Zane Taylor. (Photo courtesy of Caric Sports Management)
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For NFL Draft prospects like Utah center Zane Taylor, most of the hard work is done. Months of training for the NFL Scouting Combine. Going through the physical and mental grind of the Combine. Perrforming at a Pro Day. Talking to or visiting with NFL teams.
With just a little more than a week until the April 28-30 2011 NFL Draft, Taylor and hundreds of other hopeful young men are now in a sort of limbo -- just waiting to find out when, or if, their name will be called during the draft. And by whom. Taylor described the wait as "nerve-wracking."
"It's a big unknown. You know you're going somewhere, but just where you have no idea," Taylor said recently. "It's an interesting time I don't think many people get to experience."
Taylor offered some interesting insights into the unique event that is the Scouting Combine. He said that at night players go from interview to interview with scouts and NFL team officials, a process in his case that lasted only about midnight.
"You go from one table to another to another," Taylor said. "It's like a speed-dating interview with athletes."
The morning following interviews players are awakened around 4 a.m. for drug testing. Taylor described the experience as "draining on the mind and body."
That said, the 6-foot-2, 310-pound Utah center actually said "I totally agree with it" when asked about all the drills and measurements taken of players at the Combine, even if he said he had to spend two months "working to be a track star" to prepare for it.
"They've got to find some way to gauge your athleticism is a subjective way. I totally agree with it," Taylor said.
They've got a subjective way of judging your athleticism and they've got an objective way be seeing how your technique is, how well you bend your knees, how explosive you are in the position drills.
"I think a lot of people think that they just care about that 40, they just care about that bench, that broad jump. Those are all important, but just as much -- possibly even more, especially for an o-lineman -- the position drills are what can really make or break you."
Taylor said he interviewed with 20 or more teams during the Combine, and feels confident that he will hear his name called at some point during the three-day draft.
"The best-case scenario would probably be fourth or fifth-round but I think I'm more projected to go in the sixth. Hopefully a lot of the center that are rated above me get picked early and that will make me more valuable to the other teams that need a center," Taylor said.
"Anything can happen. I could get drafted a lot earlier than I thought or I could go free agent. It's a little hard to tell. I'm very confident that I'll get drafted, at least in the late rounds."
For a probable late-round pick or potential undrafted free agent like Taylor, the current NFL Lockout is problematic. Until there is a collective bargaining agreement teams will not be able to sign UDFAs. Also, the lack of mini-camps and access to teams could complicate the opportunity for a player like Taylor to prove he belongs on an NFL roster this fall.
"It puts all the rookies in a tough situation regardless of what round they go in. Especially at a center spot, you need to be very playbook-savvy and the difficult part is is that I don't get to go to any mini-camps, I don't get to even read the playbook or learn anything until this lockout's over. I'm just praying and hoping that it ends as soon as possible so I can get in there, learn the playbook, learn how the team functions, how practices go. Just to get myself situated and put myself in a good spot to be able to compete against the veterans," Taylor said.
"It is frustrating and it will put the rookies and myself at a disadvantage I think, compared to the veterans that have already been in the program. But there's really nothing we can do about it, I can't stress out about it because I have no control over it."
Taylor wasn't stressing when I spoke with him recently. He was, in fact, baking a cake for his wife's birthday. "I love to cook," he said. He also loves life in his hometown of Moab, Utah -- the place he said he would likely return whenever his football playing days are done.
For now, though, Taylor is still hoping for his NFL shot. And waiting anxiously for the phone to ring during the draft.