Arizona Cardinals' general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians have drawn praise and acclaim from around the NFL for the standard they hold the franchise's players to and the example they set in a league loaded with controversy.
Entering their fifth full season working together, Keim and Arians have rebuilt the franchise's reputation and helped turn Arizona into a winning organization, despite the hurdles they've faced along the way.
One of the signature moments of the duo's tenure was one of its first moments together, when Keim and Arians elected to take a chance on embattled LSU product Tyrann Mathieu in the 2013 NFL Draft.
In the third round of the 2013 Draft, the Cardinals selected Mathieu --a player who was dismissed from his college team and arrested for possession of marijuana -- despite the fact that Keim and Arians were in their first year holding their respective jobs.
Five years later, the decision to draft Mathieu looks like a brilliant one, and it's one that highlights the time and effort Keim and his scouting department put forth in addressing and reviewing players with character concerns.
"That's why we spent so much time this offseason getting to know the person and I say that all the time," Keim said in a radio interview with Arizona Sports 98.7 on Wednesday. "Each player is an isolated situation so you have to take into account all of the things that has gone on in that player's life, where they come from, you have to take into account whatever the issue is, substance abuse whether it's an arrest of some nature and really, to me, getting to know the person, you have an understanding of whether that young man is remorseful of the things that they've done. If they are passionate enough about football to steer themselves in the right direction because generally if they love it enough, you have a chance."
With the NFL Draft now a week away, Keim and his staff have put together the same type of comprehensive analysis of this year's crop of players as they did for Mathieu and for players in each subsequent draft. The process is time-consuming, but Keim has called the NFL Draft the "lifeblood" of an organization and each decision he and his staff make can help make or break the franchise.
Before the Cardinals finalize a draft board featuring their top 120 prospects, Keim said he creates another draft board with players who are rated by their ability to compete in the NFL and then tagged with any concerns scouts might have.
"It's basically the board, we have a grade that we apply to each player that is respective to their ability to play in the National Football League," Keim said in the interview. "So you take into account the schematical fit, the guy may have character issues, the guy may have medical issues, I tell our scouts we can tag those guys based on those issues and there can be red flags, but let's grade their ability. So we'll give them an ability grade and then we'll put the necessary tag on them whether it's been medical, character, some type of off field issues."
To move from Keim's horizontal board to the Cardinals' top 120 board, a prospect must make it through what Keim considers the "Cardinal" filter. Though Keim acknowledged there are always talented players who are left off of the Cardinals' top 120 board, he said that if the team was overly-critical, there wouldn't be enough players to fill out his final board.
"And then essentially we create a filter and I call it the Cardinal filter," Keim said. "When you go from the horizontal board and you make it to the top 120, you have to make it through medically, you have to make it through from a character standpoint. More and more in today's day and age I'm very hesitant to take chances on guys who are major rep guys who can't process or learn information and then the bottom line is what is their skill set and what it is that we do. So there's a lot of factors that go into it, there'll be some good players that don't make it over to our top 120 board."
In the coming days, Keim said he and his staff will finalize the organization's top 120 board and rank all of the prospects the Cardinals will consider drafting within the first four rounds. If any of the members of the top 120 board are still available when Arizona is on the clock in later rounds, then expect the team to pull the trigger on the best asset it can get its hands on.
"We've been locked away in draft meetings and our horizontal board is set and it's ready to go," Keim said. "Tomorrow morning we'll have some cross check reports and make sure that we have everybody lined up in the right spot. Then Thursday afternoon and Friday we'll finalize our top 120 board which is the board that we draft off of and I talked about it a little bit yesterday."