For months, Jachai Polite hasn’t been able to do anything right. The pre-draft process has been a nightmare for the 20-year-old defensive end.
Never mind that he logged 11 sacks in the SEC in 2018. Never mind that he had 17.5 tackles for loss while forcing an absurd six fumbles, batting four balls and racking up 45 tackles. Never mind that he was a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player in college football.
Those successes have gone somewhat forgotten as the Florida Gators prospect seems to make a mistake – or get bad breaks – at every opportunity he has to convince an NFL team that he’s worth a multi-million-dollar salary.
Polite’s pre-draft process has been like that moment in movies where the protagonist announces, “This couldn’t get any worse,” and then it starts raining. But for Polite, it’s been a mix of hail and ash from a nearby dumpster fire.
But that’s why I’m rooting for the guy. The pre-draft process can tell NFL teams a lot about a player. It can also lead to an enormous misrepresentation. Media members – myself and my co-workers included – and teams pile criticism on these young adults, who are intent upon making a better future for their family. Some teams trash a player because they want to draft him after other teams to pass on that player.Here’s one example of misunderstanding the youngster: Polite wants to give his mother an early retirement with his first NFL contract. She’s a supervisor of housekeepers at a hotel while also doing hair-styling out of her house.
Sounds like a terrible kid, huh?
But that’s not what people are focused on. Let’s run down the no-good, very-bad sequence of events the seem to have knocked Polite out of first-round contention.
He ran a 4.84 40-yard dash at the combine in Indianapolis. That’s very slow for a defensive lineman, even if there’s video of Polite running down a receiver from behind after 40 yards. (Admittedly, he made the wrong read on the play, largely because he flew off the ball so quickly. But he made up for it by flying to the ball with impressive effort.)
He jumped 32 inches at the combine. Again, that’s very low for a defensive end – and yet he batted four passes in 2018. Also, who cares about how high a pass-rusher can jump? Looks like he jumped too high in this case.
Those were the only workouts he did at the combine. A question followed: What else is he hiding?
During interviews in Indianapolis, he left scouts concerned about his maturity. He then met with reporters and explained that he was surprised to receive so much negativity from scouts about his game. That negativity was, no doubt, a test – he said he knew that at the combine. He failed that test – he later admitted thatWhile that’s partially his fault, it’s also the fault of the people around him. Why didn’t his agent properly prepare him for the criticism he’d face? Why wasn’t he coached on how to handle those challenging questions? Everyone could (and should) have anticipated them. Because of his naivety, the media ran with the young man’s honesty about the process. (Honesty is a rarity at the combine, where everything – from a throwing routine to a meeting with reporters – is rehearsed, practiced and scripted.) And the transcript of his comments seemed a lot more harsh than the comments themselves in person and on video. Here’s some context for what was actually a fairly harmless interaction, which seemed to spiral out of control.
During his pro day, a moment when he could have righted the screwy process, he showed up looking less-than-ripped. (This league is all about the jacked-up, twitchy players who pass the eye-test.) Then, Polite injured his hamstring and had to end his day early.
Had his pre-draft process gone well, perhaps he’d be in the discussion to go in the top 15 selections, with NFL.com’s Lance Zuerlein comparing him to Falcons’ Vic Beasley, the eighth-overall pick in 2015. Instead, media members are suggesting Polite has slipped into the second round of the draft. If that projection bears out, the fall from 15th overall to 40th overall is a costly one. After this year’s draft, the 15th overall pick will sign a deal worth roughly $15 million with $8.4 million guaranteed while the No. 40 selection will sign a $7 million deal with $3.2 million guaranteed, per spotrac.While job interviews are important, it’s easy to imagine an unprepared 20-year-old struggling through his first round of them – especially ones as rigorous as those taking place at the combine. While measurements are important, so is the game film and the production a player puts together on the football field. Perhaps the bust label will prove prescient. Perhaps Polite will flunk in the NFL, just as he has failed during the pre-draft process.
But here’s hoping that he serves as a caveat for those that put too much stock into the combine, into the 40-yard dash and into everything silly about the pre-draft process, which has become overemphasized largely as a promotional effort by the NFL. The league never wants you to stop thinking about football, so they promote the heck out of the combine. Polite is a gifted football player, and hopefully he puts up 16 sacks in 2019 to prove that his first impression was his worst impression and that there’s more to him than he presented in Indianapolis and at this pro day.