It takes a keen eye to properly identify the college players that are likely to make a successful transition to the professional ranks. Sure, maybe most of the early draft picks can be considered relatively safe bets, based on sheer talent along. But given the overwhelmingly small percentage of college players that get drafted, let alone make it in the NFL, it’s clear that there is a certain level of complexity in the identification process.
And, as I talked about yesterday, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell knows a thing or two about that, having spent over four decades coaching at both the college and professional level. He understands how young players in college, and even in high school, are handled, and how different it is for them once they turn professional.
High school and college coaches know that they only have a few years at best with a player. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to break down a player’s game and get him best sorted out for long-term success. Instead, they just send him out there and let him do whatever it is that he does best, because it’s good for the team and good for the coach.
This forms habits that coaches like Mitchell have to break once these players are in his hands. But it’s not just football techniques. There’s an entire off-field component that comes into play. College players are constantly told that they’re great, as long as they’re performing on the field, but it’s not so simple later on.
Players must learn how to take care of themselves, both physically and mentally, off the field. They get turned on to a proper diet and a workout regimen when they hit the pros. This is a much easier transition for some players than others. Jonathan Dwyer struggled to do this.
Daniel McCullers, on the other hand, seems to be taking to it very well, and Mitchell has noticed. McCullers was one of those college players who was allowed to do whatever it is that he could do without giving any concern to his long-term viability as a professional, according to his position coach.
“I think that happened to Dan and it’s going to happen to a lot of the guys that were drafted today”, he said during the draft, regarding the college atmosphere. Later, he added:
But when you recruit kids out of high school, they’ve been pushed and the lower that you get them in college, the mirror that you put on is not the same as in the NFL. A lot of the times they say that it’s okay, it’s okay that you don’t lose weight, it’s okay because we know that you’re not going to be here for three years, but it’s not okay. And I tell them that. I think that’s one of the things that happened to Dan. Everybody would tell him, it’s okay that you’re a big guy. I don’t care how big you are, if you’re not in shape and you can’t do it, it’s not okay. It’s not okay with me. I’m not going to pass him along because that guy can help us win football games and he knows how to take the win and be a good football player on this level.
Granted, McCullers is just getting started in his NFL career, and hasn’t played much, despite the early potential that he showed as a rookie and the positive reports that we have heard about his second offseason. But so far he seems to be a success story, and quite an uncommon one when you consider how many college players fail to make the conversion to the professional level, both on and off the field.