For fans, the NFL draft is about the anticipation, the analysis and then the reality of the newest member of their favorite team.
The hard-core fans study, they hope and they celebrate … or unleash frustration. Teams have the advantage with their countless hours of research and seemingly limitless budget to know every facet of the prospect.
But one of things that makes draft weekend fun for thousands, if not millions, of fans is getting to know the stories of the players selected, and how the prospects handled the pressure points when they thought they might get drafted and when they actually did.
“It was nerve-racking. You’re sitting at home and trying to figure out what team needs a quarterback,” Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said of his 2014 experience. “Then in my situation it was a little different. You’re sitting at home thinking about what teams need what position and it gets kind of stressful, but you just have to control what you can control and trust that your name will be called and wherever you go, it’s no redshirt year or anything like that. You have to come in and the expectation level is high.”
Every situation is different.
For Bridgewater, who early in the process was considered the top overall pick in the 2014 draft, he had to wonder how one decision to not wear gloves for his pro day would affect his draft stock. Chad Greenway once recalled a tactical mistake to wear track shoes to run his 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine that he felt hurt his time. Kyle Rudolph was left to wonder how a hamstring injury and ensuing surgery would affect his worth in the eyes of NFL teams.
“You go through a lot from your last college game to this week. For me personally it was a lot of rehab, dealing with a surgery,” he said. “Really unsure of where things were going to go Thursday/Friday night. But at the end of the day you hear your name called and it’s one of the greatest days of your life and you get the opportunity to hear your name called and the opportunity to be part of one of the 32 franchises in the NFL.”
Everson Griffen, who appears to have matured immensely since his college and early NFL days, knows character concerns kept him on the board longer than his talent might have indicated. Perhaps a fringe first-round talent had to wait until the fourth round – meaning three days – before he was selected by the Vikings.
“It was tough for me, but I was a knucklehead. But that’s alright, being a knucklehead. You mature, learn and I wouldn’t change anything because it made me the person I am today,” Griffen said.
“… With my mom passing, with me having kids and getting married. Yeah, it was a lot of key situations in my life that happened and it caused me to mature and really allowed me to grow into the player I wanted to become. I’m not there yet, but I’ve got to keep on working.”
Griffen said NFL teams research draft prospects back to their kindergarten days (and he said he was knucklehead then, too). Sure, that timeframe might be an embellishment, but the Vikings have made no pretenses about their research. They talk to relatives, former coaches, girlfriends, and, if necessary, local police for players that might have had a run-in (or more) with the law.
For many, the experience is less dramatic than that, but the stress is still there.
“It was kind of a blur, to be honest. Really, I wasn’t like, ‘I really want to go to the Vikings.’ I was just, ‘I hope somebody wants me.’ You just try to relax and wait until your name is called,” said safety Harrison Smith, whom the Vikings traded picks for to get back into the first round in 2012.
“… When you think about it, it feels like yesterday, but when you really think about everything that’s happened since then, it feels like it was a lifetime almost.”
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes just tried to soak in the experience and appreciate the moment before he was a first-round pick of the Vikings in 2013.
“It was amazing. Amazing! Just being able to go – it was in New York (then) – having the opportunity to experience that, not too many people are able to experience that,” he said. “Not too many football players are able to experience being in New York, being in the green room and being able to get your name called, go across the stage. It was an amazing experience.”
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn’s wait was much longer. He was a seventh-round pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2009 and worked his way up to the starting ranks there before the Vikings acquired him as a free agent in 2014.
“It was crazy. I had to wait a long time. It was a crazy situation. Nerve-racking at times,” he said of his draft weekend experience. “You can lose a little hair. As you can tell, I already lost some. It’s kind of a crazy situation, but I was happy I got my name called and was able to take my game to the next level.”
These days, he’s concentrating on keeping his game sharp so the next generation of cornerbacks don’t take his job just yet.
No matter if it’s a seventh-round pick like Munnerlyn or a first-round pick, the anticipation is stressful, but the moment they are announced as an NFL draft pick brings relief and excitement.
“That’s the big moment in a lot of kids’ lives,” Griffen said. “I was at that point in my life back in 2010. You get a little nervous because you don’t know where you’re going to end up, but at the same time it’s the best day of your life.”
Bridgewater had to wait and wonder just how far he would fall before the Vikings took him with the first round’s final pick in the 2014 draft.
“When the name is called, it’s a sign of relief, especially for me,” he said. “It was a long night for me. I was the last pick of the first round so I arrived at the draft at about 7 o’clock and didn’t hear my name called until about 11:30, so it was a sigh of relief. Everyone who is going through this process right now, I wish them the best of luck.”
But when their name is called …
“Oh, it’s awesome,” Smith said. “There’s no better feeling in sports that I’ve been around yet. Hopefully that will change in the next year or so.”