McAllister, whose record-breaking career as a Rebel included McAllister being the only player in school history to record three seasons with at least 1,000 all-purpose yards, was drafted No. 23 overall by the New Orleans Saints in 2001. He went on to play eight seasons for the Saints, where he retired as the all-time leading rusher with 6,096 yards. He was also tops in overall touchdowns (55) and rushing touchdowns (49).
But he never expected to be a Saint. Actually, he never thought he’d fall far out of the Top 10, if at all. The New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears showed the most interest during interviews and scouting opportunities. He was sure he was headed to one of those four places.
“The New Orleans Saints, I never even met with them,” McAllister said. “I said hello because they were the local team, but that was the team that ended up drafting me. I never visited New Orleans or anything. For me, I met with the top seven or eight teams as far as that was where they were picking. I was pretty comfortable with one of those eight teams.”
If he had his choice, McAllister would have likely ended up in San Francisco. He had a “great, great” pre-draft visit there, and the 49ers could have used a running back. But the NFL Draft is not like college football recruiting. Teams pick the players, not the other way around.
McAllister thought he had it all pretty well figured out. The Patriots made sense. In the months leading up to the draft, McAllister had camped out at the Holiday Inn Express in Oxford with then-Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis for what was, essentially, a three-day job interview.
Weis put McAllister through workouts, film sessions and everything in between. Alas, the Patriots opted for Richard Seymour at No. 6 overall. Seymour went on to captain three Super Bowl-winning Patriots teams, and he appeared in seven Pro Bowls. He was named to three All-Pro teams as well.
“They ended up picking Richard Seymour, who’s a Hall of Famer and a great pick, but I thought for sure that was where I was going,” McAllister said. “But that didn’t happen. You get in those draft rooms, if the head coach isn’t the guy working you out, don’t listen to it. At the end of the day, that’s who mainly has the pull in that league. Charlie really liked me, but he didn’t have enough pull to say this is who we’re going to pick with this pick.”
McAllister turned off his television after Chicago went in another direction at No. 8. He knew there wasn't a team with a need at running back until at least pick No. 13. He kept his phone on him and played the waiting game.
The Minnesota Vikings called and said they were trying to move up to take him. The Saints, too. The Bears even tried trading back into the first round, as did the 49ers. But no deal was made, and McAllister was, ultimately, off to the Saints.
McAllister can admit now he was, in a word, angry that he fell so far. But his career couldn’t have turned out any better. He was inducted into the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame in 2012.
“I couldn’t get a guarantee from any of the teams in the Top 10 that they would pick me, so I chose not to go up to New York,” he said. “This was when there was not a green room, so you just sat there and the camera sat on you for 15 minutes. Every draft pick in the first round was a 15-minute pick, and they didn’t have anywhere where you could kind of get away from the camera. They only brought up 10-12 guys that had gotten guarantees from those Top 10 picks. They didn’t bring you up if you weren’t a Top 10 pick. I got an invite, but I didn’t get a guarantee that one of those Top 10 teams were going to pick me. So I didn’t go to New York.”
So his advice is simple for handful of Ole Miss Rebels set to wait out the NFL Draft to see where they land. The draft will take place over three days from Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 29.
From Evan Engram, who’s expected to be selected in the top two rounds, to late-round possibilities such as Chad Kelly, Damore’ea Stringfellow and Fadol Brown, it’s less about where you go than finding the right fit. McAllister can speak from experience.
“You just want to get it over with because the biggest thing is the unknown,” he said. “It’s an anxious time. There’s a lot of anxiety because you know you can change your fortunes by doing really well. You don’t need all 32 teams to like you. You need one.
“You get one team to fall in love with you. That’s all it takes.”
The Saints would certainly agree.