This story appears in the April 18, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
IN MARCH, we grabbed 40 likely NFL draft picks between shuttle runs and cone drills. They weren't too interested in talking about the lockout -- "We just want to play football," said one FBS star -- but they happily dished on the draft process.
1. BY DRAFT DAY, HOW MUCH MONEY WILL YOUR AGENT HAVE FRONTED YOU?
Potential picks say they will have been lent an average of $23,110. But we've heard about varying levels of financial support. Nine players say they won't receive a single dollar from their agent. Twelve others say they'll have pocketed $30,000 or more. "For training, housing and food," says one defender who predicts he'll end up borrowing $100,000. "I'll pay it all back. But the coolest thing is, it's a no-interest loan."
2. WHO'S THE NFL COACH YOU'D MOST LIKE TO PLAY FOR?
He's a big guy, with a big personality and bigger headlines, but incoming pros make head Jet Rex Ryan the big winner here. After two straight AFC championship game appearances, Ryan finishes with 42.3 percent of the vote, well in front of runner-up Steelers coach Mike Tomlin (17.3 percent). "I want a player's coach," says a Big 12 standout. "There's really nobody else right now who's even close to Rex Ryan when it comes to connecting with his guys."
3. WHAT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT TEST AT THE COMBINE?
Almost one in three (30 percent) pick the 40-yard dash, but most do so grudgingly. Turns out, many of them think it shouldn't be. Says one first-round lock: "The game is 11-on-11, not who sprints the fastest." When we ask a follow-up -- WHAT'S THE MOST USELESS COMBINE TEST? -- 30.8 percent choose the Wonderlic. "It's a brainteaser," says one top pass-rusher. "And I don't remember a time that a brainteaser helped me sack the quarterback."
4. AN NFL TEAM PROMISES TO TAKE YOU IN THE FIRST ROUND, BUT ONLY IF YOU'LL SWITCH SIDES OF THE BALL. WOULD YOU DO IT?
This question elicited a resounding yes (75 percent). "We'll play anywhere as long as we're in the league," says an SEC star. Among the 25 percent who say no, some just didn't want to swap jobs. Others, though, may have overthought it just a little. "Honestly, I'd rather do the thing that helps me drop out of the first round," says a projected top pick who'd like to avoid the mandatory four-year contract first-rounders must agree to. "I'd still sign a decent contract, but then I could ball out and sign a huge second deal three years from now."
5. IF YOU KNEW YOU WOULDN'T GET CAUGHT, WOULD YOU HAVE TAKEN PEDs TO PUMP UP YOUR COMBINE PERFORMANCE?
About one in seven players admit they'd consider this proposition, but the vast majority (85 percent) end up sounding more like concerned moms than concerned prospects. "If God meant for you to have it, you'd have it," says a top LB. "Drugs are never the answer." Others say they wouldn't do such a thing, although they weren't at all sure about their colleagues. Says a probable first-rounder, "I like being the one guy who's au naturel."
6. WOULD YOU RATHER BE THE FIRST PICK OF THE SEVENTH ROUND, THE LAST PICK OF THE DRAFT (MR. IRRELEVANT) OR UNDRAFTED?
More than half (55 percent) of our poll takers say the higher, the better. "The goal is to be picked as soon as possible," says one defender. But 23.8 percent go with Mr. Irrelevant, who gets a vacation in Newport Beach, a trip to Disneyland and the Lowsman Trophy, which depicts a player fumbling the ball. "You get your name in the history books," says one running back. "Who remembers the first pick of the seventh round?"
7. WHAT'S THE FIRST THING YOU'LL BUY WHEN YOU SIGN WITH AN NFL TEAM?
Some players say they'll buy themselves a car. Others lean toward feeding their basic savings account. But the most common answer, given by 17.5 percent of the prospects, is spending on something nice -- a house, a car, a vacation -- for Mom. "It would be a real thrill to pay off the mortgage on my mom's house," says one SEC star. "She raised me there and turned me into the man I've become." Dads got some love too: Buying something for both parents was the second choice (12.5 percent).