Character plays at least a bit role in every NFL franchise’s evaluation process for the NFL Draft. If the greatest ability is availability, it would be foolish to not emphasize how likely a young man is to professionally conduct himself through a rigorous season, off-season, and the kind of attention he will likely receive as he steps onto the big stage of a professional athlete.
Will this young man make decisions that will represent his team, teammates and the league in a positive way or is he at risk of making poor decisions that will carry a heavy cost?
Figuring these things out through limited interactions has to be incredibly difficult. If it was easy, no team would make the mistake of signing a hot headed player like Jeff George as the franchise quarterback. No team would draft Quinn Pitcock, who would quickly leave the game due to a video game addiction. Mike Ditka wouldn’t have leveraged the Saints’ future on Ricky Williams, whose battle with social anxiety derailed much of his career.
The NFL Draft is immensely valuable to every team. There is no greater chance to build a roster. Getting it right will lead to success and the possibility to play for championships. Notable failures can set a franchise back for years.
These observations make the 2019 NFL Draft interesting for the Colts. Perhaps no other Colts draft class is so clearly dominated by young men who have displayed leadership, earned the respect of their peers, vocalize their appreciation for their coaches and teammates, and broadly do an incredible job of representing themselves publicly.
Will these traits translate to the football field? Did the Colts focus too much on character at the cost of finding those who are most likely to succeed against the best athletes in the world?
That question will take some time to answer but one thing is clear, Chris Ballard has made locker room and culture-building a priority and this group of rookies will go a long way to solidifying the foundation he has been pouring.
Rookie safety Khari Willis is a born leader. He grew up with 9 sisters and brothers, spent much of his time involved with sports at a free recreational center his father has directed for more than two decades, and donates considerable time giving back to his community. It is very important to him that he helps other young people navigate through a variety of circumstances, to make good decisions and to put themselves in position to reach their goals.
His teammates at Michigan State clearly respected the man he was on the field and in the locker room. His coach and other Big 10 coaches were blown away by his leadership and character. His athletic abilities and on-field accomplishments are also entirely worthy of a third round selection.
There is very little doubt that Willis will put in the work. He will dedicate himself to being the best player he can be and to helping the people around him succeed. He will very likely have a major off-field impact on the Indianapolis community.
Do yourself the favor of sitting some time aside to watch a few videos that will help tell Willis’ story. Listen to his Big Ten address as he talks about his values and what is important to him. It is hard not to feel confident in the Colts’ future with young men like Khari Willis helping to lead the way.
Even if the team falls short of its lofty goals, it will be super easy to cheer for a group like the one that is coming together at West 56th Street.