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What the Top NFL Draft Picks Can Teach Us About Business

This year’s NFL Draft features a host of players who traveled divergent paths to land in the most watched job selection process in the world. While their athletic prowess will serve as an entry point to play for one of the 32 NFL teams, many of these players possess the leadership skills to elevate the performance of their future teams.

Embattled CEOs—facing pressure from shareholders, board members, and employees—can take a few pages from the leadership playbooks of some of the Draft’s most notable players.

Seek inspiration from outside of the C-suite
With the No. 1 pick, the Cleveland Browns selected Myles Garrett, an outside linebacker from Texas A&M. Although Garrett touts lethal alloy of height, weight, and speed—the sort of combination that that NFL teams crave—he is also rare on another front: He’s a true Renaissance man. He has an affinity for paleontology and poetry, and read voraciously during the season.

Garrett reaches outside of the confines of football to find inspiration for his play on the field. Embattled leaders should zoom out from their immediate surroundings and consume “unorthodox content.” This exposure will spark new solutions and inspiration.

Practice humility
The biggest story of the NFL Scouting Combine was the incredible display of speed by John Ross, a wide receiver from the University of Washington. Ross broke the record for the fastest 40-yard dash. His time? A turf-blistering 4.22 seconds (note: that’s fast). Ross credits his success on the field, however, to the mentorship of DeSean Jackson, a veteran wide receiver with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After a grueling two-hour workout with Jackson last summer, Ross learned how to use his speed more efficiently. Ross could have found content in his college feats and maintained the course. But he understood that Jackson could provide invaluable advice as a nine-year veteran. Business leaders should befriend industry veterans in order to steer clear of avoidable roadblocks.

Challenge yourself and your team by taking on Goliath
In January of 2016, the Clemson Tigers lost to Alabama in the national championship game. For Alabama, a perennial contender for college football’s crown, the win was expected. Earlier this year, the Tigers (led by quarterback Deshaun Watson) looked to avenge last year’s loss, and they did with a 35-31 victory over the Crimson Tide.

When asked on The Dan Patrick Show just how Watson approached this year’s rematch, he replied, “I’m big on challenges. The bigger the challenge, the better I play and perform…Alabama just brings the best out of you. You are either going to get exposed or you’re going to expose them.”

Need a litmus test for how well your company is really doing? Measure yourself against the industry titan and chip away at the lead with each play.

Roll up your sleeves and spend time in the trenches
Haason Reddick started his football career at Temple University as a walk-on. In the world of college athletics, walk-ons are glorified “grunts.” They don’t receive scholarships. They work as hard if not harder than starters. They serve as tackling dummies for the first string players, and they rarely receive credit. Reddick toiled in the dungeons of the walk-on world and capitalized by having a standout senior year—a performance that earned him a coveted scholarship.


That three-year tour of duty as a walk-on provided Reddick with perspective and appreciation for the game of football. His journey reminds leaders that getting an inside look at every division in the building imparts invaluable intel for better decision-making.

Embattled leaders face the same pressure as elite athletes. The pressure to perform at a high level in a highly visible role can be challenging. Reaching beyond the confines of the corporate structure to gather new ideas and inspiration can be the turning point in a company’s narrative.

Daron K. Roberts is a former NFL coach and founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation (CSLi) at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the best-selling author of, Call an Audible: Let My Pivot from Harvard Law to the NFL Inspire Your Next Transition.