NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah recently estimated that NFL area scouts now devote 75 percent of their time to background and character research.
When push comes to shove, though, separating the wheat from the chaff is a guessing game. When queried about his philosophy on character evaluation, Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome once said, "I think gut feeling has a lot to do with it."
Before Dez Bryant's 2012 breakout season and newfoundmaturity, the Dallas Cowboys were roundly criticized for ignoring a laundry list of red flags trailing the troubled Oklahoma State star. In fact, former Cowboys scout Bryan Broaddus told KRLD-FM last week that Bryant had the worst background of any player he had ever seen coming out of college.
For all of the concern over Bryant's checkered background, he had never run afoul of the law for issues relating to drugs, alcohol or violence. Was he a neglected and undisciplined kid who would thrive with structure and tough love or a bad seed who would end up haunting the Cowboys?
The general rule is that prior behavior is a good indicator of future behavior. Those around the Cowboys had always praised Bryant for his hard work, good heart and love of football, but that didn't save the team's brass from a gnawing anxiety.
"That's the thing as a personnel guy," Broaddus explained. "You don't sleep at night. And when you wake up, you're thinking did he go off the reservation today. ... You're constantly worrying about players because they get put in terrible situations, sometimes by their own doing."
We've seen players such as Cris Carter, Randy Moss and Ray Lewis overcome early off-the-field issues to go on to Hall of Fame-caliber careers. We've also seen malcontents such as Terrell Owens and Jeff George stay out of legal trouble, only to sabotage their own coaching staffs and disrespect teammates. The trick is to avoid the players who combine the worst of both traits.
As the cases of Hernandez and Bryant illustrate, it's more art than science -- especially when the subjects at hand have yet to reach their 22nd birthday.