Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance, Draft Edition: Jerry Rice's Advice to Rookies

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterApril 27, 2016

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Former San Francisco 49ers player Jerry Rice is seen during a ceremony honoring the 1981-82 team at halftime of the NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals at Levi's Stadium on December 20, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

1. Jerry Rice to draftees: Find a mentor

Jerry Rice was drafted in the first round of the 1985 draft. He did something almost immediately after joining the 49ers. 

"I watched certain teammates to see how they approached the game," he said. "And we had so many guys that were great professionals."

Names like Joe Montana, Dwight Clark and Ronnie Lott. It doesn't get much better than that.

Those players ultimately provided an already-born-to-overachieve Rice with a blueprint that helped him become the greatest wide receiver of all time.

Which brings us to this year's draft. Look at the top two quarterbacks in Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. Or even look at any potential draft pick. While we debate all of the measurables and metrics, one of the keys to those players' success will be something that's impossible to categorize.

It's this: Will Goff or Wentz or any other draft pick find someone to listen to? Will they find a mentor? If so, who will it be?

18 Apr 1998:  Second overall pick Ryan Leaf (L) poses alongside first overall pick Peyton Manning (R) during the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, New York. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Squire  /Allsport
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The quarterback position requires a special kind of mental makeup. The difference between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, in terms of mental strength, might not have actually been so vast. Manning was more open to coaching, and to listening to vets tell him about the real NFL.

I remember after Leaf flamed out that there were Chargers players who spoke about how Leaf didn't truly listen to veterans. I remember the disappointment some players had in Leaf, how they felt strongly that he could have saved his career had he just listened to a handful of guys in the locker room.

While we all focus on what happens on the field, what will become equally important for Goff and Wentz is who they listen to away from the field.

"It's one of the biggest parts of being a professional," said Rice, who was speaking as part of an endorsement campaign for Kay Jewelers. "Listen to the guys who came before you. It'll help you go a long way."

2. A.J. Hawk: 'There's no secret pill' for NFL success

ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 18: A.J. Hawk #50 of the Cincinnati Bengals looks on from the sideline against the Buffalo Bills during NFL game action at Ralph Wilson Stadium on October 18, 2015 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Imag
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

I asked A.J. Hawk, the veteran linebacker, the same question I asked Rice: What would he tell draft prospects coming into football now? His answers were brilliant.

"The biggest thing is there's no secret pill," he said. "No secret potion or guru who can get you to where you want to be. Also, you have to be accountable."

Hawk would be a good man for draft picks and future rookies to listen to. After being picked fifth overall in 2006, he led the Packers in tackles in his rookie year and was third in voting for Rookie Defensive Player of the Year. He won a Super Bowl and has led his team in tackles four times in 10 seasons. He has, as the kids used to say, major street cred, even if he is currently a free agent after the Bengals released him.

Hawk also runs a successful podcast-turned-showcast called thehawkcast.show, which is a must-watch.

Hawk had two other pieces of advice:

  1. "Keep your inner circle small. You need people around you who will tell you the truth."
  2. "I try not to look at football as something that's so deep. I try to never forget it's a game. It's a game that I love. I don't take it for granted, but it's still a game."

3. Smart OBJ

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 20:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)    Josh Norman #24 of the Carolina Panthers and Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants get involved after a play during the first half  on December 20, 2015 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Odell Beckham Jr. didn't have much to say about the addition of Josh Norman to Washington. It was smart. Say nothing. Do your talking on the field.

"I play for the Giants," Beckham told reporters. "I'm looking forward to this year and pretty much everything we have set ahead of us. We have some new additions to the team, and it's going to be a good year."

Yep, nice and bland. Yet there's no question these two will have full-blown battles. Not the kind where they crossed the line, like last year. But it will be close.

Because they don't like each other. That's more than clear.

4. On first-rounders, just remember...

There's a good chance they will have little impact in the first season. From SportsCenter: In the past three years, just 11 percent of first-rounders started all 16 games their rookie season. Eleven percent.

This is why the first round remains one of the great crapshoots. Yes, even the first round.

5. No positive drug tests at combine

Adam Schefter first reported the news that no player failed a drug test at the combine:

I was told the same. It's a remarkable thing, actually. I can't remember the last time that happened. I'm not sure it's happened once or twice in decades. I'm not really sure it's ever happened in the history of the combine.

Yes, this is good news. Unless it's not.

Several team personnel executives said the lack of positive tests may be due to prospects finally getting smart. Or?

"Players have found a way to beat the tests," one said.

I'm a positive guy. I tend to believe it's players getting smart. But if it's the latter, oh boy, that would be bad.

6. Ezekiel Elliott the top prospect?

Paul Vernon/Associated Press

I keep hearing that Ezekiel Elliott is the best overall talent and will have the fastest impact on whatever team selects him. Over and over, I hear that.

It doesn't seem like a smoke screen or misinformation. I also keep hearing the Cowboys' interest in him is real. Very real.

7. Good time to be a corner

Lots of corners, especially the top ones, are looking at Josh Norman's new deal, especially the $36.5 million guaranteed part, and thinking: time to give the agent a call.

One of the things the Norman signing represents—and there's almost a line of demarcation—is the NFL shifting back from a league dominated by offense to one where defenses now have a chance.

Not a great chance, sure. It's still difficult for a corner to defend against the pass, because receivers are so protected. Overall, though, cornerbacks are finding the sweet spot between the new rules that emphasize safety (usually to the defense's detriment) and being able to be physical. Norman does that as well as anyone.

What the Broncos did all of last season, and what the Panthers did for all of it except the Super Bowl, was dominate on defense, and corners on both teams were a key reason why. Norman for the Panthers and Aqib Talib for the Broncos. Teams noticed, which is why Norman got so much.

Other corners are also noticing. Which is why their agents are getting so many texts right now.

8. The Las Vegas Raiders still in play

Ben Margot/Associated Press

I do hear, as the Los Angeles Daily News' Vincent Bonsignore reported Tuesday, that the Raiders' possible move to Las Vegas is no longer a crazy bet (see what I did there?). The chances of it happening are still not great, according to my sources, but they are getting better and better.

One high-ranking league official said that a year ago there was a 10 percent chance that the Raiders would leave Oakland for Vegas. The official said six months ago, it was 20 percent. Now?

"I'd say 30 percent," the official said, "and climbing."

I'm told that large swaths of ownership no longer see putting a team in Vegas as a problem. So those percentages might keep climbing.

9. Trent Richardson weight loss

I've written that I think Trent Richardson could turn his career around. Then I started to question myself, thinking that was just dumb. Now, I think it again.

This before-and-after picture of Richardson makes me think there's hope:

He's lost 22 pounds, according to his trainer, via the Ravens website.

So maybe, just maybe, a Richardson comeback isn't so far-fetched.

10. Lessons from Thurman Thomas

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 1: Former player Thurman Thomas #34 of the Buffalo Bills looks on before an NFL game against the Atlanta Falcons at Rogers Centre on December 1, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

If there was one thing draft prospects should read before going into the NFL, it's this story from Ray Spiteri of the Niagara Falls Review on the issues that Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas is facing.

I was around all of those Bills Super Bowl teams. Thomas was one of the guys I always looked forward to speaking to. He was always extremely honest.

So it didn't stun me when Thomas spoke so powerfully about how head trauma during his 13-year playing career impacts him now. The most striking part was what a doctor told Thomas after he got a brain scan. Thomas' frontal lobe was "similar to someone who has fallen off the top of a house, on to the front of his head, or going through a windshield of a car several times."

We've talked about lessons for draft picks a lot in this special draft edition of 10-Point Stance. This is one of the bigger lessons of all for them: study the issue of brain trauma and CTE. Know what may be coming not in your 70s or 80s but in your 40s.

And prepare for it.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.