Connor Neighbors plans to be right in the middle of things during the final day of the NFL draft Saturday.
Right in the middle of a NASCAR race.
“We’re going to be at Talladega (Alabama) in my RV,” said Wes Neighbors, Connor’s father.
Don’t worry — the former LSU fullback won’t have his cell phone far away, just in case he gets that call, but he won’t be hanging on every draft pick.
This is another NFL draft story — not the one you’re used to. There are no million dollar checks in this one, no on-stage photo ops with the commissioner or long-term contracts.
The big day for Neighbors and hundreds of other players isn’t Thursday’s first round or Friday’s second and third rounds. It’s Saturday’s fourth through seventh rounds.
The big question isn’t where will they be drafted. The question is will they be drafted.
“I’m nervous. He’s nervous,” Wes Neighbors said. “Anybody who says they’re not is lying.”
Meet the bubble draftees — and, this year, Connor Neighbors heads the list.
Tackle La’el Collins, defensive end Danielle Hunter, linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Jalen Collins are Neighbors’ former teammates, guys who will wait anxiously as their name is expected on the draft’s first or second day.
Neighbors? He’ll be watching race cars speed around him from the infield of Talladega Motor Speedway, about a two-hour drive from his home in north Alabama. Later that night, he’ll watch the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight.
“I’m going to have to have my phone on me, going to be in constant contact. It just gets your mind off of it. I’ll have a couple of really close childhood friends coming,” Neighbors said. “It’s going to be fun.”
Former LSU running backs Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee are in similar situations. Hilliard, like Neighbors, is a bubble player, according to draft projections. He’s so nervous that he declined an interview request this week.
Defensive end Jermauria Rasco and safety Ronald Martin are in similar spots.
“All of them will certainly be highly sought-after free agents,” said Rob Rang, a draft analyst for CBSSports.com. “It’s not the biggest most impressive LSU class, but it’s deep.”
Magee’s prospects are a bit better than that group. For instance, he’s projected as a fifth- or sixth-round pick, according to CBSSports.com. Magee is preparing for the worst.
“That’s how I view it,” he said. “Who doesn’t want to be drafted? But if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world.”
It does, however, mean a much smaller signing bonus. Undrafted free agents normally receive signing bonuses in the five digits.
Seventh-round draft picks last season were projected to receive signing bonuses of $45,000-$70,000. Some sixth-round draft picks got as big of a bonus as $125,000.
Drafted or not, any player can be cut at any time. But it’s the late-round picks or undrafted signees who start on the chopping block.
It’s not like Neighbors isn’t used to that. He started at LSU as a walk-on linebacker, moved to fullback, and earned a scholarship with his head-hunting ways.
He knows what’s ahead of him.
“If I get drafted or not, I still have to make a team,” Neighbors said. “I can roll with the punches. Done it bunch of times at LSU. It’s going to be something similar to LSU, having to work my way up the ladder.”
It begins quickly. Less than two weeks after draft weekend, teams begin rookie minicamp — a three-day orientation like event. Two weeks worth of OTAs come later before a monthlong training came begins in mid-July.
It’s a grind. It’s a big reason Neighbors has spent the past few months working out two to three times a day.
Staying in shape is key. So is answering your phone.
“Saints called me this morning. Just got off the phone with the Titans,” Neighbors said during a phone interview Tuesday morning.
Bubble players receive more calls than you might think. Teams begin to establish relationships with potential undrafted free agents well before the draft starts.
It’s like recruiting all over again for those not drafted. They miss out on a bigger signing bonus, sure, but they also get to choose their destination. Teams try to sell players. Players, meanwhile, must do their due diligence.
“Free agency is going to be a big deal. That’s why all of these teams have been calling me,” said Neighbors, who said he’s heard from 20 teams so far. “If it comes to free agency, we get to weigh out my options where I get to go. I want to go where the coaches feel comfortable with me, a place that fits my game.”
On Saturday, he’ll go to Talladega. He’s hoping he’ll get a call there, too.
“You have to have to be anxious,” Wes Neighbors said. “It’s the unknown.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.