The Shadow Draft

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Tyler Horn, Contributor - The Players' Tribune

Some guys get to walk on stage at Radio City Music Hall on live TV when they’re drafted. They put on a hat from their new team, shake the commissioner’s hand, get pictures taken.

The big moment of my NFL Draft story took place at a library.

Where the hell is the scanner? That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of my draft day. The Falcons had sent a contract — a real NFL contract — and I was worried they’d take it back if I didn’t sign it and send them back a scanned copy fast enough. My wife and I sped to the University of Miami library to print out the contract, sign it and scan it.

With the NFL Draft coming up this weekend, all my memories of the draft are coming back to me. Going into draft weekend, I already knew one thing for sure: I was not going to be drafted. With all the excitement that comes with the NFL Draft, there are hundreds of players who have absolutely no shot at getting drafted.

My year, 2012, the draft was broken down into three days. The first night was the first round. The second night was the second and third rounds. The final day was the fourth through the seventh rounds. I watched every day of the draft, and I saw every pick. Not because I was anticipating a call, but I wanted to see where my peers were going.

Going into draft weekend, I already knew one thing for sure: I was not going to be drafted.

I was rated roughly the eighth best center in my draft class. Historically, around six centers get drafted. So I was right on the fence. My agent at the time told me he was going to do everything in his power to get me drafted and that he really thought I could sneak into the sixth or seventh round. I knew better than to take the bait, but the thought does creep into your head. You start recounting all these different stories of players no one had even heard of that got drafted. You start wondering about the rapport you may have built with different scouts you met through the whole process.

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I was lucky enough to be invited to the East-West Shrine Game, an all-star game that is considered to be the second best game after the Senior Bowl. Throughout the week of practice, I met with several different teams — the Falcons, Jaguars, Chiefs and Dolphins. And after each interview or talk, I felt that I had increased my stock with those teams. Not only did I have those meetings, but in the weeks leading up to the draft, I received phone calls from the Texans, Cardinals and Vikings. Each team confirmed my telephone number, increasing my anticipation that I would get a phone call on draft day.

I treated the draft like a test. I was determined to have all the facts so I could make the best choice. As each pick was announced, I kept a spreadsheet of where each guard or center was being drafted. I had each team’s depth chart on my computer so I would be able to see what their needs were. By keeping track of all this information, I felt like I would be able to make an informed decision on where I should go.

The irony of the NFL Draft is that players who are not picked get to pick their team.

The irony of the NFL Draft is that players who are not picked get to pick their team. All of a sudden, an undrafted player goes from forgotten man to center of attention. Each team knows it only has a certain amount of time to sign the best of the undrafted free agents. Ever wonder why there is such a large effort put into signing players no one wanted in the actual draft? The answer is that 20 percent of starters in the NFL were undrafted free agents. Tony Romo, Arian Foster and James Harrison were all undrafted.

Miami v Ohio State

Thus, I knew that by selecting the right team, I would be putting myself in the right situation, with the right depth chart and the right playbook that could fit my strengths.

Despite the strong possibility I would not get drafted, on the final day of the draft I was a nervous wreck. There’s always still a chance. I kept my phone fully charged, on full ringer. I put my dog in the living room so he wouldn’t bother me. The next four hours could change my life forever. Phone calls to undrafted free agents usually begin in the middle of the fourth round. The Bills, Jets and Falcons all called me early and said the exact same thing: “I just wanted to call you and get in touch with you. I wanted to let you know that you are on our board and we are watching how the draft is going. We might not be able to draft you because we only have a finite number of picks, but keep your phone on.” Each call was the same.

In the seventh and final round of the draft, the Buffalo Bills called at the exact moment that the Bills were on the clock for their next pick. My heart began to race. I thought I was getting drafted. I imagined my name flashing in bold letters on national TV. For about 90 seconds, the only thought running through my head was, “Holy shit, I might just get drafted to the NFL.”

Nope. The coach was calling to tell me I was not getting drafted. However, he wanted to let me know the Bills were considering me for after the draft. I eventually laughed it off, but it was a heartbreaking moment for me, to say the least. As the final pick came in, I knew it was over. I had gone undrafted. After all the anticipation of the draft, I could never have predicted the lightning storm that followed.

Every team acted like it was an emergency: They would say I had 10 minutes to decide before they would move on to the next guy on their board.

After the real draft, there’s a shadow draft. Teams scramble to scoop up undrafted players. It’s a frenzy. Within 30 seconds of the draft being over, my phone was ringing off the hook. Five different teams were calling me and giving me their pitch. I went from feeling worthless to feeling like a five-star recruit. Every team acted like it was an emergency: They would say I had 10 minutes to decide before they would move on to the next guy on their board.

Finally, I was able to get a hold of my agent and I straight up asked him where he thought I should sign. He said, based on his talks, that I should sign with the Atlanta Falcons. I liked the choice. I liked their offense and I liked how close it was to my wife in Miami — even though they had drafted a center in the second round. Within the hour, I received an email with my contract, and my wife and I drove to the library to print it off and scan it back. The whole process, from the last pick to signing my contract in the Richter Library at Miami, totaled about 45 minutes.

And thus ended my draft experience. In retrospect, it was a wild ride but I’m not sure I would want to go through it again. For prospective draftees like me, who don’t expect to be drafted at all, remember that there’s a draft after the official draft. Be as well informed as you can on every team and its needs so you’re ready if and when the phone rings.

And you might consider buying a scanner.

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