From Ryan Leaf to JaMarcus Russell and far beyond, the history of draft bustitude is a long and sad one. There isn't an NFL team, no matter how well-run, without its own selection that set the franchise back. The New England Patriots have Chad Jackson, the Baltimore Ravens tied their name to Kyle Boller, and the Pittsburgh Steelers probably don't have a huge historical archive regarding their decision to take nose tackle Gabe Rivera in 1983 when some kid quarterback from Pitt was looking pretty good just down the road ... Dan Marino was his name, we believe.
Among its own draft mistakes, the Chicago Bears would certainly list running back Rashaan Salaam at or near the top. The Colorado running back and 1994 Heisman Trophy winner was taken by Chicago with the 21st overall selection in 1995. Things looked good to start -- even after a long holdout before signing his first NFL contract, Salaam rushed for 1,074 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in his inaugural campaign. However, his nine fumbles that season soon became a metaphor for a career that was about to go the way of Monty Python's dead parrot. In the next three seasons, Salaam's yardage totals plummeted from 496 to 112 to 2. He was out of the league before the millennium turned over -- just one more cautionary tale when it comes to assuming that the NFL will be easy just because you tore it up in college. Eventually, he auctioned off his Heisman ring.
Asked recently to reflect on his epic NFL failure by Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune, Salaam (most recently an MMA promoter) said that it was very much about wanting it and working for it. For him, neither applied at the time. Heavy marijuana use and lack of focus finished him sooner than expected.
"Work on your game. I didn't realize coming up how much work you had to put in once you got to the NFL. It's a whole different lifestyle. You have to change the way you live. You have to change who you hang out with. You have to totally get focused on your game. You have the athletic ability, but if you don't put the work behind it, nothing will come from it.
"I had no discipline. I had all the talent in the world," he said. "You know, great body, great genes. But I had no work ethic and I had no discipline. The better you get, the harder you have to work. The better I got, the lazier I got."
Salaam now lives in San Diego and helps run a camp to mentor kids. It's good of him to not only realize where he went wrong, but also to try and pass along those hard lessons.
"My whole life, up until the Chicago Bears … everything was perfect. Parade All-American, Heisman Trophy winner. … So I was bound to go through some challenges. Going to the pros at 20 years old and not being disciplined … it showed itself. But now that I'm older and I can look back at it and see how big draft day is and the way the NFL Network blows it up … it's a real big deal. When I look back at it … you know, I was a part of that."
Salaam and every other player who didn't make the most of their talents are indeed part of today's draft process. They are, sadly, the living examples of what not to do -- and stark personifications of the fact that no matter how hot you were when you were Everybody's All-American, the NFL will chew you up and spit you out with nary a thought if you give anything less than your best.
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