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What it's like to be picked in the NFL Draft's 1st round

Chance Warmack, the 10th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, sat down with Danny Kelly to look back at his night in the green room and where his professional career has taken him since then.

SB Nation 2015 NFL Draft Guide

Picture yourself as a 21-year-old just out of school or not even finished yet, with the collective eyes of an entire NFL team's fan base squarely set upon you. Expecting. Requiring. Loving. Potentially hating. Picture yourself about to get the call that you've got your dream job, and with it, a multi-million dollar payday.

From the Combine, all the way through the run-up to the NFL Draft, it's easy to look at prospects as pieces of data -- the top edge rusher, the stoutest nose tackle, the best press corner -- the fastest, the quickest, the strongest. We rattle off strengths and weaknesses and regurgitate off-field incidents ad nauseam. We objectify, and get so lost in scouting reports and measureables that we forget that these are real people who are about to embark on an intense, surreal journey into the biggest spectacle in professional sports.

To get an idea of what it's really like to go through that experience, I chatted with Titans third-year offensive lineman Chance Warmack, who was chosen 10th overall out of Alabama back in the 2013 NFL Draft.

"The draft was interesting," he told me, describing his experience at Radio City Music Hall. Interesting. That is one way to put it.

"Just a lot of anticipation and expectations for myself and excitement. There were just a lot of different feelings running at the same time, and you know, it's a life-changing situation to deal with at a young age. At the same time, you're just trying to be composed and humbled in the situation. Looking around, trying to see how other people are handling the same situation that you're dealing with.

"And then, finally being called," he recollected. "It was a great feeling to just be called, and to know that you have a future in the NFL. A dream come true. It was a great experience, man. A really great experience."

As for his thoughts on heading up to the podium to shake Roger Goodell's hand?

"It was just a culmination of a lot of things. I've spent a lot of time watching the draft before mine -- and you know, you go into watching the draft to see household names, you know, your teammates -- then finally it's your time to get up there, so it's a lot to take in, man. It's a lot to take in."


Not all draft prospects get invites to the event itself, and not all those players accept their invitation to sit in the green room and wait for their name to be called. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston famously declined this year. Warmack didn't have a choice.

"My mom, she was putting it out there that I was not going to miss the opportunity," he said, "but I'm glad I took her advice on that. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it's something that you will never forget. I'm just happy that I was able to go. My family went with me and we had a great time."

The draft is just the beginning. When I asked Warmack about his transition from the euphoria of getting drafted to the process of starting offseason activities, he admitted he had the same feeling that probably most of us would: "You're just nervous. For me, I was just nervous."

"You don't know what to expect," he said. "You're now with guys that have been playing in the league since you were in middle school."

As for the changes you have to make from college to the pros?

"You have to change your customs, your habits, and you know, you're being told to do it a different way. Just a lot of different changes. You just have to adjust. That's what the NFL is all about: adjustment. For a 20-, 21-year-old rookie, you have to make a lot of changes in your life, and I think that the ones that are able to do that the best are the successful ones."

We've seen an innumerable amount of draft picks wash out of the league because they're unable to successfully transition. That's why teams do what they can to ease the shock of getting to "the show."

"It kind of just gradually happened," he said in describing the Titans' orientation period. "I was fortunate enough to be coached by Bruce Matthews and Mike Munchak for a year. They're both Hall of Famers and go old school with it, so I learned a lot of different customs from them, and how they ran it for a long time — they had a tradition going which was pretty cool to be a part of for a minute."

The NFL also puts on an annual rookie symposium, meant to acclimate the new employees into their new positions. The biggest lessons there?

"Just to make smart decisions," said Warmack. "Make smart choices, and don't compromise your opportunity. Not everybody gets the opportunity to play in the NFL, and you can't take that too lightly. Some people take it too lightly because of where they're drafted, or who they know, or what team they're on, and lose sight of what's really important, and that's having fun and experiencing this opportunity, because it's not going to last a long time."

For Warmack, the transition onto the playing field was quick. It wasn't too long after attending the symposium -- where he learned about being a pro, taking care of your money, how to practice and take care of your body -- that the Alabama prospect was making his first NFL start. Not much later, Warmack had his "Welcome to the NFL" moment.

"Yeah, we played the Texans the second game of the season — Week 2 — and I had to block J.J. Watt."

*Long pause*

"Well, he face-masked me and got the sack, and they didn't call it [laughs]. So, that was my welcome to the NFL moment."


Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

And while not everyone in the NFL is J.J. Watt, everyone was probably one of the best players on their team in college and everyone in the NFL is really good. Making the jump from college to the pros is no joke. But that's on the field. The challenges extend to off the field as well. The biggest test?

"Just the turnover, man," said Warmack. "Everything's moving so fast, and you have to be really independent on what you're doing. In college, you have a lot of people telling you what to do, a lot of influences putting you in the right direction, to make the right decisions in your career, and in the NFL, it's your job -- you're already supposed to be doing that. And you know, a lot of people don't make the right decisions. That all depends on what type of person you are."

As you go along, Warmack told me, you learn the ropes, and he revealed the most important lesson to his continued ascent.

"I was blessed enough to meet a guy, (former Saints and Browns offensive lineman) LeCharles Bentley — I actually met him down the road earlier — and you know, he's just a really great inspiration to my life. He's just been teaching me a lot of things about my life, and it's just been a reflection of how I've been playing lately.

"All the way to the point on how you eat, how you train, how you lift -- you know, it's a process and it's a lifestyle, it's not a training regimen, you know?"

That should be plastered on the front page of the manual for all incoming draftees, who are in for the fight of their lives to stick with their teams. The average NFL career spans just over three seasons.

As for preparing for the inevitable end to the ride? Better start quickly, if you put any stock in that statistic.

Warmack is going into his third season in the league, but he's already utilized the downtime in the offseason not used for training to go back to Alabama to get his master's degree in sports management. He graduates on May 2 -- the final day of the 2015 NFL Draft.

So, why did he take the time to go back?

"You know, it was a lot of different things," he explained. "I think eventually I was going to do it anyway, but I hadn't planned on doing it this early. The influence by my mom and by a couple of student advisers that I've been really close with at the University of Alabama, they motivated me to start getting up and getting into it. It went from a thought to an actual action. I appreciate them just influencing me to just get it going, get it started, because I wouldn't have been able to get it done without being around good people."

As for the balance between school and football, Warmack shrugged it off as too big of a deal.

"You know, it's no different than being in college, man, and it's probably even easier, because you have more time. It's all about time management. Not to say that I didn't have fun in the offseason, but most of the time you're not doing anything anyway, so why not use that time to help yourself for the future, you know?"

Warmack is setting a great example for his younger brother Dallas, who heads to Alabama this fall to play for the Tide. What advice did he share?

"He's pretty much been with me the whole way," said Warmack of his little brother. "In terms of experiencing different things at Alabama, he's seen me go through pretty much everything as he's been growing up, so most of the stuff that he's dealing with now is pretty much natural."

"You know, I just tell him, whether you do well, or whether you fall down, you just have to be consistent and learn from your experiences. You can't be down about messing up, because everybody messes up. That's what the game's all about: what you can do after somebody has beaten you — how do you respond to that?"