As fans of the NFL, we have a front row seat to watch the dreams of young athletes come to fruition each and every Sunday afternoon. From the time young boys could first remember seeing NFL football in person or on television, they set course on a goal that would one day see them wearing the NFL shield on their team's uniform.
For some, the dream turns into an expected journey toward greatness. High school All-American. Decorated college star at the university of his choosing. First round pick. Those are the players we typically talk about leading up to each and every draft. They played at USC or Notre Dame or Alabama in front of thousands of people each and every Saturday. They end up on football cards and in commercials for a cell phone company or pizza magnate.
What about those that have that same dream but we never hear about until after the fact? The smallish star from a school no one's ever seen on television, playing teams equally as unknown. The forgotten transfer from a big school who resurrects a career away from the spotlight. The late bloomer that always dreamt beyond his current situation.
The NFL allows those dreamers a shot, and for some, the final shot, at keeping the dream alive. Saturday morning nearly 150 college football players will arrive at the Houston Texans Methodist Training Center for the 2017 Regional Scouting Combine, hoping to catch the eye of one scout, one scouting combine employee, just someone, anyone. Pie in the sky, shot in Hades? Perhaps, but it's happened before.
Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler did a couple of years ago at the regional combine in Miami. All that performance did was lead to a workout prior to the draft, which led to a tryout with the Patriots, which led to a spot on the 53-man roster, which led to a spot on the Patriots goal line defense... and you know how the rest went. Now? He has two Super Bowl rings and is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
Last year, I perused the regional combine roster for the players coming to Houston and I noticed the name Jatavis Brown. He was a linebacker at Akron and one of my favorite players in the 2016 draft class. I couldn't for the life of me believe that he didn't get a shot at the combine. Then, I wondered whether I missed something on him. I questioned myself a bit... then he ran 4.43 as a 5-11, 225 lb. linebacker.
Brown got everyone's attention, including the San Diego, now Los Angeles, Chargers. They drafted him in the fifth round, before many NFL Scouting Combine attendees were selected. He made the PFWA All-Rookie team, racking up 79 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Scouts thought he was too small. He didn't play in a Power 5 conference. What position would he play? Those concerns went out the window once he threw down that 4.43.
Plenty on their way to Houston see Butler and Brown as role models that were forced to go this path to the NFL. They didn't prove that it was easy, only that the path was available. What player will get THAT chance this weekend? I can't wait to find out.