The Senior Bowl was last week. It’s one of the mainstays of the NFL scouting circuit. In terms of the evaluation process, it’s one of the most important events, as it demonstrates players not only practicing against one another but gives teams the chance to finally get to meet with some of these players face-to-face.
There is also the documentation aspect that occurs regarding the players’ measurements. Today we’re going to do something a bit special. For you see, we here at BRB have acquired the exclusive draft diary of one such player at this year’s Senior Bowl. What follows is the experience in his own words, presented to you as a firsthand account of what it’s like to be an NFL prospect.
For a moment, I want you to come with me as I take you into the mind of a prospective NFL player who's been invited to the Senior Bowl, where most of the top seniors in college football come to strut their stuff in practices and an exhibition game while also getting to meet with various teams who may or may not be interested in drafting them in the upcoming draft. There's a small ceremony held in Mobile, Alabama to greet the incoming players. There's jubilation, excitement, and nerves. You're focused on performing well during the following week’s practices and meetings. You want to show everyone that you're worthy of playing in the NFL, that you should be considered one of the best players in this draft class.
You wake up the next morning bright and early. It's time for the weigh-in. You get down to the arena, where a very nice kindly man asks you for your name and ID before giving you a skin tight pair of Under Armour trunks and directing you towards a changing area. After you've disrobed and put on the trunks, you are directed towards a queue where other similar garmentless men stand waiting. Well, this is embarrassing; you seem to all be wearing the same trunks. What a fashion faux pas.
One by one, you see the line move forward as you see each player walk up on stage to get weighed and measured. Your name gets called. You stride across the stage, trying to maintain an outward aura of confidence as you fight back the sense of unease that has suddenly crept up on you. You stop in the centre of the stage. Two scouts proceed to weigh and measure various parts of you, with another scout relaying the measurements to the crowd. Yes, the crowd. At this moment, the enormity and peculiarity of the situation hits you. You are standing in front of a room full of mostly men and a few women whose explicit purpose in being here is to critique how your body looks. You suddenly become painfully aware of the reading up on the pre-draft process you did, how the scouts take the weigh-in seriously in as an information gathering service. You also become horrified, remembering that scouts are often looking at the size of a player’s posterior as a sign of lower body explosiveness and power. This realisation comes with a slightly depressing thought that, at this precise moment, in this room, where the trajectory of your future career is being decided, upwards of 60 or so people are looking at and critiquing your arse. You hang your head as you begin the mental calculations of whether having to suffer this indignity is worth the potential payout at the end of this process.
There is a chance that at this point you might be thinking that being an NFL player wasn’t the best idea. You tell yourself to relax and remember the pay is worth it. Just put that whole weird experience behind you and focus on the rest of your day. On your way out, you overhear someone to your left discussing what sounds like football matters and the build of a particular offensive lineman. You turn your head to see a man with a binder open and a list of sheets that he’s casually leafing through. Your heart jumps at seeing the Steelers logo on his jacket and hat. However, while on the bus to practice, you take some time to mull over that entire morning. You slowly and very steadily come to think it's disconcerting to imagine Mike Tomlin criticizing a young man’s bubble butt. The day goes on, and you put it to the back of your mind, instead choosing to focus on practice and the individual interviews you have lined up for that day.
You get home that night after everything, shattered and bruised. Tired from the day that was. Still, in the back of your head, you cannot help but think that for most people, standing almost completely naked in front of a room full of people whose job it is to specifically assess how your body looks would be incredibly uncomfortable. You remember feeling naturally self-conscious of every little insecurity they might have about your body, suddenly put under a microscope in a room full of 60 plus people. To you, it’s nothing more that a mentally taxing cauldron of self-doubt that turns QBs renowned for their poise, confidence and self assurance into creatures who look like their husband or wife left them in order to shack up with a with a long-haired man named Rich who makes sandals out of kale and lives in a house boat. The simple act of walking across that stage, in front of those people, causes the body to expel confidence like it’s a poisonous substance.
It’s at this point, while mulling over this things, that it hits you. For many of these GMs, head coaches, and various other league personnel, that was their first real life encounter with you and the rest of the players. They may have seen you in tape study or in passing while watching a college game, but for many that particular moment in that particular room is the first encounter between a potential employer and potential employee. You’re half naked. You think to yourself just how this possible occurrence could be normalized. Maybe it's the fact that this has been a part of the scouting process for so long that everyone involved has just become numb to it, yet the mere fact that potential employment candidates are evaluated for potential multi-million dollar contracts while in their underwear is weird. Those same thoughts swirl around your brain, like a stew slowly bubbling away on a lit stove. You struggle to reconcile the fact that there is a professional industry that does this. You remind yourself why it’s okay, though. The pay is good.
You feel like you should be asleep. It’s been a long day. You feel tired, but still this is nagging at you. You pull from your bag a laptop. You can’t help but feel the need to scratch this itch further. You think about the entire process. A player is brought into the league rife with criticism of their bodies. You recall from your own reading of media outlets’ scouting reports of you. It’s not something new to you. Your agent regaled you with horror stories about stiff hips, thin frames, or the dreaded small hands. Small hands is the Black Death of all the anatomically based critiques of a player’s ability. It may feel like such a random thing to develop a criticism over, but you know it's not random. It has a very strong base in the game; it just feels odd to say someone doesn't get a job because their hands are too small. Still, it's not like small hands are a death sentence in the NFL. Plenty of players with small hands have succeeded. You think about the likes of T.Y. Hilton, Tyler Lockett, John Brown, and Jamison Crowder, all wide receivers, who have achieved success in this league at a position where hand size would be high priority, all the while possessing hand sizes which were under nine inches. Of course, the issue usually rears its head worst in relation to quarterbacks. Last year, it was Jared Goff. Back in 2014, it was Teddy Bridgewater. This is terrifying when you consider what the financial implications for a rookie are in terms of where they get drafted. There's almost a four million a year difference in salary between the No.1 pick in the draft and the No. 32 on the rookie pay scale. Now imagine you're someone like Bridgewater, a player with the possibility of being taken high in the first round. Yet concerns about your frame, arm strength, and hand size have caused you to drop. Within the space of a few hours, you literally lose millions because the NFL community as a whole is wary of your ability to play in cold weather. Which, somehow, leads you to fall and get drafted by the franchise based in noted tropical paradise Minnesota.
Thinking over these things will get you nowhere. You’ve got a 5 a.m. meeting with another general manager and scouting directors in which you’ll probably be asked if you can cook or not. Y, u gently nod off telling yourself the same thing that coaches and agents tell you: It’s all a part of the process.