Editor’s note: This is the fourth of five Q&As with current Falcons players, detailing their journey through the draft process.
When he was selected in the fifth-round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Eric Saubert became just the 27th player from Drake University to reach the NFL and the first in over three decades.
Coming from a small school with no NFL pipeline meant that Saubert’s draft journey was incredibly unique. How did Saubert navigate the nuances and unrelenting demands of the NFL Draft process and what were the experiences he had along the way?
With the NFL Draft just around the corner, we asked Saubert about his own path to Atlanta.
Question: What do you remember most about your draft journey?
Saubert: It was a little unique for me because at Drake nobody has really come out (to play in the NFL). I think the last person to get drafted was in 1983. So, yeah, it was unique because nobody really knew what was going on. I think picking a really good agent for me was big. A guy who knew the process, could put me in the right places, knew the right people. So, I did that, picked a good agent. I loved my training. I met a lot of good people who are still in the league, and they’re my friends now. I just tried to have fun with it and anytime I was overwhelmed with something I just thought about how I’d so much rather be doing this than not doing this.
Q: What was it like when you got the call from the Falcons?
Saubert: The draft day was a super special day. When I got the call from DQ and TD, there were some tears, obviously.
Q: Do you remember what Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff said to you?
Saubert: They told me they were going to select me with their next pick. And, so, I had a pretty funny roster picture from my junior year. I didn’t know I was going to be in the NFL, and it was kind of a joke to put Odell Beckham hair on – like blonde tips. And DQ was like, ‘Make sure you get rid of that hair.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, right away.’
Q: Is there any advice you would give to yourself as a draft prospect?
Saubert: There’s tons of things that I wish I knew. Probably just enjoy it. Know that it’s going to be hard but enjoy it, because, like I said, what else would I rather be doing? That first year is overwhelming. People told me it was going to be that long, but the first year especially (feels long). You’re training, then you’re in the Senior Bowl, then you’re in the combine, then you’re in pro day, then you’re in OTAs, then you’re in the season. It doesn’t really stop. That first year is super long, so have the mental wherewithal to go through that.
Q: Do you think that’s what they mean by a “rookie wall”?
Saubert: Yes, I do think that’s definitely part of it. It’s like, you haven’t stopped. That was the biggest thing. You’ve never played a season that is essentially 20 games plus playoffs, so the first year was really 22 games. That was twice as long as a season I played in college.
Q: Was there anybody who was influential to you throughout the process?
Saubert: (My agent) was great, because he’s done it so much, especially with small-school guys. My strength coach from college was pretty big. He gave me a great foundation in terms of work ethic. He basically made me, I used to be a tiny 185-pound receiver. So, he was huge, he was always in my ear. The coaches that I had where I trained in the offseason, they definitely prepared me for dealing with scouts and everything.
Q: Was there anything about the draft process that surprised you?
Saubert: There were definitely surprises along the way. Some of the questions that scouts would ask are funny, you hear about them sometimes. I know a guy who was interviewed by a team and they’re like, ‘I want you to hold your eyes open as long as you can.’ And then he would blink, and they’d ask, ‘Would you like to try again?’ They kept doing that, and I don’t know what the point of that is. That’s so odd.