Saints players say prospects’ preparation for draft is full time

Prospects’ preparation for draft puts football full time

“What draft prospects have the Saints hosted for visits or worked out, and what did former N.O. receiver Lance Moore say to upset his old team’s fans? Find out at blogs.theadvocate.com/blackandgold”

Before the Saints drafted him last year, left tackle Terron Armstead visited 10 NFL teams, privately worked out for seven organizations, and interacted with numerous league decision-makers at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

“I’m so glad that process is over,” Armstead said recently. “Answering the same questions (at all those gatherings) was so repetitive.”

Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks recalls feeling similarly overwhelmed in weeks leading up to his being selected out of Canada’s Regina University by the Saints in the third round of the 2012 draft.

“Goodness, it’s a grind,” Hicks said. “You’re at home, or you’re working hard, or you’re at a training facility, and you’re moving toward a goal; but you can’t quite see it yet, you can’t quite touch it yet, but you know it’s out there. And if you keep working hard enough, you feel like you’ll get there.

“It’s just really a period of unknowing and just working hard without really feeling the benefits yet.”

Eventually, like all things, that period expires. This year that will happen later than usual, as the NFL pushed back the draft from its typical dates in the latter part of April to May 8-10.

Players will then get drafted and head into teams’ training camps with contracts of varying worth. Others won’t get drafted but still will get invited to try out on free-agent deals.

Whatever the outcome, players who have undergone the burdensome pre-draft process will emerge having learned lessons that will serve them well for the remainder of their careers, members of the Saints said recently.

Take, for example, defensive end Cameron Jordan, who made his first Pro Bowl after racking up the fifth-most sacks in the NFL last season (12.5).

Jordan said it wasn’t until the weeks preceding his first-round selection in the 2011 draft that he realized football was no longer an extracurricular activity. He was required to treat the sport as his profession long before the league’s commissioner uttered his name at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, the site of the draft since 2006.

“You had to balance out class, you had to balance out football, you had to balance out a social life” in college, said Jordan, whose father Steve was a six-time Pro Bowler for the Minnesota Vikings. “You get to the league, and it’s, ‘Now, football is life.’”

Of going to visits, workouts and the combine ahead of the draft, Jordan said, “It’s just that transitional period from realizing that this is not just something you’re doing for kicks and giggles, but this is a job, this is something you have to do whether you feel like it or not.”

He certainly grasped that truth. The Saints have exercised a fifth-year team option on Jordan’s contract that will pay him a 2015 base salary about $5.9 million more than what it was in 2013 and $5.53 million more than what he’s due in 2014.

Heading into the process that culminated with his being picked at the top of the second round in the 2001 draft by the San Diego Chargers, Saints quarterback Drew Brees remembers yearning to be taken before every other prospect at his position.

After that honor went to Michael Vick (selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the first overall pick that year), Brees realized, “It’s not how high you get drafted — it’s where you go.

“It’s about ending up in the right spot, with the right team, with the right coach,” Brees told national radio host Dan Patrick. “I think the competitive nature in you wants you to be drafted as high as possible because you feel like that’s your worth, ... and yet at the end of the day, it’s about ending up in the right situation.”

Brees, of course, eventually landed in that right situation when he signed with the Saints as a free agent in 2006. Since then, he’s been a Super Bowl MVP; won the Saints’ sole NFL championship; captured three of the franchise’s five division titles; and passed for 5,000-plus yards in four seasons when no other player in league history has done that more than once.

Not all draft experiences resemble Armstead’s, Hicks’, Jordan’s and Brees’, though. Saints kicker Shayne Graham went undrafted, as is common with players at his position. He has kicked for nine different teams since 2001.

It all taught Graham that he had to get in front of teams’ talent evaluators however he could, whether that was preseason training camps or midyear private workouts.

To maximize such chances, he learned he had to train as devotedly as if he was on a roster even in times when he wasn’t.

“They’ll know who’s been working and who hasn’t been,” Graham said of NFL teams’ officials. “It’s all about what you’re doing right now. Any guy at any position, whether you do or don’t get drafted — it’s all on how hard you work.”

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter @RVargasAdvocate. For more coverage of Saints football, follow our Black and Gold blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/blackandgold/