ top-120 board won’t be affected much by the trade last month that sent their second-round pick to the New England Patriots for outside linebacker Chandler Jones, Keim said. By time the second round ends, there’ll be about 40 slots that Keim said would be “irrelevant, because that window is going to be gone.”

But not having a second-round pick hasn’t affected how the Cardinals ranked the top 120. But when the second round begins on April 29, someone in the Cardinals’ war room will take the tag that would’ve belonged to the 61st overall pick and write a different name on it.

“Just write Chandler Jones’ name on a tag,” Arians said. “You’ll be happy as hell. At that pick, there’s not anybody going to be like Chandler Jones.”

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