Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series in which sports writer Jared Bell chronicles his experience watching the 2013 NFL Draft with L-P athletic director D’Wayne Bates, a former NFL player and a 1999 draft pick of the Chicago Bears.
As the first round of the NFL Draft progresses, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. is becoming more of a focal point.
One of ESPN’s many draft gurus, the 52-year-old Kiper has served as a draft analyst for the network since 1984.
“I know a lot of people think he has a lot of influence, but he doesn’t,” says Bates, who has never met Kiper. “He basically shares the information he gets from pro-personnel people, the general managers and the coaches. He’s just made it into a business.”
One of the many draft prospects Kiper scouted during his time with ESPN was Bates, who still holds Northwestern career reception and receiving yardage records despite missing his junior season with a broken ankle.
“Lack of blazing speed,” Bates recalls of what Kiper said of him. “Where I was graded high was catching and route running. The injury — when I broke my ankle — was the biggest thing. The health concern. When you look at investing in a player, you are looking at the health of the body. There are doctors who consider medicals a lot.”
Bates was evaluated by the medical staff of all 32 teams at the NFL Combine, which was held in Indianapolis at the RCA Dome, the former home of the Indianapolis Colts.
He worked out at both the NFL Combine and at Northwestern’s pro day.
In his pre-draft workouts, Bates recalls he ran a time of 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash, had a vertical jump in the range of 38 1/2-39 inches, a broad jump of more than 10 feet, an approximate 20-yard shuttle time of 4.2 seconds and benched 225 pounds 14 times at the pro day.
“The process really starts after your last game (in college),” Bates says. “Before you can even get to draft day, you have to go through your choices of agents. You’ve got to do personal training and speed training to get ready for the combine, plus also your personal workouts.
“When you get to your pro day, there could be all 32 teams or one or two. We were very fortunate that for our pro day we had pretty much all the teams represented.
“From there, you do the personal workouts. For me, I had a chance to workout with the Bears, a chance to work out with the St. Louis Rams and the New York Giants.
“Then, you just wait for draft day.”
The first round of the draft is proceeding at a decent rate.
Former Detroit Lions running back and Madden 25 cover person Barry Sanders announces the Lions pick at No. 5, the New York Jets select Dee Milliner at No. 9 to replace Darrelle Revis — who the Jets traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers five days before the draft — and the Buffalo Bills make a surprising first-round selection of Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel.
Regardless of who is drafted by whom, all the NFL hopefuls at the draft in New York warmly greet Roger Goodell, the hard-nosed NFL Commissioner, who even hugs some of the draft picks, something Bates says he likely would not have done.
“I guess the commissioner is like the president,” he explains. “Not that he’s untouchable, but …”
Regardless, all the first-round draft picks are in line for a decent payday and will likely become multi-millionaires.
When Bates signed, he didn’t have many frivolous expenditures. His main purchases were buying the property around his mother’s house in South Carolina, a condominium in Evanston after his first season and his 1999 Jeep Cherokee, which he still owns.
“Has 128,000 miles,” Bates chirps. “I have averaged around 10,000 miles a year.”
After nearly two-plus hours, the Bears are on the clock with the 20th pick.
With Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert still on the board, I wouldn’t object to the Bears selecting him but would still prefer a lineman. Bates still says linebacker and doesn’t object to the Bears taking Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.
Turns out, I was right. The Bears select Oregon guard Kyle Long, the son of former Oakland Raider Howie Long.
“It seems like a good year for linemen, and you can’t ever go wrong building your future through your line,” Bates concedes.
While Long is now a Bear, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is getting impatient in the green room as he slides down the draft board and ultimately into the second round.
“I wouldn’t want to be sitting there with cameras all in my face because if you don’t get drafted, it’s disappointing,” Bates says. “At the end of the day, to me, I wanted to be at home. (Draft day) is your private day. Your family, they’re the ones who have been there throughout. You try to enjoy it as peacefully as you can.”
Bates experienced a similar slide as he was the sixth receiver drafted in the 1999 NFL Draft. He was chosen after pro bowlers Torry Holt (who went No. 6 to the Rams), David Boston (who went No. 8 to the Arizona Cardinals) and Peerless Price (who went No. 53 to the Buffalo Bills).
The 1999 Draft also saw the Cleveland Browns select quarterback Tim Couch No. 1 overall, the Philadelphia Eagles pick quarterback Donovan McNabb No. 2 and the New Orleans Saints trade every pick it had in the 1999 draft and two more picks in 2000 to the Washington Redskins to draft running back Ricky Williams at No. 5.
The 1999 Draft also featured Akili Smith, Edgerrin James, Champ Bailey, Daunte Culpepper and Javon Kearse being selected in the first round, as well as the Bears picking wide receiver Marty Booker in the third round, seven picks after Bates.
Just before 11 p.m., the Baltimore Ravens select Florida safety Matt Elam with the final pick of the first round.
Even with two more days left in this year’s draft, Bates recalls what the post-draft frenzy was like for him.
“I had a lot of interviews because I was the local guy who got drafted by the Bears, so I talked to all the news stations and newspapers in Chicago,” he says. “One of my best friends got drafted by the Eagles, so we had a nice little week before we went to our rookie mini-camps where I met all the other draft picks and some of the veterans who were around.
“Right then you see you may have been one of the best in college, but now you’re low on the totem poll because everyone runs a 4.3, 4.4 or 4.5. Everyone can jump 38 inches. Everybody can bench press a lot. It becomes, ‘What’s going to separate you now at this level?’ That’s the mentality you have to have. The reality hits right away.”
As my NFL draft with a former NFL player is winding down, I learn that Bates limited his draft party to only immediate family and blocked almost all media from his home on draft day.
He did, however, allow a reporter from the Augusta (GA) Chronicle to come to his house to partake in the festivities.
I feel special that all these years later he spent this draft day with me.
Despite being nearly a decade removed from playing in the NFL, Bates still has those in the Illinois Valley in awe of his NFL mystique, including a construction worker who was at L-P last week working on the L-P bathrooms.
Turns out, the man has been a Northwestern season ticket holder since 1985 and wanted to say hello to the former Wildcat.
“He’s seen some pretty bad football,” Bates joked. “But he really complimented the class I was in and our era of players. It’s a really good reflection and kind of flattering. It was like, ‘Hey, somebody is interested in Northwestern football.’ I was part of the group that brought this old-school fan back to life. It’s always flattering.”
Jared Bell is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.