With the voluminous information available via the internet, many fans today know almost as much about a potential 49er's measurables as do some NFL personnel departments. The scads of mock-draft info available during roster-replenishment season, not just from beat writers and national experts, but from the appended comments by fans, testify to the generally high level of expertise. Many articles that speculate on future, or recapitulate past, personnel moves, whether by draft, trade, or free-agency, come replete with a rundown of a player's height, weight, strength, speed, Wonderlic scores and other stats. And, of course, salary-cap cost.
However, while NFL personnel departments have perfected the science of measurement, they must still grapple with the very imperfect art of personality assessment. How will a certain player fit, not only on the field, but off it? How coachable will he be? How quickly might he mature? How susceptible to off-field distractions? How well will he handle potential fame and big money? How diligent will he be with his preparation, how careful with his health? How well will he adapt to big-game pressure, media scrutiny, longer work hours? How will he react to temporary setbacks? Failure? Success? Intense competition?
In other words, teams must necessarily judge a prospect not only on the merits of his measurements, but also on the contents of his character. In this regard, personnel departments have considerable advantage over the rest of us, who, in our dogged quest for home-team news morsels, must settle instead for scraps. However, team reps can talk to a player's coaches, his family members and friends, his teachers, teammates, opponents, fellow students, and, alas, agents. Still, most of this information comes second hand. So, in order to get the gut-reactions begotten by face-to-face encounters, teams schedule in-person meetings with prospective draftees.
Different teams rank the importance of the character issues -- no surprise -- differently. The late Al Davis, for instance, sometimes eschewed character issues altogether in favor of measurables. In fact, he occasionally seemed to view irascibility, particularly in a veteran player, as a positive. Bill Walsh sought out smart players. Team-builders often tend toward those characteristics in others which mirror their own traits. Mike Singletary wanted physical players, preferably with an "f."
Obviously, every team craves stupendous athletes who simultaneously function as supportive teammates, exemplary role models, and responsible citizens. In a perfect world. However, in this one, the team brass may sometimes need to make tough decisions when evaluating what a particular player may bring, not only on the field, but off it. As Harbalk continues the task of remaking the 49ers, what sort of personalities, in addition to personnel, might they project onto their future vision for the team?
Trent Baalke of late exemplifies flexibility, acquiring players by any means necessary, including free agency, draft, trades, and even signing players out of retirement. He proved quite flexible in manipulating the 2012 draft. He plans. He prepares. And he also stays ready to act should an opportunity present itself. Jim Harbaugh has also shown an openness to flexibility, especially on offense, not only in his game plans and play-calling (heck, he rebooted the 49er offense in mid-season last year), but in his use of personnel: defensive linemen play fullback; Delaney Walker played multiple positions; the 49ers line up in a multitude of formations. So, particularly with potential draftees in the later rounds, they may well look for a player who asserts "I'll play any position to help the team," with genuine sincerity.
Vince Lombardi once ranked the three most important things in life as God, family, and football. Jim Harbaugh might add "and more football." Given that he comes from a coaching clan, even a portion of his family life involves football. Harbaugh not only dreams, thinks, and imbibes football; it would surprise no one if he consumed pigskin for breakfast. Supposedly, he bonded with Colin Kaepernick over the duo's fraternal football zeal. Yes, Harbaugh would probably love a team filled with gridiron grunts (the football equivalent of gym rats) at every position. All else being equal between two prospective draft picks athletically, look for Harbaugh to press for the more football-centric choice, yes, even in the early rounds, which often yield future team leaders.
The Harbalk tandem often talks about filling a roster with internal competition at every position. Indeed, the head coach relishes using the term "compete," usually with that halfway-demented gleam in his eye, that gleam of which we fans heartily approve. We prefer to call such football fervor not "fanaticism," but "dedication." We want this guy as our head coach. Likewise, he will want highly competitive players everywhere he can get them. Again, every team covets these kinds of players, but for some organizations, the term "competition" becomes merely a clichéd mantra. Harbaugh really means it.
Of course team needs, a prospect's athletic ability, and value, can all trump character. But we've seen, with brother John Harbaugh's recent dust-up with his Super Bowl safeties, as with Jim's quick dispatch of Brandon Jacobs last year when the running back became disgruntled, that character does matter, both with coaches and players. Also, Harbalk often uses player visits as smokescreens and sometimes makes draft selections from seemingly out of the blue. Nonetheless, look for the pair, as per their own proclivities, to nudge the team toward players who, when ignited by inspired coaching, breath fire, thrive on football, and will willingly line up anywhere and everywhere.