'Putt-putt or darts?': NFL teams have fun with combine interview icebreaker

INDIANAPOLIS -- Paris Johnson Jr. was a little taken off guard at the Chicago Bears' first question of his formal interview at the 2023 NFL combine.

"Putt-putt or darts?"

Of all the things Johnson was prepared to answer -- questions about his football acumen, his switch from guard to tackle, his experience at Ohio State -- a choice between two leisure activities wasn't on his radar.

"They said darts or golf, I didn't even see the [dart]board when I first went in,'' said the Ohio State offensive lineman, who chose darts. " ... The first two [darts] I hit some snacks in the corner, then I hit the wall and I was like 'Oh my god, they're going to end this meeting,' then I hit the board, so I was happy. I should have picked golf.''

Even if he wasn't the best darts player, the exercise relaxed Johnson and got him in a comfortable mindset for his interview with the Bears and set a good tone for the rest of the interview gauntlet that day.

"For me, I wasn't stressed," Johnson said. "I've been preparing every day, but I feel that these can be some stressful times in a way. But I think for them to just be like, 'You know what, before we get started, let's play this game.' You get your mind going, it relaxes you and opens up the talk. I ended up having like 18 more interviews that day. So it was cool to set the tone."

Texas running back Bijan Robinson got the same question in his Bears interview, too. Like Johnson, he also chose darts.

"It was cool, it's a cool thing to go in the meeting and feel a little loose and not feel so uptight," Robinson said, adding he won his game.

The Bears weren't the only team to employ nontraditional methods of evaluation in their draft interviews. Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs said the Dallas Cowboys had him throwing darts, while the Philadelphia Eagles asked him to shoot some hoops.

To Gibbs, the activity felt like a way for teams to measure his competitiveness.

"That was my first time playing and I beat who I was playing -- and he usually plays a lot."