Safety Tyrann Mathieu, before he was drafted by the Cardinals, prepares to run the 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Scouting combine.
INDIANAPOLIS – Steve Keim has attended the NFL Scouting combine for years now, beginning with his days as an entry-level scout for the Cardinals.
The Cards' general manager says he may appreciate it even more now. It's how he got into the game, after all, evaluating potential draftees after spending falls on college campuses – something he does rarely in his current job.
There's another reason why Keim likes the combine so much. It's the one-on-one time with players – however brief the 15-minute sessions might be each evening, with up to 60 players by the week's end. The running and jumping make it into the notes, and the medical checks are important. But the more Keim comes to Indy every February, "the more I realize (meetings) are that most
"Workouts are a piece of the puzzle," Keim said, "but the interviews at night are what are compelling to me."
Recently Keim talked about how his view of giving some players second chances because of those interviews. Before Keim became GM in 2013, he was in favor of red-flagging players with off-field issues.
Then Tyrann Mathieu was available. While Keim and the Cardinals did get satisfactory inside information because cornerback Patrick Peterson was so close with Mathieu and vouched for him, it was the personal conversations Keim was able to have with Mathieu that won the GM over. That started at the combine.
Calling it a "gut feeling," Keim said it's not hard to get a sense of whether a player is truly remorseful for any off-field issues he might have had or whether they pile up the excuses. The latter, Keim said, are easy to move on from.
"Those you get a feel for that are passionate, remorseful and they are all about football, that's what I got from Ty," Keim added. "Instead of just discarding guys initially in the process and say he's got documented issues, we're not going to interview him, we're not going to talk about him, instead we are going to thoroughly vet the process.
"Out of 10 players, eight of them might still be considered guys you consider red flags or not want to touch. But there might be two
or three players that can still make a difference, not only on the field but off the field. You can make a difference in their lives."
The interviews don't provide guarantees. Talent still matters, and the Cardinals are still going to be cautious when it comes to off-field entanglements. They do not want to be in another situation like the one with Daryl Washington, who became a star but then was lost not because of anything football-related.
Last year, Keim and Bruce Arians loved the passion with which Missouri linebacker Markus Golden played with, even if his talent wasn't seen on par with Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory. The Cards took Golden in the second round, bypassing Gregory, and not only did Golden have a better rookie season, but Gregory's off-field issues have already earned him a four-game suspension in 2016.
That's why Keim wants to look the candidates in the eye this week, and talk to them about more than football. Sometimes, the risk will be worth it.
"Fifteen or 20 years from now, when we look back, hopefully Tyrann has a long Pro Bowl career and we put his name in the Ring of Honor, but it's no different than Adrian Wilson," Keim said. "Adrian didn't have a troubled past, but at the same time, I look at him every day watching film and working with us in the scouting department and I think, 'Wow, I don't remember all the snaps he took but I remember how special his career was and how we as an organization were able to make a difference in a young kid's life.' That's what is cool about the job. To touch people's lives and change them."
A photo gallery of Cardinals at the Scouting Combine in past years