Expert Analysis


6 min read

Take it From Someone Who Knows: Advice for 2024 NFL Rookies

2024 Green Bay Packers rookie camp
Green Bay Packers players warm up during rookie minicamp on Friday, May 3, 2024, at the Don Hutson Center. (Tork Mason/Journal Sentinel/USA Today-Sports)

Dear NFL Rookie,

Congratulations on making it to the NFL. Probably lost in the shuffle of the pre-draft process and the whirlwind of the 2024 NFL Draft is that this is an amazing accomplishment, one you should be incredibly proud of. Think about how many people from your high school or area have ever been in the NFL. Pretty crazy, right?

Unfortunately, you don’t have a lot of time to reflect. And by “a lot” I mean none.

Getting the opportunity, while a dream come true, is just your starting point, not your finish line. As you’ll soon find out, the guys who don’t realize that won’t last very long. The second you think you’ve made it as an NFL player is the exact moment someone else will pass you by — and you’ll be gone.

Yeah, it’s like that.

I truly want you, all of you, to maximize this chance to create as much value and financial security for you and your families as possible, so if you follow these instructions, you’ll at least give yourself a shot.

You Aren't There To Make Friends

I’ve seen this happen too many times: Sometimes, rookies come in and either care too much about how they are perceived or try to act cool around the other guys. These rookies are, in my opinion, overly concerned about not ruffling any feathers.

That is not a recipe for success. You already have plenty of friends from your hometown, high school, college, etc. This is professional football, and it is a zero-sum game. There are only so many starting spots, roster spots, practice squad spots, etc., and you compete with everyone else in the room for your role.

I distinctly remember helping a fellow rookie lineman who was a physical marvel but was struggling with the mental aspect of the game by telling him whom he should block on each play. Then, I realized that was my competitive advantage over him, just as strength and size were his advantages over me. He couldn’t help me with those traits, so why would I help him with his weakness?

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) stretches during rookie camp at the Methodist practice facility. (Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

Don't Be In Awe of the Situation or Surroundings

You deserve to be here. You earned it, and you wouldn’t be in that building if your team didn’t think your play in college merited this opportunity.

Don’t spend too much time looking at yourself in your uniform or being in awe of the star veterans in the locker room once they arrive.

Trust me, not doing so isn't easy.

Four days after not knowing whether or not I would even get signed as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2001, I was behind Jeff George for bloodwork. Then I got my EKG right before Bruce Smith, before waiting for Darrell Green to finish with the orthopedic surgeon before it was my turn. It was surreal. I had been watching these guys on TV and playing with them in video games since I was 10, and now we were colleagues.

Get over it.

They were once rookies like you, and they are talented men, just like you. If you spend too much time watching them, your golden opportunity will pass you by.

Set the Tempo

This is critically important and meshes well with the first two tips above.

No matter what the tempo is — a walk-through, “shells,” OTAs or “thud” during training camp — it is your job to push the envelope. It’s not going to help you make any friends, and it definitely won’t ingratiate you with a lot of the veterans, but the only people you are trying to impress are the coaches.

It's a good thing if they tell you to calm down or dial things back. At least they know you’ve got a little something to you. As multiple coaches have told me over the years, they would much rather have to say "whoa, whoa" and pull back on the reins than have to crack the whip and say "giddy up" to a player.

That’s especially true for a young player like you. Whether you realize it or not, you are establishing your playing personality during minicamp, and once you have an identity, it is hard to change it.

Mental Mistakes Are Unacceptable

This is the fastest way to get cut or traded. The coaches won't trust you if you keep doing the wrong thing. Their patience will only last as long as your draft status and/or potential.

The problem with making mental errors is that it is emblematic of either a lack of preparation on your part or an inability to process what is happening at lightning speed on the field. Ultimately, either one is unacceptable for a professional football player because coaches know that missed assignments will not only get you beat but also reflect poorly on your position coach.

DaRon Bland of the Dallas Cowboys works at minicamp
Dallas Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland (30) goes through drills during practice at the Ford Center at the Star Training Facility in Frisco, Texas. (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Practice What Your Coach Preaches

Speaking of position coaches, even at the pro level, they have favorites. That means you need to become one of their favorites. The quickest way to do that is by mastering the techniques they teach you as soon as possible.

If they teach you something, it is because they believe in it. If you do it and it works well, it is not only a great sign regarding your ability to learn but also a positive reflection on them as a coach.

Whether before practice, after practice or in your hotel room at night, try to do what they are asking you to do exactly how they are asking you to do it — as soon as possible.

Learn From the Veterans

Most veterans have routines that are a big reason why they’re successful.

Watch and learn from the players whom you respect. What little things do they do that you can incorporate? Do they take detailed notes in meetings? Do they go in the cold tub after practice? Do they handle a walk-through as if it is incredibly important?

I noticed all these things from the veterans in the offensive line room when I was a rookie in Washington and used them for the rest of my career.

I could probably go on, but I don’t want to put too much on your plate. The good news is that all of these suggestions come down to preparation and effort, which are two things you can control every single day. Remember that as you think all of the people you are representing in your journey.

Good luck!


Ross Tucker

Tags: NFL rookies