Can you imagine suddenly getting paid tens of millions of dollars at age 22? For some of us, that was when we graduated college. For others, it was a couple years after high school and a trade school. But wherever you were at age 22, imagine suddenly being a millionaire.
That's the case of very high-round NFL draft picks. If you had just been a star player in college and now suddenly you've got insane amounts of money, you would feel like you've got life by the horns. You've achieved your dreams. Yet, when a highly touted draft pick gets signed for millions, but hasn't played a game yet, he has accomplished exactly nothing yet in the NFL.
I can see how suddenly having that much money and being told how great he is could go to a young guy's head. He might feel invincible, as if his NFL success is somehow predestined. It seems to me that's how a very talented young player could wind up a draft bust.
In reality, he's accomplished nothing in the NFL until he's won some games, and the talent level is way, way higher in the NFL compared to the NCAA. Someone who realizes that will know to get focused off the money and glamor and to start busting butt to learn his team's system, and everything he can to become a high-level NFL player. Raw talent alone can't make someone a great player. No matter how talented a player is, only a huge amount of work will make him an effective player.
When Ryan Leaf was with the Cowboys, I saw some innate skills in him and hoped that he had kind of learned his lessons and could work hard to develop into a great player. Obviously, that did not happen. It makes me wonder what could have been if he had immediately gotten a great mentor to tell him, “Don't buy into all the hype. All that stuff about how great you are is all bull. You have to build up a great work ethic to make it in this league.”
I wonder if a Ryan Leaf, plus a Jerry-Rice-level work ethic would equal a great player.
The league has way more money than it used to, and, of course, top-level draft picks get paid way more up front than they used to. Obviously, there's no way to return to how things were in previous decades, so it does make me wonder what teams may do to avoid “head in the clouds” situations. No matter how great a college career a player has had, he's not guaranteed a good NFL career. And paying him a huge pile of money up front also doesn't guarantee that he'll play well in the NFL.
It makes me wonder if teams have a “get his head out of the clouds” department, or if they use sports psychologists or whatever. I'm not against paying a player what the market will bear. That's just part of the business. It just makes me wonder if teams have to take counter measures to prevent that very money they just paid him from working against him.