Rashaan Salaam was a Heisman Trophy winner, a first-round draft pick of the Bears and a 1,000-yard rusher as a rookie. And then he was cut by the Bears by the age of 23.
Looking back on his career now, Salaam has some advice for this year’s first-round draft picks: Don’t be lazy like I was.
“I didn’t realize coming up how much work you had to put in once you got to the NFL,” Salaam told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a whole different lifestyle. You have to change the way you live. You have to change who you hang out with. You have to totally get focused on your game. You have the athletic ability, but if you don’t put the work behind it, nothing will come from it.”
Salaam said he enjoyed partying and enjoyed smoking pot, but didn’t enjoy working out. When he was able to step onto the field as a rookie and — despite a lengthy contract holdout that had him miss training camp — instantly become the Bears’ No. 1 rusher, he thought the NFL would come as easily to him as football at every other level always had. As it turned out, after that impressive rookie year Salaam would gain a grand total of just 610 yards in the remainder of his NFL career.
“I had no discipline. I had all the talent in the world,” Salaam recalled. “You know, great body, great genes. But I had no work ethic and I had no discipline. The better you get, the harder you have to work. The better I got, the lazier I got. . . . My whole life, up until the Chicago Bears . . . everything was perfect. You know, Parade All-American, Heisman Trophy winner. . . . So I was bound to go through some challenges. Going to the pros at 20 years old and not being disciplined.”
Anyone who’s good enough to be a first-round NFL draft pick is an incredible natural athlete. What Salaam wants all those first-round picks to know is that being an incredible natural athlete isn’t enough. That’s something he figured out only after the NFL was done with him.