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For the Kansas City Chiefs, which type of character counts?

It's draft season, we keep hearing about "character concerns" for certain players, but how much of that stuff matters?

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Throughout free agency and the NFL Draft we hear about guys with "character concerns." But should that concern the Chiefs? Andrew Carroll wrote about it why it shouldn't matter last May.

There are two distinct categories of character concerns: off the field character and football character. Off the field character concerns may affect a player's availability: their history suggests they could be suspended or arrested, losing the ability to stay on the field. Football character defines who they are as a player and constitutes everything, outside of natural talent and health, that determines success or failure in the league.

NFL teams spend tremendous amounts of time and resources digging into the character of draft prospects and free agents. Need an example? Look no further than what the Chiefs did with the Defensive Rookie of the Year, Marcus Peters.

"We go through a research process in terms of trying to find that out about players," Chiefs GM John Dorsey said after last year's draft ... We met him at the combine. He sat with all the position coaches at the combine. I had the chance to have a side bar with him at the combine. We brought him here to the building for a day. And then, just this past week, Monday and Tuesday I believe it was, we sent Chris Ballard out to Oakland. He had a chance to sit down with the kid, his parents. We did very extensive research in regards to this person and we talked to his coaches, his former coaches. Listen, you know what the kid is: competitive. He's a very competitive kid. He's not a malicious kid whatsoever."

Dorsey said they talked to 15-20 people about Peters, which is pretty normal for them.

"You guys have known me long enough, if I didn't think he would fit in the culture or the environment of this community or the organization, he wouldn't be here," Dorsey said.

They do their research.

What defines off the field character?

  • Staying out of the way of the NCAA and the police
  • Positive interactions with fans and social media
  • Working hard as evidenced by testimony from coaches and teammates
  • Honesty about past mistakes
  • Involvement in the community and charitable causes
  • Have positive interactions with the press
  • Clean record in regards to the performance enhancing drugs policy and substance abuse policy

Example of ideal off the field character: Anquan Boldin. Boldin established his own foundation to expand educational and life opportunities for youth in his community. He and his wife donated $1M for scholarships, holiday shopping sprees for kids, provided $10k to assist villages in Ethiopa, etc. He was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year in recognition of his off the field work. We haven't heard his name in the news for any negative reasons, and he's put together a long and successful NFL career. Channeling my inner Todd Haley, I'll take 53 Anquan Boldins.

Example of questionable off the field character: Adam "Pacman" Jones. Jones has been a very good player on the field, but was infamously involved in at least nine off the field incidents between 2005 and 2007. He was suspended for the 2007 season, and teams avoided signing him in 2009, so he has lost two seasons of his career. He's been accused of DUIs and assaults, and lashed out at the media over his latest incident. More than once, it's been reported that he has turned his life around, and he had found a long term home in Cincinnati. That said, he's now a free agent, so it will be interesting to see if the concerns affect his market. He's a good example of how football talent can trump character.

What defines football character?

  • Toughness, playing hurt (knowing the difference between hurt and injured)
  • Knowing the playbook, understanding your job and other jobs as needed
  • Watch film and be able to apply / react on the field
  • Put in extra practice and film time above what's required
  • Being a good teammate: mentor / help other players
  • Having complete confidence from the coaches
  • Competitive in the pre-draft process, OTAs, camp, practice, drills and games
  • Reliability: do your job on the field, show up to practice and meetings on time
  • Leadership: rally the team around you and / or carry the team on your back when you have to
  • Being a team captain might be an indicator of good football character
  • Take care of your body, stay in football shape

Example of ideal football character: Tamba Hali. Nobody outworks Tamba Hali. Nobody does more coaching of other players. Hali has spent countless hours teaching the hand technique he's learned over the years to guys like Justin Houston and Dee Ford. You don't see Hali taking plays or games off ... if he can drag his body on the field, he's playing and giving 100 percent. He's constantly working to improve his game: When he first entered the league, he was a pass-rusher only, and teams could run right at him. (Sounds familiar, huh?) By the way, Tamba is also a great example of off the field character.

Example of questionable football character: JaMarcus Russell. He had the size, arm talent and college tape that made him the No. 1 overall pick. Granted the Raiders aren't an ideal organization but he struggled with weight, work ethic and his willingness to understand the playbook, and lasted only three years in the NFL. He's the poster child for NFL busts and what happens when you have all the talent in the world but not the work ethic to match.

Example of a player with reported character concerns in this year's NFL draft: Ole Miss DL Robert Nkemdiche. He had the strange incident where he jumped out of a window. So, there is an off the field concern. He reportedly didn't interview well at the combine, and his film shows inconsistent effort. Looking from afar, he has questionable character in both categories and it sounds like his stock is falling. He's been suggested as an option for the Chiefs through mock drafts with the 28th pick, although his talent suggests he should be picked higher.


The Chiefs have shown the ability to develop players with character concerns of both varieties. Justin Houston's pre-draft off the field concern and Marcus Peters' pre-draft coach-ability concerns are great examples of how the team can do their homework on a talented player and find out what's really going on.  Both guys have shown exemplary football character and become fantastic, well-prepared, high-effort players.  Neither has been a problem off the field or in the locker room.

In general, I'd MUCH rather they take a chance on a player with a past off the field concern than one with questionable motor / work ethic. As long as a player can avoid NFL suspensions (and prison) and has the football intelligence and work ethic to apply their talents on the field ... they may be worth the risk.

Presumably, the team understands that there are things you can teach and things you can't. You can't make a player love football or be motivated or have a high motor. Other than talent, passion / motor is the most important variable that determines success, and it's often more important than raw talent. John Dorsey says it all the time, he's looking for players that love football.

Tamba Hali's perspective as told to our own Joel Thorman in 2014: "General manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid are putting together a team that LOVES the game of football and are willing to compete for the the Lamar Hunt Trophy and the Lombardi Trophy and anything short of those from the guys they are bringing in is failure."

Keep an eye on the players added to the Chiefs roster this offseason. When you hear the media say this guy is a character risk, try to determine which type of character they are referring to, and whether it's something that can be fixed. It might just help identify a tremendous value and a future star for the team that invests in them.

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