This week’s edition of Backdraft profiles San Diego Chargers rising defensive star CB Antonio Cromartie. After missing his junior season at Florida State, he decided to enter the NFL Draft and was rewarded by the Chargers as their first-round selection (19th overall) in 2006.
After seeing limited action during his rookie season in San Diego, Cromartie has emerged as one of the league’s brightest defensive stars this season. He talked to Scout.com’s Chris Steuber this week and took a look back at his experience leading up to his NFL success.
Antonio Cromartie during his days at Florida State.
Getty Images/Jamie Squire
Chris Steuber: Was football your first love growing up, or was there another sport that interested you more?
Antonio Cromartie: Football was my first love growing up. I’ve been playing football since I was five years old.
CS: Did you pattern your game after any particular player?
Cromartie: I did. I patterned myself after Deion Sanders. I met him while I was in college and we stayed in touch. That’s probably the one person I try to present myself as and try to play like.
CS: So you keep in touch with Deion?
Cromartie: Definitely. I try to talk to him every week after my game. I ask him where I made mistakes or what I can improve on. It’s good to talk with him about that.
CS: What was it like playing at Florida State?
Cromartie: Coming in as a true freshman, I had high expectations for myself. But I didn’t get to play that much. I only started one game while I was at Florida State. Besides that, they have some of the best coaches in college football, Coach Bowden and Coach Angelos.
CS: You tore your ACL prior to your junior season at FSU. How difficult was it to sit out?
Cromartie: It didn’t really have an effect on me. I just had to sit back and watch.
CS: Sitting out the entire year, you were faced with a decision &mdash enter the NFL Draft or stay at Florida State for your final season. What was the determining factor in your decision?
Cromartie: There was a lot of stuff going on with my Mom (diagnosed with breast cancer), and I felt like I had to make a family decision. I thought entering the draft was a good decision. I talked to Coach Bowden and told him about my decision and he supported me. That was big, knowing he supported my decision.
CS: How would you describe your experience at the Combine? Did you get poked and prodded by NFL personnel?
Cromartie: It was a good experience. I didn’t really get poked or pulled on or anything like that. It’s like a meat market, but it wasn’t that bad. I got pulled on by certain coaches when they looked at my knee. Going to the Combine, you get to meet people from different schools and hear about their experiences, which was a good thing for me.
CS: When you were at the Combine did you have any hesitation about running on your knee?
Cromartie: I wasn’t hesitant at all. I just felt like I could go out there and run. I just wanted to show everyone that my knee was OK and that I could cut and do everything on it.
CS: After running a 4.41 in the 40, what was the response from the scouts? Was it all positive?
Cromartie: I was only six or seven months removed from my ACL surgery and I thought I got a good response. Running a 4.41&ndash40, just after that limited time coming off of surgery and doing the things I did at the Combine, I think everything was positive, including the response from the scouts.
CS: Was there anything about the Combine that you didn’t like or felt was overblown?
Cromartie: The only thing I can say is that I didn’t get enough sleep. I probably only averaged about five hours when I was there. I didn’t get enough sleep because we had to take a test, or a drug test, or something of that nature.
CS: What was the Wonderlic test like for you?
Cromartie: The Wonderlic test wasn’t that bad. I don’t think it was that bad for me. It’s just common sense. You just go in the room, sit down, read the question, and figure it out.
CS: Was there any question on the test you had to really think about?
Cromartie: No, no. Not at all.
CS: How many teams did you meet with at the Combine, and did they have you draw certain plays or situations during your meeting?
Cromartie: Certain teams did, probably three or four of them. They had me get up on the board and talk about my defense, or they’d draw up their defense and see if I could figure it out. At the Combine, I visited about 20 – 22 teams, and I think it would have been more if I had played my junior year. They just wanted more input on me and to try to get to know me.
Cromartie at his draft press conference.
CS: Did any team show more interest than another?
Cromartie: I didn’t feel that way. I think every team treated me the same way, and they didn’t really show their hand.
CS: Were you surprised at all that you went in the first round, considering you didn’t play much at Florida State and you were recovering from an ACL injury?
Cromartie: I wasn’t very surprised. I think the ability and potential I have helped me get in the first round, even though I didn’t play too much.
CS: Where were you on draft day? And what were your emotions like on that day?
Cromartie: I was at home. I had my family with me at home. We all got together for draft day. When I woke up that morning I just wanted to get it over with and see where I was going to go and who I was going to play for. It took a long time, but once I got drafted it felt like everything was off my back.
CS: Nobody really knows what a player experiences on draft day just sitting there waiting for his future to be decided. Was it excruciating sitting there waiting?
Cromartie: It wasn’t excruciating. To see the guys you met at the Combine go before you is cool. I got on the phone and congratulated them. It was just a fun experience.
CS: When you finally got drafted by the Chargers what were your initial thoughts?
Cromartie: Once I got drafted I was just happy to be in the position I was in to pursue my dream of playing in the NFL. I had set goals for myself coming into my rookie year, and I just tried to achieve them and play football.
CS: What’s the toughest adjustment from college to the pros?
Cromartie: To tell you the truth, I didn’t really have any adjustments to make. Florida State put us in the right positions, they taught us well, and showed us how to watch film. I didn’t have any real big transitions coming into the NFL. There was no speed issue or anything like that.
CS: How about the demands that come with being an NFL player? How do you handle all the distractions off the field?
Cromartie: Anything can be a distraction off the field. I think it all depends on the person and how they go about it. You have to know how to separate things on and off the field.
CS: What do you attribute your success on the field to this season? Is it just that you’re receiving more playing time?
Cromartie taking one to the house.
Getty Images/Doug Pensinger
Cromartie: I think getting more playing time is a part of the reason. But I’m a lot more comfortable with the defense, and I have a lot more trust in myself and with my knee. We have a new coaching staff in, and they’ve helped me a lot with learning how to study film, and that’s rolling over into the games. I also come out everyday and practice as if I’m in a game, and that’s helped me a lot.
CS: How is your knee? Do you have any kind of limitations?
Cromartie: No, I don’t have any limitations at all.
CS: Talk about the Chargers defense this season. There have been flashes of excellence and then you appear to struggle against certain teams. What do you think is the cause of the inconsistency?
Cromartie: I don’t think we struggle against other teams; I think we beat ourselves. We try too hard when we really don’t have to. We just have to go out there and play football.
CS: What is your biggest attribute as a player, and what do you bring to the field on defense?
Cromartie: I think I’m just a threat when I get my hands on the ball. I believe I can take it the distance every time I get my hands on the ball. I think that’s my biggest attribute as a corner &mdash that I can take the ball to the house anytime I get my hands on it.
CS: You’re only in your second season, but what do you want to achieve the rest of this season and into the future?
Cromartie: I just want to be consistent. I want to be a consistent corner, as well as a complete corner. I want to make plays on defense as well as being a leader on the field.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.