clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NFL rookies are using draft fall as motivation early in their careers

Here's how a few players who slid in the draft are doing in the first month of their NFL careers.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Not everyone can be a first-round draft pick, even players who were projected to be one. Myles Jack, SB Nation's No. 4 overall prospect, found out that harsh reality last month when the UCLA linebacker sat in the green room at the NFL Draft waiting to hear his name called on the first night. Instead, he was selected the following night in Round 2 by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jack, who promised before the draft that he'd make teams pay if they passed on him due to concerns about his knee, said he will use the occasion as motivation for an in-your-face 2016 season.

"It was, honestly, humiliating," Jack said, on The Rich Eisen Show. "It was embarrassing having to sit there, and afterwards walking out, having my girl to my left, my mom to my right, my grandmother to the right of her and having to look at them, it was a tough feeling. It wasn't a good night, truthfully."

While most NFL rookies have gotten an early chance to prove themselves to their new teams, Jack has been unable to participate in the Jaguars' OTAs due to a rule that doesn't allow first-year players to practice until their school's academic year has ended. So Jack is forced to wait again for his shot, this time until after UCLA finishes up its current term on June 10.

But at least one person thinks Jack is a going to make a big splash.

"He'll be the rookie of the year," UCLA coach Jim Mora told Eisen. "He's so motivated, he's such a great athlete, such a great player, such a hard worker, has a passion for the game that's unmatched.

"I think he's going to have a great career. I think he's very, very motivated to maybe show those teams that passed him over what they're going to miss."

Day 2 resurgence

Twenty-five NFL prospects were invited to Chicago to attend the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Of those, only 19 heard their names called to meet Commissioner Roger Goodell on the center stage for that iconic picture on Day 1. Not all of the six players who fell to the second round stayed in Chicago for Day 2 festivities, including Jack, who hightailed it out of the city. Kevin Dodd, a defensive end out of Clemson, joined Jack in skipping a second day at the Auditorium Theatre.

With only one year as a starter under his belt, Dodd was able to showcase enough talent and physicality to impress scouts but not quite enough to earn a first-round paycheck. Back in South Carolina with his family, he got the call from the Tennessee Titans with the second pick of Day 2.

Although Dodd received early praise from veterans on his new team -- Brian Orakpo called him "a natural pass rusher" -- he's already been shut down during OTAs after undergoing foot surgery. Still, Dodd is expected to return for training camp and to contribute in his rookie year.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones out of Mississippi State also wound up falling to the second round, but he stuck around in Chicago to have his moment. Not embarrassed in the least, Jones was just thrilled to hear his name finally at No. 37 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs.

"The NFL, it's not a race, it's a marathon," Jones said after being drafted. "That's a once‑in‑a‑lifetime opportunity. Unfortunately, it wasn't the first day, but I'll be damned, it was the second day. It's a blessing, man."

Recently, Chiefs defensive lineman Dontari Poe said "so far, so good" on Jones, who is "picking up on stuff really well" during OTAs.

Three defenders from Alabama surprisingly were snubbed in the first round too -- Reggie Ragland, A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed -- but vowed to stick together, come back for Round 2 and see their dreams all the way through the handshake with the commissioner.

"Me, Jarran and Reggie, we decided we made this journey together and we wanted to go out and leave together," Robinson said. "We aren't just going to come one night and leave because we didn't get drafted in the first round. We wanted to hear our name called and walk across that stage."

By pick No. 49, all three Crimson Tide players had new homes. Ragland's draft tumble, like so many others, was due to a health concern -- the linebacker was diagnosed with an enlarged aorta but claims the reports that came out were blown out of proportion; he was given orders to have it checked only once a year.

It might be tough to get updates on anything that happens during Buffalo Bills practices, but general manager Doug Whaley said he thinks Ragland, the No. 41 overall pick, will start immediately.

Just five picks after Ragland, Robinson was the next of the first-round prospects to get his hug from Goodell. Lions GM Bob Quinn later told PFT Live that he was "a little bit surprised" the defensive tackle was still available when they selected him at No. 46.

"You know he’s a kid that’s going to be really dominant because he doesn’t let criticism get him down," Lions DT Haloti Ngata said about Robinson. "He uses it to try and get better."

The final Crimson Tide player still in the green room on Day 2 was Reed, who landed with the Seattle Seahawks at No. 49 overall. The Seahawks traded up to get the defensive tackle, who showed right away that he was a perfect fit for the team.

"I think they got a steal to be honest with you because I really felt like (Reed) was a first-round guy," Alabama head coach Nick Saban told the Brock and Salk. "Because I do think he’s an every-down player."

If the slide alone wasn't enough inspiration for these players, missing out on the first-round contracts ought to be.

And it isn't just about first-round snubs ...

Slides can happen anywhere of the draft board and certainly aren't limited to those expected to come off the board on Day 1. Quarterback Connor Cook was expected to be taken in the second or third round but ended up being the seventh quarterback drafted when the Raiders selected him in the fourth round.

On the surface, it would seem that Cook's slide was attributed to his personality concerns, but teams that passed on him said it came down to talent and scheme fit. Either way, the quarterback is now going through the offseason program with the Raiders and is being lauded by his coaches as a valued addition to the depth chart -- but certainly not as their franchise starter -- and could be used in a trade after a year or two of development.

Another draft surprise was Ohio State safety Tyvis Powell, who fell off the board completely. Powell was projected to be among the litany of Buckeyes picked from the 2016 draft class, but after hearing 13 of his former teammates' names called, he ran out of time. He wasn't an undrafted free agent for long, though, and was fielding offers from multiple teams before signing with the Seahawks.

Powell stayed humble throughout the process and often took to social media to thank his supporters. Not one to give up, he said he's more driven than ever to succeed at the next level -- even changing his Twitter bio to simply "Undrafted."

Seattle coach Pete Carroll was impressed with Powell from the start.

"Wow, what a great looking kid he is. Golly. Big and strong, he runs well, he had great workouts," Carroll said. "Real bright kid and upbeat kid, so he’s off to a good start with us."

Players who fall in the draft, or end up going undrafted, aren't alone as they try to navigate the murky waters of the NFL. There are plenty of players who paved the way for breakout stars among those undrafted, and they will often pass down their wisdom to the next set of players looking to prove NFL scouts wrong.

* * *

In the end, only 31 players were drafted on Day 1, and for those who fell out of the first round it's only one test they will face throughout their careers. While every player's path to the draft is different, once they start their NFL careers they are all the same. Their real chance to assert themselves doesn't come until August when the competition for a roster spot and playing time heats up. But for now, while the emotion of the draft hasn't faded away, they can use that as motivation and show their new teams that it was the right move not to overlook them.