He’s a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl starter who took the NFL by storm with a rookie year for the ages.
Yet exactly one year ago, Derwin James was simply trying to prove he belonged in the league.
The Florida State safety was considered a first-round lock, but he wanted to take matters into his own hands at the NFL Combine, proving he was one of the preeminent players available in the draft.
Now, over 300 prospects look to similarly make their mark as they descend on Indianapolis for what is often considered the ultimate job interview. The Combine truly is the crown jewel of the draft process, as every aspect of their physical and mental acumen will be tested by all 32 teams.
It’s a hard, grueling process…but lucky for this year’s crop of talent, Derwin James is here to give some advice and share secrets from his own experience.
First and foremost, the safety stressed how the most grueling part of the week are the one-on-one interviews held each night at the train station. Teams can meet with up to 60 prospects in 15-minute increments, and it’s a whirlwind process that’s impossible to fully describe.
In fact, James can’t help but laugh as he recalled how different, and intense, each interview proved to be. While he offered a litany of off the wall questions and scenarios thrown his way that had nothing at all to do with football, a few stand out above the rest.
“Somebody asked me what I would do if they gave me a brick,” he recalled, pointing out how it took him by surprise. “I just (responded) that it would be the start of a foundation. Another team put me through an algebra test and (math questions); asking what’s two plus two, and then what’s four plus six. It was weird. I wasn’t expecting (things) like that. You’ll get things you don’t expect.”
That brings us to the next thing James wants to tell this year’s crop of prospects – trust your training.
While each player is trying to prove their worth as an NFL player, James hammered home how the Combine measures pretty much everything but football. Teams have a ton of tape on each player, so that’s not what’s being evaluated in Indy. After all, there are no helmets or shoulder pads being worn, nor any direct one-on-one competition.
Instead, when on the field, it’s your raw athleticism being tested as teams can measure where it stacks up with everyone else at the position.
“Preparing for it is a lot different,” he said. “And when you (take the field), it’s really like a track meet. You do those cone drills and the 40 (yard dash) so it doesn’t even feel like football. Go in there confident because you’ve been training for this. So go out there and do what you can do. That’s what I did. I trusted in my training. I knew I’d been running good times, and I (thought a lot) about what I wanted to say in the interviews. I felt prepared. So, if your preparation is solid, you’ll go into it solid.”
One thing James wished he knew more about going into the Combine was the medical process, as he wants to warn those attending this year to be ready for an extremely lengthy review with doctors.
“I was not expecting that at all,” he said. “I had no idea it would take that long. You have to go through a lot of medical work and see a lot of different doctors. That takes a long time. That was one of the longest days of my life.”
All in all, it’s clearly easy for prospects to be overwhelmed this week, which is why James has one final message he wants to leave this year’s participants.
“Don’t make it more than it really is,” he bluntly said. “All you’ve got to do, like I said, is just trust your training. Go out there and show the coaches and everybody what you can do. That’s it.”