When you think of some of the easier and more difficult transitions football players have to make when jumping from college to the NFL, what positions come to mind? Historically there are a few select positions that dominate this discussion, yet there are also a few that not too many people talk about. Let’s start with who has it the toughest.
Most difficult transition
1. Quarterback = There are plenty of reasons as to why this is the most difficult transition from college to the pros. First and foremost is the mental aspect of the game at the NFL level. The playbooks are far more complex and extensive in the NFL than they are in college. Not only is the offensive game much more complex and detailed, the defensive side of the ball is as well. This is why making the proper decisions is so much more difficult. On the college level you might face a defense with NFL talent at one, two, and occasionally (The Florida’s, USC’s, Ohio State’s) you will see three or more NFL caliber players on that side of the ball. When you get to the NFL you face the best of the best at every position on the defense. The bad teams in the NFL (The Raiders, Lions, and Bengals) might have one or two less than quality starters. With that said, the quarterback’s opponents on defense have far higher quality in skill, talent, speed, and intelligence once they reach the NFL.
Next is the amount of time they have to make their decisions. Having played quarterback before, I feel the hardest aspect of playing the position is making the critical decision as to who to throw the ball to in a matter of seconds. Processing all the information in 3, 4, and if you’re lucky, 5 seconds, while facing heat from extremely fast and massive men who want to hurt you is excruciating. I would argue that no other position in sports faces more pressure on such a consistent basis. This is definitely the most difficult position to play in the NFL; therefore it is the toughest to project how a guy will translate from college to the pros.
2. Wide Receiver = The receiver position is one where in college you can get by from just being more athletic, bigger, or faster than the next guy. Once these guys make the jump to the NFL, things are much more complicated. First, the routes you typically run in a college system are far less complex (most of the time) and don’t do a great job of preparing you for the diverse schemes and routes in the NFL. In college, receivers will usually run digs, hooks, posts, and 9 routes (fly or a streak). Once you get to the pros receivers will see more option routes (which could involve up to three different routes) where they will have to adjust to the coverage and change their route in a split second. This is also why quickness and agility take precedence over sheer speed. Another reason why this is such a difficult position when transitioning to the pros is because of the complex dialogue used as well as the depth of the playbook. To become a starting receiver in the league you must also be strong and have the ability to block effectively. This requires hard work and not so much of the diva attitude that so many receivers portray. As an example, WR Terrell Owens may act like a sensitive guy off the field, yet he will block his tail off which is partly why he is still in the league and still a premier player at his position. Like quarterback, receiver is one of the toughest positions to make the jump to the NFL because of the mental aspect that is needed to make reads and adjust accordingly to a much faster game than what was experienced in college.
3. Defensive Tackle = There have been 26 defensive tackles drafted in the first round since the 2000 NFL Draft. Of those 26, only a handful developed into stars or even consistent starters. Here are some of the names of these guys drafted in the first round who are considered busts – Wendell Bryant, Ryan Sims (both of these guys were drafted ahead of Albert Haynesworth), Gerard Warren, Damione Lewis, Dewayne Robertson, Jonathan Sullivan, Jimmy Kennedy, William Joseph, Marcus Tubbs, and two guys are on their way to becoming busts in John McCargo & Travis Johnson. This shows not only the underrated importance of defensive tackle, but also the risk factor in choosing one so high in the draft. There are numerous reasons as to why the transition is a difficult one. The size/strength combination of the offensive lineman in the NFL is significantly greater than the typical college lineman. The smarts of an NFL lineman is much greater than a college lineman. As a defensive lineman, you are always outnumbered. Nine times out of ten you aren’t as smart as an offensive lineman either. So being extremely explosive and athletic is a must for a defensive tackle. You not only have to carry your weight incredibly well, you must be smart enough to realize the splits an o-lineman is taking, what that may mean, and if it is run or pass. If it’s run, you can’t just fly off the ball because the play could get past you in a flash. You have to try to come off the ball and NOT get moved back WHILE recognizing if it’s a run or pass while a 6’5″ 300 lb man wants you out of his way. As a defensive tackle you are the first line of defense and your importance is paramount. This is also a very tough position to gauge how a guy will adjust on the next level.
4. Corner = Let me say that in my opinion corner may be the hardest position physically in the NFL. Not because you take a pounding (which they don’t), but that you have to be the most athletic person on the field. You have to mirror a guy who is the most athletic guy on the offense (think about having to follow around WR Andre Johnson) while not knowing what his next move may be. That is why they say corners are on “an island” so often. Corners can get embarrassed easier than any other position. Not only do you have to be extraordinarily athletic, you have to be able to have extremely fluid hips. This ties into why college corners and pro corners are so different. In college the scheme can hide a lot of your negatives while in the pros those can be exposed with ease. Offensive coordinators having physical specimens such as an Andre Johnson at their disposal make corner the premier position that it is. Measurable are more important for this position than maybe any other based on the sheer athleticism required to mirror such incredible athletes. Body control, reaction ability, and foot speed are paramount for this position. Gauging this position’s transition to the NFL is based off of these things as well as the player’s work ethic and attitude. Being extremely confident is one of the keys to scouting this position for the pros.