A few weeks ago, I covered another Kansas State walk-on looking to make the NFL leap in defensive end Ryan Mueller. Now, we actually have another Bill Snyder product who not only made the leap, but made it with the Pittsburgh Steelers. A former walk-on and four-year starter with 52 consecutive, offensive lineman, B.J. Finney, is the definition of durability.
During the 2015 NFL Draft on Saturday, surrounded by family and well-wishers looking to congratulate him as his name was called, Finney did everything to get his mind off the event, even playing a game of reverse psychology as the draft progressed and still, his name wasn’t called.
“They better not pick me,” he told Kellis Robinett of The Wichita Eagle. “Please let the draft end without anyone saying my name. Please, don’t pick me.”
Sure enough, his phone began ringing during the seventh round, with numerous teams interested in signing him as a free agent when the draft commenced. One team in particular stood out more than the others, so much that he verbally agreed to the terms of a contract with them before “Mr. Irrelavent”, or the final draft pick, had even been chosen.
This is the part when things got emotional for Finney, as he choked up in telling his family that a life-long dream had finally arrived on his doorstep, and not just with any team, but his family’s favorite one.
“I stand in front of you today as proof that dreams do come true,” Finney said, according to Robinett. “I am under contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
This was a dream that a couple years earlier, this hardly seemed attainable. Despite being named a multiple All-State performer and state championship wrestler, Finney didn’t have one major scholarship offer, and had to scrap together enough to simply walk-on at K-State.
“I never dared to think this would actually happen,” Finney’s mother said, donning her Steelers shirt. “There are no words to describe how perfectly everything worked out.”
Despite the accolades, including the 2014 Big 12 Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year, a ’14 finalist for the Rimington Trophy (given to the nation’s top center) and three consecutive first-team All-Big 12 nods, going undrafted seems somewhat of a surprise, as most draft experts considered him a fourth-or-fifth rounder. At 6-foot-4 and 318 pounds, he is a technician, using his wrestling background to create nice leverage on his opponents, and uses his great balance and core strength to stonewall defenders with power.
In many regards, he reminds of the former undrafted New England Patriot, Stephen Neal. A decorated NCAA wrestler, Neal parlayed his wrestling background and gritty attitude to the gridiron, starting 81 of 86 games as a 3-time Super Bowl-winning guard, a position where Finney projects as well.
“The good thing about B.J. is that he is so prepared for the NFL, mentally and physically, that he can make it as a first rounder or a free agent,” Vann McElroy, Finney’s agent, told Robinett. “All he wants is an opportunity.”
Despite being an intelligent, technically-sound and versatile blocker, many of his critics said Finney lacked the athleticism.
“The stigma behind me was that I was a slow, yet intelligent, white country boy,” he told Robinett. “Which, in the grand scheme of things is not wrong, but it’s not necessarily good if you’re trying to be a professional athlete.”
At the NFL Combine, Finney let the critics do the worry, and “put his best foot forward” as he said, registering 20 reps of 225, a 24-inch vertical and a personal-best 5.25 in the 40, ranking 16th out of 52 offensive linemen in attendance.
After losing his father to a heart attack 11 years ago, he wants to make the biggest Steelers fan he’s ever known proud.
“He had a hand in this,” Finney told Robinett. “Somehow, he helped me today.”
He has said the Steelers will give him an opportunity to compete for a starting spot at guard, something that could happen sooner rather than later, with current left guard, Ramon Foster, in the final year of his contract. Finney will undoubtedly approach the chance in front of him much the same way as he did in the past, with zero scholarships, or fighting to pay tuition money and now, clawing to make the Steelers’ 53-man roster.
“It’s a chip on your shoulder,” he told Robinett. “This is a childhood dream, but I also want to play for this team. I don’t want to sit on the sideline. I never have and I’m not about to start.”