Although there wasn’t a single football thrown, an estimated 47.5 million viewers tuned in to an anticipated NFL event last weekend. Over the course of three days, the league hosted its annual draft in Nashville, Tennessee. By the end of the weekend, a record 40 trades were made and 254 new players were recruited by the leagues 32 franchise teams. Following the spectacle that unfolded on live TV one question remains: what happens to these 254 young athletes now?
One thing is for certain, the lives of these young players are about to change drastically. Aside from the obvious ways in which these young athletes’ lives will alter — from becoming overnight millionaires to the potential to play professional football — these players lives ostensibly change from the moment they are drafted.
While each of the 254 players share one major commonality in being drafted, the ways that their stories play out in the NFL will be unique. The harsh reality is that some will go on to become superstars while others may fade into obscurity. Some will need to relocate their lives to foreign cities while others may stay close to home. No matter the circumstance each player finds themselves in, each is sure to undergo a stress-filled journey in the immediate aftermath of the draft.
Most of the drafted players will find themselves immediately in the throes of their new teams as they join rookie mini-camps just days after the draft. During these camps is when players meet their new coaches, coaching staff and new teammates. It is also during this time that players may find themselves being asked to fill positions they weren’t previously familiar with in their amateur athlete careers. This may be the first striking realization for many that finding success after being drafted into the NFL takes a great deal of flexibility, commitment and perseverance. While the draft is the culmination of years of hard work for these athletes, an even harder journey begins after the draft.
The first few days with their new teams are filled with practical matters. From physicals to equipment selection, it is during this time that the hierarchy of the draft begins to demonstrate its weight. First round picks are treated like royalty while later-round picks and free agents may be ushered along without much say in any of the processes.
Following these practical matters, players are thrown into a media frenzy. Again, priority is given to first-round picks in interviews and photos for the team website and other media agencies.
Finally, the minicamps begin. It is during this time that players need to prove their worth to the team they’ve been drafted to. Obviously, these camps are filled with pressure for the new recruits. For those who were picked later in the draft, they may find they’ve only been given a temporary locker. Little slights like this allow the reality of the situation to sink in; unfortunately, not every player will be on the field at the start of the season. To prevent this fate, there is an immense and immediate need for players to show their value in obvious way to the team.
The atmosphere of these camps is urgent and tense as each rookie seeks to squeeze their way onto a roster and prove that they are worthy of the spot that was given to them in the draft. The days are long and strenuous for those participating in the mincamps as they often last a few weeks. There are no guarantees of what each player will be offered following the conclusion of the minicamps; all each player can hope for is that they’ve done their best to show how their individual skills will contribute to the team.
For the players who accomplish this, an invite to training camps is received in the early summer months. It is only then that a rookie can go forth with a semblance of security. To get to this place requires more than hard work and determination. To find success in the NFL following the draft is to defy odds. At this very moment across the United States, there are many hopeful rookies who are starting out on that very path.
It is estimated that in the years following the draft only a fraction will have made it onto the field. These players will then go on to have intense but relatively short careers lasting an average of just six years. The NFL has, in fact, been dubbed to stand for “Not For Long.” Still, to make it this point is an opportunity of a lifetime. While the draft presents a hierarchy and crafts a narrative of who will be successful and who won’t, the onus is on the individual player to dictate what happens after the draft. Of course, it’s hard to forget that in 1999 Tom Brady was the 199th pick in that year’s draft. While the majority of people expected him to fall to the sidelines after the draft, he has gone on to find undeniable success.
While the road following the draft is a demanding one, being one of the few players to actually be drafted is a huge cause for celebration. Still, the NFL is a business and players will come and go and be used in ways that best suit the team and the business. Following the draft is when players need to maximize and demonstrate their talents while remaining realistic about what awaits them going forward in the NFL. As these 254 new recruits set forth this week on that very journey, only time will tell what will become of their drafted expectations.