There was one moment at practice during the 2017 Senior Bowl when Haason Reddick made himself millions of dollars.
The college defensive end—who had 22.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks in 2016—lined up as an off-ball linebacker in a one-on-one pass coverage drill against Wisconsin running back Corey Clement. Reddick stepped forward to jam Clement and slipped a little on the unfamiliar turf at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Game over, right?
Reddick recovered his balance and exploded to catch up to Clement just as the back made his outside cut. Clement and Reddick turned their heads at the exact same moment, but it was Reddick's ball. He knocked it away before Clement could catch it.
You might be doubtful that one play—where Reddick stumbled—could make a player millions of dollars, but that's the moment when every scout in the stands at the Senior Bowl took notice of Reddick as a three-down defensive weapon and not just an undersized pass-rusher destined to rotate into a defensive lineup on third downs.
It wasn't always as easy as blowing up quarterbacks, running backs and wowing scouts in coverage. In fact, four years ago, Reddick was never a player you'd pick out of the Temple practice as a future NFL draft pick.
As a senior at Haddon Heights High School in Camden, New Jersey, Reddick injured his knee and missed most of his senior season. This was only a year after breaking his femur four games his junior season. That effectively ended his recruitment as a future college football player. But Reddick wasn't ready to call it quits. Instead, he enrolled as a walk-on at Temple and spent his first season as a redshirt. After that season, Reddick told me, coaches told him there wasn't a spot for him on the roster the next year.
From knee injury to a redshirt season—a year in which his mother had to take out a loan to buy Haason a meal plan so he wouldn't feel left out from the scholarship athletes who received meals from the university—Reddick's football future seemed to be over.
And then Matt Rhule was hired as head coach of the Owls; and with him came a defensive backs coach named Francis Brown. The two men believed in Reddick, and he was given another chance. That's all he needed.
Reddick played in eight games as a linebacker in his redshirt freshman season and showed enough potential as a pass-rusher to be moved down to the defensive line in his sophomore season. There he flourished, totalling 43 tackles for a loss and 16.5 sacks in the last three years.
NFL teams were lining up throughout the 2016 college football season to get a look at this tough, athletic, instinctive playmaker on Rhule's defense. Then the Senior Bowl happened, and scouts really dug into the film. Reddick dominated the week in Mobile, but still many weren't sure where to play him in a pro defense.
Reddick understood that teams weren't sure exactly where he'd fit in their defense. His goal was to show them he fits anywhere they need him. "I went to the Senior Bowl and played inside linebacker and I knew if I played well enough there, I could force teams to go back and watch my film as a pass-rusher.”
It worked. Following the Senior Bowl, Reddick's stock went from a potential top-100 pick to a potential top-20 pick. But he wasn't done making money for himself just yet. The NFL scouting combine was still a chance for Reddick's astronomical climb up draft boards to crash with a poor workout.
One NFL scout wanted to see how well Reddick would perform athletically and if the move to linebacker would really work. "We were all curious to see how well he would look in drills as a linebacker. And of course to see just how athletic he is as a mover after playing defensive end for the last three years."
According to MockDraftable, Reddick dominated his athletic testing by scoring in the 99th percentile for defensive ends in the broad jump, the 98th percentile in the 40-yard dash, the 84th percentile in the vertical jump and the 83rd percentile in the three-cone drill. These are arguably the most important athletic tests for a linebacker, and Reddick scored at worst a B average.
Reddick has gone on visits to meet with eight teams, earning his frequent-flier miles. He's called writers back while standing in line to get his bags when coming off one plane and looking for one night of sleep before another car ride, another flight and another job interview with NFL owners, coaches and scouts.
Back when he was a walk-on at Temple with a loan taken out to pay his lunches, no one would have imagined that five years later we would be talking about Haason Reddick as a top-10 player in the NFL draft, but it's a reality. His domination of the draft process and strong film background has pushed Reddick's name to a point where he may be the first linebacker drafted.
Many lessons can be learned from Reddick's story—hard work, persistence, taking nothing for granted and making the most of opportunities. He could have given up when he was hurt as a senior in high school and no colleges wanted to offer him a scholarship, or when he wasn't wanted after his redshirt season. Reddick didn't give up, though. He worked, and worked, and worked while transforming himself from a walk-on cornerback to one of the best linebackers in the country.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.