Backdraft: Corey Chavous

Rams defensive back Corey Chavous recalls his 1998 NFL Draft experience during this exclusive interview with Chris Steuber. Find out what the Scouting Combine was like back then versus today, the challenges he faced, what he remembers about his draft day experiences and more.

This week’s edition of Backdraft profiles St. Louis Rams safety Corey Chavous. The ten-year veteran was a second-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 1998 and has been a starter for three teams: the Cardinals, Vikings and Rams.

During his NFL career, the former Vanderbilt graduate has amassed 653 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 20 interceptions — including two that he returned for a touchdown. Not only has Chavous been a steady defender on the field, he’s also provided his insight on the draft off the field for multiple media outlets including the NFL Network and ESPN. NFL Analyst Chris Steuber talked with Chavous and reminisced about his experiences through the draft process and how it’s different today.

What was your experience at the Scouting Combine like?

It was pretty interesting. Once I left Vanderbilt after my senior year, I went to New Orleans to workout. I went down there to get ready for the draft. I got hurt at the Senior Bowl, but I still worked out at the Combine. I didn’t workout as well as I wanted to, but I still put up some good numbers. I think I left the Combine as somewhat of a tweener. I had some individual workouts, and some people thought I was a corner, and others thought I was a safety. Inevitably, I thought because of that, I’d probably fall out of the first round. I ended up going in the early second round.

Chavous celebrates an interception during his time with the Arizona Cardinals.
Getty Images/Adam Pretty

You went really early in the second round. Did you get any positive feedback from the Combine that made you feel good going forward; whether you were drafted in the first round or not?

I think everyone was impressed with my ability to compete, in terms of my man-to-man coverage at Vanderbilt. I was a bump-and-run corner in college playing in a tough SEC. We had the top defense in the SEC, and I was one of the leaders on that defense. I was a big corner. At that time big corners were in vogue. If you wanted a big, physical cornerback, I fit that mold. If you wanted a cover safety, I fit that mold. The positive feedback I was getting was that my versatility would help me more than it would hurt me. I guess it did help me more than it hurt me, because I’ve played both positions in the NFL.

Today, everything is so magnified when it comes to the Scouting Combine and how prospects prepare for their biggest job interview. What was the Combine like in 1998, and were items like the Wonderlic test a high priority?

Yeah, definitely, and the medical testing was a high priority as well. There are a lot of different doctors that look at your body; that was probably the most tiring thing, along with the interview process. You do all of that stuff before you even workout. I think that’s what makes things so tough. It is almost a battle of attrition being able to withstand it all. At the end of the day, it’s an experience where you have to perform under tough circumstances.  The pressure was still present even without the camera that you have in there today. The pressure is probably a lot higher today with the camera there.

I’m sure the Wonderlic test has changed over the years, but what was your impression of the test going into it?

I wasn’t really worried about it. I just felt like I was going to go in there and take it and see what happens. I did OK on it. I didn’t do great, but I didn’t think I was going to bomb it. I thought it was a typical standardized test. They were trying to figure out your personality with the questions, that’s all.

What was your draft day experience like?

It was a tough day, because everybody projected me to go in the first round, and I just kept slipping. On the broadcast, the panel kept on saying that I was slipping. I remember I was No. 1 on Mel Kiper’s board for the last 15 picks in the first round. A lot of people had me projected as a mid-to-late first rounder, and I ended up sliding out of it all together.

The Cardinals drafted you with the 33rd overall selection, the second pick in the second round. What were your initial thoughts about going to Arizona?

I was excited. I had the opportunity to play with Aeneas Williams, Kwame Lassiter, and some of the other guys out there. They drafted Pat Tillman, who was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. We drafted Andre Wadsworth… so we had some guys going in there that were considered good players. We had a lot of factors that made me excited going into Arizona. In my rookie year, we ended up going to the playoffs and advanced to the second round. We won a playoff game my rookie year against the Dallas Cowboys in Texas Stadium. There were some high points during my days in Arizona.

How much do prospects pay attention to guys like me or any other analyst who conducts a mock draft or has an opinion about where they may end up?

I think they pay quite a bit of attention. I think leading up to the draft everyone’s trying to predict where they’re going to go. I think everyone is on the Internet now-a-days. I remember when I was coming out, I was looking on the Internet to see where I was projected to go. It’s a barometer as to what somebody else’s opinion is, which is what GM’s and central scouting have — just an opinion. I think prospects like to be able to quantify it with somebody else’s opinion that studies it, like or whoever it might be. I think you look at that and take it into account, because certainly with the aspect of human nature, those GM’s and owners are looking at it too. Even though they’ve done their own scouting, they’re still going to see what you think as well. I think it’s something for them to compare their opinion against yours.

During the draft, as you were watching players get taken by teams in the first round, in your mind did you feel you were better than the players selected ahead of you?

There were several players that I thought I was better than, but I’m sure there were players selected after me that felt the same way. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Human nature again, you’re going to feel like you’re better than some of the guys going ahead of you, and other players you’re going ahead of that feel they’re better than you.

When you’re at the Combine with a bunch of future millionaires who all know that their NFL future, in many ways, is riding on their performance at this one event, what was the scene like? Is there camaraderie, or is it just all business?

I think everyone is pulling for one another. Everyone understands that it’s a business trip, and everyone is trying to make their money, and you’re one mistake in a drill from losing it. I don’t think anyone is trying to discourage the other players, but you’re also competing with them. You’re pulling for them, but you’re pulling for yourself more than anyone. I think the camaraderie level is genuine, and I think there are people who become close at the Combine. But I think everyone understands that we’re entering into a new world, and supporting each other is pretty good.

Chavous stands on the field waiting for the action to resume against San Francisco.
Getty Images/Jed Jacobsohn

A lot of players feel that the Combine is a meat market, and in some ways it can be awkward. So how did you feel about standing in front of a crowded room in your underwear being weighed?

It wasn’t that big of a deal; at least I didn’t think it was. That part wasn’t as awkward as getting your body contorted a number of different ways, particularly if you had an injury before.

Did you have an injury doctors wanted to take a look at?

I had sprained my MCL two weeks prior at the Senior Bowl, and that was a big thing. If I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t have worked out at the Combine, because I had better workouts when I was fully healthy. But I had always dreamed about working out at the Combine, so that’s what I did, and I don’t regret it at all.

What do you think is the biggest difference about the Combine from when you were there and today, besides the TV cameras?

I don’t think much has changed in terms of the criteria or how people evaluate it. I hate to say it again, but it’s the TV cameras. I think now, you’re taking a guy’s job interview, and it’s being sensationalized quite a bit.

Drug testing is always a big deal in the NFL. Do you think guys should be more aware of what they do prior to the combine?

You’d be an idiot to go to the Combine and not have an idea that you’re going to be tested for substances of abuse, or steroids, or whatever it may be. I think an agent’s biggest responsibility is to let players know when and if a test is coming for a certain substance. And if they don’t, what’s the purpose of having an agent?

What was the biggest transition for you going from college to the pros?

I think learning how to be a true professional. That’s a transition. Even if you think you know, you don’t. Some of the things you did that were good enough for college are not good enough professionally. It’s a ten-hour a day job.

What’s the one demand off the field that you weren’t ready for or you just didn’t know about when you entered the NFL?

I would say the overall time period of meetings. The time period from one meeting to the next is a huge adjustment.

How much more magnified is the media attention from the college ranks to the NFL?

It’s five times as magnified, but it’s pretty magnified in college if you come from a big university. There are just more media members, more stories, and there are more angles from which they want to attack people in the NFL.

You’ve been in the league for 10 years now. What have you learned, and what are you still learning today as a player?

The one thing I’ve been most proud of is that I’ve been a versatile player who’s moved around quite a bit. I’ve started at four different positions on defense: strong safety, free safety and then both corner positions.  So, I’m proud of that, and I’m still learning the little intricacies of the safety position, which I’ve only been playing four or five years. I think the more I can learn about a position, the more natural it comes each year.

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.

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