It took only about one minute to get from the green room in Las Vegas to the stage on Thursday night. It was enough time for NC State's offensive tackle Ikem EkwonuTo reflect on the longer one that he just completed, from Pop Warner to three star college recruit to the sixth overall draft pick.
He thought back to the times when he had extra one-on-1 sessions with his high-school coach. He remembered his growth at NC State, where was the ninth most valuable recruit in his class.
He was then handed a Carolina PanthersHe put on his hat, and he stopped looking in the mirror.
“Wow,” he said.
That moment was captured in the word “simplified”.
Three days later, Ekwonu stated that “it almost didn't feel real”. It was almost like my name had just been called. I was drafted. I started to reflect on the work that I had done the last two years, and especially the last few months. It was time to stop and take a deep breath and reflect on the absurdity of this all.
Every participant has a different NFL draft experience. You might be able to participate in all-star games, attend the NFL combine, run drills at pro day, read endless mock drafts, and finally, the moment itself.
Here are the players', parents', general managers', agents', and head coaches' perspectives on the process:
The season has begun
Even for the underclassmen who may need to make a decision about the future, the draft process kicks into high gear in the fall. The NFL teams begin scouting players, and agents begin courting them. However, for players being considered to be part of name, image, and likeness (NIL), that process starts earlier.
Brandon Beane Buffalo Bills general manager:“I'll be in training camp, watching film.” [of college prospects]. From the first preseason game, we will play until the final cutdown. I am going to also see the games as I continue to watch the film.
Dax Milne, Washington CommandersReceiver (a seventh round pick in 2021).“The NFL Talk started to happen halfway through [my junior] season. It was initially just my coaches talking to me, saying that they had seen a lot of scouts and wanted to know more about me. Soon after, agents started calling my line.
Andy Ross, NFL Agent:NILs are what make agents pickable. It used to take November or December to reach out to children back in those days. You have to work for the kid at least two or three years before you can start to see results. The other day, I had the opportunity to meet with a high school student. He is a great person. He is a senior. Now, I must wait for four more years to counsel a child. [with]The hope that he becomes a player.”
Steve Mills, father Houston TexansQB Davis Mills(a third-round choice in 2021).“I reached out to various people and got a few recommendations [about agents]Stanford, where he also received assistance. We were able to narrow it down to just three candidates. He interviewed all three. He spoke to two of them personally and one by phone.
All-Star games (late January)
This is the last chance for players to prove their NFL worthiness. This is a crucial opportunity for former Tampa Bay guard Ali Marpet to prove his NFL worthiness.
Ross, Marpet’s agent:“Before he went to there, I said that you need to block through his whistle. It is important to be an Alpha dog. I brought in some former linemen from the league as I was preparing for the event. To see how he would react if he was up against an SEC player, I wanted him to be beat. … He was the dominant player. He was a dominant force that helped him be drafted higher.
Washington GM Martin Mayhew“Sometimes it's hard to see tape of smaller schools. Then you start to wonder who this guy was really playing against. You can see how he matches up with the guys from the SEC, ACC and Power 5 conferences. It helps you to get a better understanding of where they fit in.
NFL Combine (late February).
It's one the most talked about events of the NFL offseason. This gives players a chance to showcase their strengths and allows teams to interview and perform medical tests.
Milne:“In the quick drills, the 20-yard shuttle and the cone drill, I scratched a few times so I got tired. I didn't get the best results. It was still an enjoyable experience. It was a great experience. [after the combine]It was “All that really mattered was your movie.”
Ekwonu:“I wanted a chance to show my football knowledge. I wanted teams to be able to see that I could quickly pick up material and that I was more then just brute force. I attempted to answer every question and overexplained everything I could whenever I was asked.
Greg Curl, father to Washington safety Kamren Curl (a 2020 seventh-round pick):“He had just suffered a hip injury, and was still healing. I thought he would wait to run until his pro day, but he did it anyway. We knew the 40 [-yard dash]He had to take the time. He needed to get a sub-4.5 or a score of 4.5. He got a 4.59, and a 4.6. We were both watching TV. It was like I was running with him, because I was out-of-breath and my heart was pumping a thousand times per minute.
Pro-days (mid-March to middle-April)
Next, players will be required to work out at school in front officials from the NFL. While the head coach and general managers don't have to travel to every pro-day, they are observing everything, from players' interactions with each other to how other teams react. Agents may need to build relationships in order to get players to the local pro days at NFL facilities.
Ron Rivera, Washington Commanders coach:“At one pro-day, one player, each time he completed the drill, he ran back. You have concerns when another guy from another position finishes the drill and walks across the line.
Ross:“I knew” [guard] Wyatt [Teller]It was a great fit [offensive line coach]Bill Callahan [asked Callahan]He would love to watch his junior film again. Bill saw it and thought the potential. They wanted to invite him [to their local pro day]. Bill called the fifth round, and stated that Wyatt was going to be drafted. They drafted Tim Settle. Wyatt is traded to Cleveland by Buffalo, Bill [later]He leaves for Cleveland. It's amazing how it all worked out.
Rivera:“Some head coach get animated in front a few players, and other guys can see how quiet they tap each other and point out subtly. It's almost as though they don’t want to be noticed pointing at the guy. Then you see them with other men and they become very demonstrative.
This is lying season. It's like playing poker.
Meeting with players
Beane stated that he will ask anyone who comes in contact with a player, from the person picking him up at the airport to lunch staff, how they were treated. This is what sold them on quarterback Josh Allen.
Beane: “We talked [in]Allen and I sat in the same restaurant. He didn't even know I was there, but I noticed how respectful he is to staff. These little details can reveal a lot of a person's character. It didn't matter if he was speaking to the hostess, or someone who was waiting for us, it was “Thank you.” Please.' He wasn't walking in there all powerful and high-ranking, although everyone knew his identity.”
Ross:“I tell the men to play role-play. Ask yourself the same questions I send. You can research the team, watch NFL Game Pass and see film to get a better idea of their offense and defense. It gives them a sense of who they will meet and allows them to connect with each other.
Beane:Our team psychologist is… I'll ask her what your thoughts are on him. What am I missing? She might answer, “The kid seemed very nervous, when you asked him about X, or Y. What's his story?” Sometimes, I ask her to do a Zoom follow-up with him to find out more.
From January to draft day, mock drafts/scouting report
From January to April, what is the most requested NFL activity? Mock drafts. This means that parents, players and others have many opportunities to learn about the potential future of a player.
Milne:“People kept sending me mock drafts. You get excited when you see your name in a mock draft in the third round. These weren't accurate. However, they were wrong. [some reports]It made me angry. I am a guy who does well when people doubt and question me.
Rivera:“The mock drafts are a good way to see patterns if you… start lining up the lines. We have ESPN's mock draft as well as this person's, that person's, and that group's mock. And all of them have this guy here. … Why would he want him at three, but everyone else wants him at fifteen? He has heard what? It's not enough to do your own mock drafts, but also reviewing other drafts.
Mills:“Do I believe these guys are influencing real scouts?” No.”
Matt Bowen is an ESPN analyst and a former NFL safety (a sixth round pick in 2000).“I spoke to my agent. That was it. You wouldn't see Matt Bowen if you turned on ESPN. [ESPN analyst] Mel [Kiper Jr.]This was a huge book. It is still at my parents' house. I couldn't possibly imagine ever going through it. [the process]Now, it's just the noise. It's 24 hour a day on draft. It was impossible for me to have it.”
You are on the clock
There's tension, excitement, disappointment, elation. It can all happen within a matter of 10 minutes. It's all about attracting a player. It's about fulfilling a parent's dream. For those players chosen late, it's about the ending of a long wait.
Beane on trading up starting at pick No. 12 overall to No. 7 to get Allen“We had a deal with five [then-Denver Broncos GM John Elway]But he said that I must wait until they finish the clock. He said that there is a player we like, if he falls. He called the clock and said [linebacker] Brandon ChubbHe was the man. Then we started having calls down to the line. Next was Chris Ballard, Indy. After they had moved from three to six, Chris Ballard in Indy was there to say, “We're not moving.” Tampa was already on the clock and had received two calls before. [Buccaneers GM] Jason [Licht]I also agreed to the terms. Jason and I were relieved to announce that we had reached a deal.
Ekwonu: “It felt like a blur. It happened so quickly. It felt like it took forever to anticipate it.”
Mills:In a nutshell, it's nervous excitement. It's important that your child is called. You don't want him stressing out, but if he's called, that's great. You hug them.
Tim Renfrow, father to the Las Vegas receiver Hunter Renfrow (a 2019 fifth-round pick):We didn't know he would be drafted. His agent thought he would, just around the time it happened. Although I watch the draft every year and love sports, when I was waiting on the phone call to come through, it just so happened that the Raiders called. Then we sat and listened. It was surreal.”
Curl:“Relief, joy and all of it rolled up into one, because it was the final day of the draft. [Kamren]He was alone and wanted to go outside. He grabs his phone and stands up. Everyone runs out.
Bowen:“It took a while, but I was selected 198 and 199. Tom Brady. I clearly remember looking at it. Brady was my college opponent. This is my claim to fame. “If I feel uncomfortable at a holiday party, I can simply say, “You know what? I was drafted one place ahead of Tom Brady.”
Ross:“Ali Marpet was a great story. The day he was drafted, I was at a wedding. It was one my closest friends. I told him that I couldn't go to the wedding unless there was a place on the side for me and my computer. The reception took place on the night between Rounds 2/3 of the draft. I was in another room, however. I went out for the cake, took pictures, and then was on the dance floor for a party. But I was back in the backroom working as everyone was having a great time.
Milne:“I had friends and family over and it reached the point where I felt embarrassed and disappointed that I wasn't getting my name called as soon as I wanted. But the phone rang once more [in the seventh round]It was a number I hadn’t spoken to in a while, and it ended being Ron Rivera telling me he wanted to draft. My family believed it was another deal for a free agent. It was the [Commanders]They didn't cheer, because they didn’t know until I answered the phone and told them I was drafted. Everyone cheered when it was shown on TV. Being able to see your name on TV is a special thing, especially when it's with someone you love.”