I can’t help it. I love the NFL, the draft wrapped this weekend and I’ve just gotta write about it.
This isn’t about rating how teams did this year, or a collection of inspiring stories about the men who were drafted (my favorite, D.J. Hayden, taken in the first-round after nearly bleeding to death following a freak injury in November).
This is for the fans – and the would-be fans. I ask the question “what happens now?” for these NFL draft picks. These young men say being drafted is “a dream come true”, the realization of everything they’ve been working for since their Pop Warner days, and makes the sacrifices their families made to get them there worth it.
But as you’ll see (if you keep reading), the most intense and uncertain part of their journey begins once they do get drafted. This can be even more uncertain for those players drafted by teams who have a pretty uncertain future of their own – see Geno Smith, for example.
Here is a glimpse of what life will look like in the coming months for these athletes.
Step 1: Getting To Know You
First of all, no money for the rookie right now. For the newly drafted, the week following is about packing up, leaving home and getting acquainted with the franchise who chose him. For some of the top picks, less than 24 hours after having their name called, they find themselves getting a facility tour, being welcomed by the owner, the coaches, shaking hands with Pro-Bowl players and being interviewed in press conferences. More importantly, they get a copy of the massive team playbook – typically as thick as a phone book, now fitting completely on an iPad, with just as much complex content. This is the most important homework they have ever been assigned.
Step 2: What’s Mini About Mini-Camp?
The weekend post-draft begins a 3-day “Mini-Camp”. It’s hard to imagine an event with players who look like this being called “mini”. Right now, for the rookie, there is still no payout. Mini-camps are geared toward getting the newly drafted acclimated to the NFL playing schemes. It also gives coaches and management a chance to see their new players in action learning plays from the team’s playbook.
Step 3: The Rubber Meets the Road, Training Camp
Before any rookie sets foot on Training Camp soil, the dirty details of the contract have to be ironed out. Depending on draft position, the management of the organization and who the agent is, this process can be anything from easy-breezy to a nasty tug of war. Assuming this negotiation is complete, now the rookie gets paid and Training Camp starts in July. This is where a spot on the team is won or lost. No, being drafted doesn’t guarantee this young man will be in the game when the season kicks-off. Of the 8 players (on average) drafted by a team, 1.25 will start in their rookie season – that’s just less than 16%.
Step 4: Are You In or Out?
After a summer of grueling workouts and playbook study, the teams’ final rosters are set in August. The fellas drafted in rounds 1-5 are almost guaranteed to make the team – after all, the organization had to invest some cash to get these guys in the door – but, again, 16% chance of actually starting. For the rest – those drafted in rounds 6-7 or picked up undrafted – the odds are slim they’ll see action this year… or ever.
In the end, 62% of the players drafted will actually be signed to an NFL team, according to DraftMetrics.com, but only 30% of them will start for at least three years. And each of those years will be a battle, as 300 new college players fight to make their way into the NFL and make their own dreams come true.
If you thought the job market was tough in your field, imagine yourself competing for your post at this level year in and year out. Of course, the money probably helps a lot. As of 2010, the average rookie salary was $325,000 for a season.
I’m certainly happy for all of the guys picked-up in the draft, and I will be watching to see how they do. But the cynical part of me keeps thinking, “I hope they took the time between snaps to get a degree they could actually use when they need it in 4 years.” On the other hand, having that dream-come-true moment in your life is almost certainly worth figuring out a new future later.