Shea McClellin seemed a little nervous on Wednesday night. A first-time visit to the Waldorf Astoria can do that to a kid who grew up on Chicken Dinner Road in rural Idaho. Standing in the gold-plated hotel was, in reality, a minor concern for the Boise State linebacker. At that evening's NFLPA Debut event, he and a gaggle of his peers were just 24 hours away from a big change.
"I'm still nervous right now," McClellin confessed on Thursday night, after being selected by the Chicago Bears with the 19th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. "It still hasn't sunk in."
He looked for his next words after revealing that detail, pivoting like a true pass rusher.
"I wasn't too nervous yesterday," McCllelin said. "I'm a soft spoken guy, I don't talk much, I'm kind of shy, that's why I seemed nervous, I guess."
Nervous or not, McClellin's other emotions were writ large on his face. His smile said all it needed to about a kid from the rural West living up to the promise of Fredrick Jackson Turner. But I still think he was a little nervous.
The Boise State pass rusher assured me of his system versatility, though he thankfully avoided this spring's hottest buzz word among lazy draft pundits. Four man fronts, hand in the dirt, outside linebacker, perched on two pegs, the square-jawed young man felt good about his ability to do it all. At Wednesday night's NFLPA Debut event, McClellin was tight lipped about which teams he had talked to in the lead up to the draft. The Bears, who ultimately drafted him, were not one of those teams.
"It kind of did comes as a surprise," McClellin said. "I thought they might have a little interest in me, and they did end up picking me."
"They had me all over the place," Baylor receiver Kendall Wright said at Wednesday's NFLPA event. He doesn't bother looking at mock drafts.
Quinton Coples, another pass rusher picked in the first round, had a much better idea of his fate on draft day.
"There was definitely interest in me, and [the Jets] said if I was there at pick 16, that I would definitely be the pick that they choose." Coples revealed.
From Wednesday night to Thursday night, things changed for McClellin, Coples and the other rookies in the draft. Finding out which team drafted them was a detail compared to the overnight transformation from college prospect to pro athlete.
In just 24 hours, the pressure on these kids was ratcheted up to impossible standards. They were campus heroes in the fall. In the spring, everything from their arm length to hip movement was analyzed by legions of amateur kinesiologists, and probably a few professionals too. Their every move, on the field and off, will be scrutinized starting this fall when fans ask them to carry a teams' ambitions into the now and beyond.
That's why there is no rest for these guys between the curtain call of their college career and the sprint to the pros.
How did McClellin spend the last three months, besides not spending much time with the team that eventually drafted him? "
"Just trying to get better each and every day," McClellin said. "I worked hard since the Senior Bowl. I think that's helped throughout the last three months or so."
And then there are the comparisons, another way of shaping expectations, fairly or not.
Smith has more than 10,000 receiving yards in 10 years of play. Jackson has made two Pro Bowls in four years. Holmes, a gifted player, has mostly made headlines for locker room headaches and one big Super Bowl catch.
Think about those three comparisons for a second. Wright can either be one of the best receivers in the game, a prodigious young player or a lightening rod for criticism. Being Kendall Wright is a much more complicated task at this point.
There is compensation. Nerves and expectations aside, rookies do receive a sizable contract for their services, especially first round picks. A new rookie wage system was put into effect as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated last year. Gone are the days of $50 million guarantees for unproven players, replaced by more modest amounts in the $20 million range for players taken in the early part of the draft.
$50 million or $20 million, that kind of money has the power to change people, as I'm sure many of the people upstairs at the Waldorf could have probably told the rookies.
Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead, likely a day-two pick, told us that he did not read mock drafts because he doesn't have an internet or cable subscription. A money saving measure he can leave behind soon enough.
Money and expectations combine to form their own measuring stick. Both the league and the NFLPA work to educate players about subjects like coping with life as a wealthy young man as well as balancing the transition to the pros.
Coples picked up a little advice on the life changes from Robert Quinn, a first-round pick last season and his former teammate at UNC.
"He gave me some insight on what to look forward to and what helps," Coples said.
The best advice?
"Treat everything like a business."
Some of Thursday night's picks will go to be superstars. Some will underwhelm, and others will succumb to the wear and tear of a violent spot. A few more could wash out entirely. The reality of the business.
But business comes later. This week, all of these players have earned the right to savor a new life and set aside Wednesday's anxiety, even Shea McClellin.