The NFL Combine is wrapping things up on Monday and players are getting their first taste of the detail-oriented NFL interview process. The San Francisco 49ers have been there and the players they met with have been getting some tough interviews.
Florida defensive end Jachai Polite was the talk of the weekend as far as the 49ers’ interview practices were concerned. Polite said, “They [the 49ers] just bashed me the whole time.”
As far as Polite is concerned, he didn’t have a good combine overall, coming in looking sloppy and not getting his story straight on a hamstring injury. Polite also said the “bashing” was something done by multiple teams. The 49ers interview is what made the rounds, however.
The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen said that the 49ers in particular were having this practice with several players, not just Polite. Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf also said Kyle Shanahan and company put him through the wringer. In an article by NBC Sports Bay Area’s Jennifer Lee Chan, Metcalf called the process a learning experience:
“It [the interview] went real well,” Metcalf said at Lucas Oil Stadium. “It was a learning experience. He taught me something in that meeting. Him, Wes Welker, all John Lynch all taught me a valuable lesson.”
When pressed further about what the lesson was, Metcalf simply replied, “Keep your cool,” and did not reveal any further details.
While it should be self-explanatory why the 49ers are giving tough interviews, it sounds like they are getting even more difficult due to the issues and eventual loss of linebacker Reuben Foster in 2018. The 49ers have said time and time again they did their homework on Foster, even after Foster left the 2017 NFL Combine early due to a disagreement with a hospital worker. Whatever homework they did, it wasn’t enough as Foster found himself in trouble multiple times as time wore on, proving the character issues and concerns coming out of college.
Foster was released after just one season, which is a terrible return on a first-round draft pick. While teams are very diligent in their interview process in general, the 49ers can’t afford to have another Reuben Foster happen.
NFL interviews are structured to see how players respond to feedback and criticism. It’s also meant to see how/if prospects cave under pressure and if they can function. Several corporate entities try to do the same thing with their interviews. Amazon has a ‘bar raiser’ who is meant to probe, probe, probe, with questions concerning the “why” of a particular answer (the same word Polite said was used multiple times). At times it may seem unnecessary for the NFL and companies to do this, but if you’re going to invest a draft pick, millions of dollars, and other valuable resources in a person, you want to make absolutely sure no stone is left unturned.
It’s a matter of if the players can take that criticism and keep functioning.