The 2022 Draft of the National Football League was a historic night that came with plenty of surprises. It’s no longer news that Travon Walker was the top overall pick selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Five of the first six overall picks were defensive players, the most since 1990. The draft is now behind us, but the adventure has only just begun for all the selected players. Playing in the NFL is a dream for college players, and new picks are living in this reality. Every rookie will be looking forward to the next big challenge of their footballing career; making a mark in their rookie year. So what happens after draft night?
Minicamps for Rookies
While fans will be busy researching NFL spreads and making future bets, newly drafted players will be learning a lot about the league. First on every rookie’s to-do list is attending the rookie minicamp organized by their teams. A minicamp is a 3-5 day program where NFL rookies receive orientation about the league. It’s an opportunity for them to get acclimated to the league’s playing schemes.
The franchise’s front office uses minicamps to assess their draft picks and evaluate signed undrafted free agents. It helps them to examine the physical/mental condition of each player and what part of their game they need to improve while going into the offseason program.
While most attendees are newly drafted players, signed undrafted rookie free agents and league hopefuls are also invited for try-outs. Only a few of the many players who attend tryout sessions get signed to a rookie contract with a franchise.
Once rookies arrive at the camp, they receive theoretical training for a few days before practicing on the field. That’s where they get to understand the difference between college and pro football. Rookies are educated on the basic terms used, their positional role on the field, different tactical approaches to the game, and many more.
Players get light training – individual drills for the most part and 1-1, 7-7 passing drills. Elaborate drills and defensive vs offensive line training are usually rare.
Some veteran players may also participate in camps voluntarily, so rookies get the chance to meet and practice with some of their teammates before the offseason workout program.
The Offseason Workout Program
Once the minicamp is over, rookies prepare for the offseason workout program. It’s a 10-day campaign run by the team’s personnel department. The aim is to create an environment where players can train, learn, and improve their game before starting the new season.
The league prohibits contact drills and team offense vs defense drills during offseason workout programs. It means there will be no live blocking, pass-rushing, or tackling drills throughout the program. Offseason workouts are strictly voluntary, which means players could decide not to participate.
According to NFL rules, a drafted player whose school is still in session cannot participate in the offseason program. Drafted players should be graduated from school or at least finish writing their final examination before they can join the training program.
During this short stint, players will take part in weight-room drills, field trips, on-field training, classroom lectures on different topics like finances, finding an apartment, and learning how players ought to conduct themselves in public. They’ll also meet with the team’s player development coordinators for some basic orientation.
Organized Team Activities (OTAs)
Going by the typical NFL schedule, OTAs usually start around June and may last for no more than three weeks. That’s where both rookies and veteran players practice together.
The NFL places a cap on the number of practices a team can hold during OTAs (a maximum of 10). In addition, teams can only participate in a maximum of three practices per week for the first two weeks and no more than four in the final week.
Activities are similar to rookie minicamps and involve live non-contact drills. Also, helmet and elbow pads are allowed, but shoulder pads are prohibited. Teams who fail to follow the laid down rules may be hit with a fine or forced to cancel OTA sessions. Last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, and Dallas Cowboys were punished for violating the league’s OTA rules.
The essence of OTAs is to examine player skills daily to monitor their fitness. Veteran players or undrafted free agents who do not meet the standard may be cut from the team or traded before training camp starts.