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Hey, Rookie! Here's How To Ace The NFL Job Interview

The NFL scouting combine can be an anxiety-inducing time for prospects if they don't arrive prepared. Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty does his part to help, passing along 10 nuggets of wisdom gleaned from his own experience
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By Devin McCourty,

New England Patriots

It's time for the ultimate professional football job interview: The NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. I participated four years ago. It was a nerve-wracking experience, and I'm glad I don't have to go through it again. Instead, 335 new prospects are in Lucas Oil Stadium the next few days, and here are my 10 nuggets of wisdom:

1. You won’t walk away knowing who will draft you. I had three or four teams tell me they were going to pick me if I was available. Guess what? None of them were the Patriots. In fact, I barely had any contact with New England at the combine. We didn’t have a formal interview, and in the informal interviews (a big session where guys just wander around, talking to coaches in a format that feels like speed dating) I spoke to the Patriots DBs coach for maybe five minutes. Nothing stood out from that conversation. My point is, no matter what teams tell you during the process, anything can happen on draft day. It’s not that teams are lying to you; they just want to keep their options open—and they might not fully know their plans yet, either. You have to keep an open mind, and you can’t get your heart set on a specific team or draft position.

2. Be confident in your abilities. Nothing (at least on the football field) should surprise you. When you first walk into the stadium, and see so many coaches and GMs there, it’s definitely intimidating. They’re everywhere. But you have to remember you’re there for a reason. If you did all the preparation and training, then it should just feel like another day at practice. I will admit, I was a bit nervous for the defensive back drills. Sure, I had been doing them nearly all my life, but here every single detail matters because they’re picking you apart and looking for any tiny imperfection. But hey—if you can’t perform now, you won’t on Sundays either. This is your chance to prove you can handle the pressure.

3. The written exams are not fun. Suck it up. Everybody at the combine just graduated college or left college early. The last thing they want to do is sit in a room for hours and hours and fill in bubble sheets. One of the tests was four or five pages long, filled with ridiculous questions like, “Are you more like a dog or a cat?” (I picked dog.) It’s kind of nerve wracking, and definitely stressful. But honestly, you just need to suck it up and push through it. Understand it’s just part of the process, and something you’ll hopefully never have to do again in your life.

McCourty had a solid showing at the 2010 combine, most notably turning in a 40 time in the 4.38-41 range. (Darron Cummings/AP)

McCourty had a solid showing at the 2010 combine, most notably turning in a 40 time in the 4.38-41 range. (Darron Cummings/AP)

4. Running the 40 is daunting. Don’t psych yourself out. It’s crazy how important the 40-yard dash is for NFL hopefuls. Realistically, most positions never run 40 yards in a game. But the times are all over SportsCenter and mentioned for years to come—even after you've proved yourself in the league. You’re lying if you say you’re not worried about the 40. The key is to try to make it seem like another day at training. Pick something you can do before the run that will let you forget where you are and forget who is watching. For me, it’s two jumps. Anytime I ran sprints in training, I did two jumps before I got down to the line. It gave me a sense of routine, and let me clear my head. When I did the two jumps at the combine, that got me focused—and I did pretty well.

5. In interviews, play up your strengths. Some guys go into the combine with something to prove. Maybe they have an injury history, or they got into some trouble in college, and they have to convince teams they are draftable. But for everybody else, this is a clean slate to show teams who you are, and the best thing to do is be yourself and use the opportunity to highlight your strengths. For me, that’s football knowledge. In one of the “informal interviews,” I sat down with a coach and he asked me to draw a defense that we ran and explain what each person on the field did. As I did that, I could see his eyes light up. He could tell I was passionate about it. If I was BS-ing him, he would’ve figured it out quickly.

It’s okay to Google your name every once in a while, but don’t let it consume you.

6. Teams are going to try to fluster you. It’s all about how you react. You hear stories about crazy questions teams ask guys: If they have girlfriends, if they could pick one superpower, etc. To be honest, what threw me most off guard was when one team pulled up tape from my junior year at Rutgers when I didn’t have such a good game. The coach was drilling me: What happened with this play? Why did you do this wrong? I was ready to talk about any game from my senior year—but this? This game wasn’t reflective of my abilities. Looking back, I think the team knew that. They just wanted to see how I would react to that, and to see if I could demonstrate that I had grown since then.

7. It’s okay to Google your name every once in a while, but don’t let it consume you. I remember at the Senior Bowl, I’d sit in the hotel room with my roommate, Mardy Gilyard from Cincinnati, and watch NFL Network. We’d see Mike Mayock’s mock draft scroll across the bottom, and we were fixated. Of course we were going to watch. It’s the biggest thing going on in your life, and you’re curious about what the media is saying. At the time, my stock was rising and my name was mentioned in blogs, newspaper articles and mock draft boards. If you can ignore all of that stuff, that’s ideal—but it’s not that realistic. Just take it with a grain of salt. In the end, there’s only so much that you can control, and that’s what you should be focusing on. 

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8. Don’t get caught up in drama with agents. At least not at the combine. I was lucky that at Rutgers, we had an early bowl game so I had a lot of time to pick an agent. To be honest, my mom helped a lot; she talked to agents and helped sift out which ones would be a good fit. At the combine, agents are everywhere and you hear stories of them trying to pluck guys or convince guys to do this or that. There’s also guys who went to smaller colleges who might not have drawn interest from agents until now. For them, I’ll relay this piece of advice that a former Rutgers teammate passed down to me: Your agent needs to be a guy you would feel comfortable going out to dinner with and having any conversation, no matter how difficult it might be. If you can't do that, it's not the right agent for you.

9. If you weren’t invited, it’s not the end of the world. Just ask my twin brother, Jason. He was really upset when he didn’t get invited in 2009; that wasn’t easy at all. To this day, he still brings it up. But instead of sulking, he used the snub as extra motivation. He found the silver lining: It gave him even extra time to train and get stronger and faster. His pro day was the first time teams got to evaluate him—and he killed it. Jason was drafted in the sixth round and has been in the NFL ever since.

10. Enjoy it. The dynamic between guys isn’t as tense as you’d think. It’s not like the Alabama guys are sitting in one corner and the Auburn guys are in the other. Sure, we’re all competing against each other, but nobody takes it personal. The combine is more like a job fair. You’ll see a lot of guys you’ve played against over the years, and meet a bunch of new guys, too. I hung out a lot with T.J. Ward, Chris Cook and Joe Haden. Anytime we play those guys now, we always talk after the game and catch up—and reflect on the journey that got us here.

Devin McCourty was a first-round pick of the Patriots in 2010 (27th overall). He is a two-time All-Pro defensive back.