The NFLPA Rookie Premiere is an event that has been held for over a quarter of a century by now, whereby some of the league’s most promising young players are gathered together to participate in what could sometimes be construed as a crash course in being a businessman for yourself.
These rookies are coming fresh from the amateur level—that is, the college ranks, and suddenly find themselves most likely with agents. Their teams have trainers and dieticians and a whole team of individuals who help them take care of their body, instilling in them the idea that their body is now their product that they’re selling.
The product that they’re selling, that is, to teams. There is a whole other product they have to sell on the global market, which is their personality, their charisma, their business acumen. The Rookie Premiere connects these players with NFLPA business partners to introduce one another, ideally toward their mutual benefit.
With the Covid-19 pandemic still ongoing, the Rookie Premiere has had to reshape itself this year. Naturally, there is no in-person event. But there will still be 42 players participating this year, and among the participants are two of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ six rookie draft picks: second-round wide receiver Chase Claypool, and fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland.
“Panini America, the exclusive trading card licensee of the NFL and NFLPA, primarily drives player selection by identifying the most promising young prospects based on position, college performance, draft status and projected overall demand and marketability”, the NFLPA’s site reads on the event.
Last year was a similar story for the Steelers, as they had third-round wide receiver Diontae Johnson and fourth-round running back Benny Snell participate in the event. In 2018, Pittsburgh sent wide receiver James Washington, running back Jaylen Samuels, and quarterback Mason Rudolph to the event. James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Joshua Dobbs attended in 2017.
Basically, if you are an offensive skill position player drafted in the first four rounds, you’re probably invited. Defensive players are rarely invited. This year, only Chase Young, the second-overall pick, was invited to attend the virtual meeting.
What does this mean for them on the field? Pretty much nothing. But at the least, it should help to shape the rookies’ understanding about what the NFL is: it’s a job, and they are obligated to do their best to take care of themselves, which is the window toward opportunities both on and off the field—and thus a livelihood.