The other side of the NFL draft
By now, many of you have seen plenty of mock drafts. You've heard almost every plausible scenario for how the top 10 picks could unfold. You've heard about guys such as Matt Ryan, Chris Long and Glenn Dorsey, and are aware that Jake Long has agreed to terms with Miami and will be the the No. 1 pick. But what about the other side of the draft?
Yes, the first round picks will receive the most money and likely the greatest opportunity for playing time among the rookies in 2008. However, history has shown us championship-quality teams are usually built by also procuring quality players with lower-round draft picks and by signing undrafted free agents. How many people had heard of Jay Alford, Kevin Boss or Ahmad Bradshaw at this time last year, well before they played key roles in the Giants Super Bowl championship run as rookies?
The performance of players like Boss and Bradshaw, given their low salary-cap numbers, gives the Giants a significant financial competitive advantage heading into the 2008 season. This competitive advantage is why teams have their scouts scour the country in search of the diamond-in-the-rough or small-school prospect who can make a positive impact at a low cost. The second day of the draft and the undrafted free-agent signing period, which immediately follows, is really where individual scouts and scouting departments show their mettle. The Patriots scout who identified Asante Samuel as a good value for a fourth round pick in 2003 paid for his own salary and more with the low-cost production Samuel gave the Pats over his first four years.
One thing scouts must take into account when recommending players later in the draft is the expected attitude that player will bring to the organization after he has been selected. There are roughly four mindsets a late-round pick can have after he is drafted, and I firmly believe success or failure is directly related to the attitude a player takes shortly after being selected. The good thing is attitudes are a controllable component of a process in which players often have little control. They have the power to choose how they react to their draft selection.
Keep in mind that more than 40 players firmly believe right now, based on what they have been told, that they will get drafted in the first round on Saturday. The problem, of course, is that there are only 31 picks in the first round. A lot of "first-rounders" become early-to-mid second round picks. When I hear a player say he has heard he will go "early second," my experience tells me he will likely be selected late in the second round, after all of the projected first-rounders are off the board.
This trickle-down effect continues throughout the draft so that most players end up being drafted later than they expected. This culminates in the bitter disappointment that some players have when they are not drafted at all. Some agents in recent years have actually taken steps to lower their clients' expectations so as to protect them from the possibility that they are drafted later than they had anticipated. Regardless of when they're drafted or signed, though, attitude plays a key role.
The first attitude, and often the most successful, is the player who develops a rather sizable chip on his shoulder upon being passed over by many teams he thought would take him earlier in the draft. Players who dropped in the draft, like Thurman Thomas and Randy Moss, though still drafted relatively high, utilize this mindset. This player is typically capable of harnessing the frustration and anger of his draft-day disappointment. He immediately turns his attention to proving all of the other teams wrong and sets his sights on contributing and playing as soon as possible. He is keenly aware his second contract is only three or four years away and is hungry to do whatever it takes to earn his place in the NFL. This desire often gives him the best opportunity for success.
Conversely, some players choose to sulk and mire in the feeling that they have been wronged. Instead of developing a chip on their shoulder and looking ahead, they continue to focus their attention on where they have been selected. They ask their agents what happened and look for answers rather than finding solutions. There is no time to look back and reflect in the NFL, but unfortunately many players are incapable of getting over their initial feeling of sadness. Players stuck in this mindset often never even reach a second contract.
There are also those players who are extremely grateful for the opportunity that they have been given, even if it did come later than anticipated. They are appreciative to the team that has selected them and eager to prove that the team did the right thing. Like the players with the chip on their shoulder, grateful players focus entirely on making the most of the opportunity they have been given. They are typically getting in extra film work, staying late after practice to work on their skills, and studying their playbook at night in the hopes of sustaining a successful career. Players who are truly thankful for the opportunity usually go to great lengths to make the most of it.
Lastly, there are some players who are so happy to have been drafted that they fail to take the steps needed to have successful careers. They have put the time in to get drafted, they saw their name at the bottom of the screen, and now they feel that they have "arrived" as a full-fledged NFL player. Their feeling of contentment at being selected and receiving a signing bonus often clouds their ability to focus on the little things it takes to make the team and be a contributor. I have seen some late-round picks who didn't even seem to realize that they could get cut before they ever made an actual NFL roster. Unfortunately, some guys are so happy to be a part of the NFL and living the lifestyle that they don't do what it takes to stay in the league.
While most fans will only tune in to watch the draft's first two rounds on Saturday, the knowledgeable fans and league insiders recognize the importance of Sunday's selections. Be sure to look for the quotes and reactions of the players drafted on Sunday in an attempt to gauge which attitude they are bringing to your favorite franchise. That attitude could make a difference in your team's fortunes this fall.
Ross Tucker has played for five teams in his seven-year NFL career. He has joined SI.com as a regular contributor on the NFL beat. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.