NFL draft prospects are put through quite the ringer in the months leading up to the event: there’s the scouting combine, on-campus pro days and they’re also supposed to meet with teams for private workouts.
But according to Albert Breer of The MMQB, top-rated safety Derwin James refused a private workout invitation with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he may not have been the only high-first round prospect to do so this year.
Last year, Christian McCaffrey did that, and it certainly didn’t hurt his draft status: the Carolina Panthers chose him eighth overall.
Why did James turn down the invitation?
According to Breer, James wanted to work out for Tampa Bay, but after his strong combine and pro day performances his agents thought it was best that he say thanks but no thanks to the Bucs, who have shown strong interest in the Florida State product.
The safety, who is 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, ran 4.47 seconds in the 40, bench-pressed 21 reps (of 225 pounds), showed off a 40-inch vertical and 11-foot broad jump at the combine.
Breer wrote that “a couple other” players projected to be taken in the top 15 this year also refused private workouts.
Should more players follow suit?
Two players suffered significant knee injuries during private workouts with teams in recent weeks – defensive end Kentavius Street tore an ACL in a private workout with the Giants earlier this month, and cornerback Nick Nelson suffered a meniscus injury in a workout with the Detroit Lions. Nelson’s injury reportedly wasn’t as serious as initially believed, but it will still very likely affect where he’s drafted.
Unless Street or Nelson had a personal insurance policy, there’s no way to recoup any money they lose being drafted lower because of their injuries. Since they’re not yet drafted by a team, they don’t have the protection of the NFL Players Association, and no provision exists to protect players in such instances.
Beyond that, teams are asking players to physically and mentally exhaust themselves crisscrossing the country for these workouts and meetings.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch visited with 11 teams in just 14 days, a schedule that ended on Wednesday, Breer reported, and defensive tackle Taven Bryan visited 12 teams in a 16-day span.
Some of the workouts teams put players through last over an hour.
Will teams step up and end private workouts?
Given the NFL’s history of doing things a certain way because that’s the way it has always been done, it would seem unlikely. Teams are allowed to host only 30 players at their facilities, but there isn’t a limit on the number of players they work out off-site. (Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia flew to Colorado to put left tackle Nate Solder through the paces just days before New England drafted him in 2011.)
Teams can watch game film and possibly practice film from colleges, see a player at the combine and/or his pro day, and interview him, which can include asking him to work the blackboard and show his knowledge of plays and concepts. They have knowledge of every medical issue he has had going back years. You have to put him through the gauntlet of private workouts too? All for something that historically doesn’t have much better odds than a coin flip?
Maybe if the NFLPA pushes for it, teams will acquiesce (after getting something back in return, of course), but again, draft-eligible players aren’t yet NFL players and therefore aren’t part of the union, so essentially it’s up to teams to come up with some sort of solution.
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