NFL combine a ‘tough’ learning experience

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jachai Polite wasn’t able to do much at Florida’s pro day to make up for his lackluster on-field performance at the NFL combine.

The 6-foot-2, 254-pound defensive lineman ran another disappointing 4.8-second 40-yard dash — the same number he posted in Indianapolis — and aggravated the hamstring injury he originally suffered 10 days before the combine. But Polite felt getting off to a good start at making up for his combine meeting-room performance was potentially even more important for this NFL future.

Teams can watch Polite’s tape of his three seasons with Gators and see what kind of player he is, but he’s got to spend the next month convincing teams that he’s not the withdrawn, sullen kid who publicly complained about teams “bashing” him and showing film of his bad plays.

“It’s been pretty tough, but it’s a major learning experience for me, something I’ve never been through in my life,” Polite said Wednesday. “I just keep learning every day. Nobody in my family has been through anything like this, so I had nobody to help me, really, other than my agent. But I never knew how serious and how mentally tough you had to be for this moment.

“… At the end of the day they are trying to pay you to play for their team, so I get why they did everything they did. It wasn’t really that bad, I just took it the wrong way and was frustrated and stuff.”

During a news conference on the podium at the combine, Polite said the Green Bay Packers were bashing him during their interview. He said they asked him questions about accountability and his character and then turned on tape of some of his poor plays at UF. He admitted he got rattled and ended up going into a bit of a shell and giving short, imprecise answers.

“I just wasn’t ready at all,” Polite said. “I just wasn’t ready mentally.”

He was supposed to be. Good agents make sure their clients go through combine training. They’re given mock interviews and warned that teams may ask crazy, out-of-nowhere, seemingly irrelevant questions. Polite got that training, and that’s why his agent, Jon Perzley, was so surprised Polite reacted the way he did.

And when the negative press followed, Perzley said his client was devastated.

“It killed me to see him like that, to be honest,” Perzley said. “It was very difficult for me to process because all my interactions with him have been great. Even with his interview prep before the combine we had no reason to believe that anything would happen. I do think it was a little overhyped by the media, but at the end of the day there’s going to be teams who like him and teams who don’t, one way or another, and all we need is one team.

“… If you’re going to take a 15-minute interview of any person and make that your sole decision on where you want to draft a kid, I think that’s a flawed process.”

That may be the case, but the next month for Polite is all about damage control. He can somewhat mitigate the poor on-field combine and pro day performance with the tape of his 2018 season: 11 sacks, six forced fumbles, and 17.5 tackles for loss to earn first-team All-SEC honors.

But the only way he’ll be able to make up for his poor interview performance is with more face-to-face meetings (Perzley says he has 30 scheduled). There’s potentially a lot of money riding on it.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr., had Polite going 15th overall to Washington in his first mock draft, but Polite fell to 21st (to Seattle) in Kiper’s second mock, which was released just before the combine. Polite has dropped out of the first round in Kiper’s latest mock draft, which was released last Monday.

“In my head I feel like I’m still there [a first-round pick],” said Polite, who will turn 21 on Saturday. “Where they pick me, I don’t know. But I believe in myself, first and foremost. Whoever gets me, whoever’s taking a chance from my terrible interviews and combine, they’re going to get a great player. That’s all I know.”

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