Role of colleges in NFL draft process

Vontaze Burfict went undrafted after a terrible pre-draft process in 2012. AP Photo/Tom Uhlman

Over the past two years, I’ve written four NFL draft-centric player profiles for ESPN The Magazine. In 2013, I visited with South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney. This year, I have chatted with ’12 NFL combine bust Vontaze Burfict and this year’s small-college Cinderella story (and star of ESPN’s “Draft Academy”) cornerback Pierre Desir.

Along the way, I spent time talking to players, coaches and administrators about the importance of how a college football program prepares outgoing players for the always stressful and frequently bizarre NFL draft experience.

Lattimore said he leaned on former teammates who had already endured the process in the handful of seasons leading up to his entry into the draft. And he grilled his coach, Steve Spurrier, on what to expect in the notoriously offbeat interviews and personality tests given by interested NFL execs and scouts. Spurrier, the Washington Redskins' coach just a decade ago, was able to lend some insight into the thought process behind the eccentric questions.

This year, it’s Lattimore who has done the advising, happily fielding inquiries from a large group of soon-to-be former Gamecocks hoping to hear their names called later this week. His help has been of particular value to likely No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, who, like Lattimore, has spent some of his spring at Dr. James Andrews’ physical therapy facility in Gulf Breeze, Florida.