KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If there is an NFL record for acquiring the most leadership in the shortest time, it probably belongs to the Chiefs.
A year ago, six of the seven players Scott Pioli selected in his second draft as Chiefs general manager were college team captains. From safety Eric Berry in the first round to linebacker Cameron Sheffield in the fifth, Pioli focused on athletes whose on-the-field achievements were heavily garnished with loyalty, character and class.
Berry, the Tennessee All-American and overall No. 5 pick, used to stay late after practice helping clean helmets. Third-round guard Jon Asamoah won the Big Ten Conference's Medal of Honor for being both a scholar and an athlete.
Impressed but a bit skeptical, many fans wondered if Pioli had gone a bit overboard. Sure, character's key if you're collecting Boy Scout merit badges or helping old ladies cross the street.
But could these choir boys play?
In three words -- oh, my, yes. Except for Sheffield, who had a season-ending injury in August, every one of Pioli's reputable rookies played a significant role in a franchise-record six-game improvement that included an AFC West title.
Pioli is certain that wasn't coincidence. He might value player character as much as any GM in the NFL.
Most observers agree the Chiefs, with the 21st overall pick Thursday night, probably will look at wide receivers, offensive linemen and linebackers. A nose tackle also is on their wish list.
And so is character.
"Whether it's a physical capability or trait or their makeup, (there are) players who can be successful in other programs but not be successful here," Pioli said. "That's because when you set up a certain environment in how things are going to be done, when we talk about the culture that's here, there are certain demands on people that players can handle, and other players can't.
"That doesn't mean they're not a good player and it doesn't mean they're not a good person. It just means the fit isn't right."
One season isn't enough to give any draft class a final grade, but the Chiefs might look back on 2010 as one of their finest. Berry was the first Kansas City rookie selected to the Pro Bowl since Derrick Thomas in 1989. Dexter McCluster led rookie punt returners with a 15.5-yard average. Kendrick Lewis tied for third among rookie safeties with three interceptions, and Tony Moeaki had 47 catches for 556 yards, No. 2 among rookie tight ends.
Something that surprised coaches was how quickly the group bonded, and it seemed to remain close all season. Off-the-field problems? Not a whiff.
"We really got close in rookie minicamp," Berry said. "We just kind of tried to help each other get through everything. We never really get in any arguments or disagreements. We just keep it real with each other, and keep it moving."
Even defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was taken aback.
"Usually you have one or two guys who are not exactly crazy about somebody else," he said. "But they all bonded and rallied around each other. We're fortunate we have a good group who like each other. Their bond has only grown stronger."
Being former team captains, Lewis said, gives everybody something in common.
"It brings leadership and character to this team," he said. "All those guys have great leadership, and it shows in the locker room. There aren't any guys who are all for themselves. We're all trying to do what's best for the team. And that's what makes this rookie class so special."
Teams putting value on character in nothing new.
"You win with character, not with characters," said NFL analyst and former Bears defensive tackle Tim Ryan. "Obviously, for all those (Kansas City rookies) the character is there. The leadership is there. Those characteristics and assets are big."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press