Three NFL prospects share pre-draft visit experiences

NFL teams can host up to 30 players for pre-draft visits. If every team takes full advantage, that's 960 times a prospect flies into a city, gets a free dinner, shakes a few hands and wonders whether this will be where his pro career will begin. Teams also can bring in local prospects for workouts, but they don't count against the limit.

Teams have their motives for these visits, from posturing to genuine interest to angling for undrafted free-agent signees. Often enough, players are drafted by teams they haven't visited.

That doesn't mean the visits lose importance for players. Just ask Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley, who arrived to every complex in a suit or a slacks-tie-sweater combo.

"You have to learn how to balance the excitement of being in the facility of a team you're a fan of with being calm and collected," Conley said. "There are a lot of factors that culminate into a visit, and you have to nail it."

To understand the pre-draft visit process from a player's eyes, ESPN.com consulted with three prospects who could be Day 1 or Day 2 selections: Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Washington State defensive tackle Xavier Cooper and Conley.

The three players have completed a combined 15 visits, five apiece. Gordon checked out Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Dallas. Cooper visited New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Miami, Detroit and San Diego. Conley declined to name the teams he visited.

The players know what visits entail and what perspectives are necessary to thrive in them.

"Treat it like a job interview," Cooper said.

Travel is harder than the visit itself

Most visits last 24 hours or less from arrival to departure. The flight typically lands in the early evening. Then a driver picks up the player, often in an SUV, and shuttles him to the hotel or a restaurant if the team has scheduled a dinner. The next morning, a driver takes the player to the facility. Players estimated they spent anywhere from four to seven hours at team headquarters. Conley remembered finishing around 1 p.m. most of the time.

Sounds great, right?

The challenge is when the player is on his second trip of the week and must be ready for a 5:45 a.m. pickup. Players said their pickup times were usually between 5:45 and 6:30 a.m.

For Gordon, the time spent at the team's facility was a relief during a span of four trips in two weeks.

"It's the flying that becomes the hardest part when it's all in a condensed time period like that," Gordon said.

Conley, similarly, made five visits in 2½ weeks. Approaching zombie-tired status, Conley reminded himself to go wherever he's told and stay as sharp as possible.

Talking football is the best part

Getting a medical evaluation (more on that later) might be the quietest part of the trip. Players interview with several different people during the day, and that's not counting small talk over lunch.

There's the head coach and general manager, if he's not out of town that day visiting or working out a top prospect on a college campus. There's the coordinator, the position coach, the player personnel director, the team security.

The combine was more of a grilling session. On visits, teams are generally less probing as they try to get to know the player.

Gordon watched game film with coaches on most of his visits. In Miami, the offensive staff showed him their formations, pass protections and run plays, then quizzed him to see how much information he retained. During his Cowboys visit, Gordon talked offensive formations with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan for several minutes. The two discussed how a back such as Gordon could be used in the offense.

"That's the stuff that's fun, talking football," Gordon said.

Questions are fairly innocuous but sometimes silly

Cooper was asked what his last 10 girlfriends would say about him. Cooper doesn't remember his direct answer but knows he hasn't had 10 girlfriends in his life.

Cooper had his own questions, too: Where do you see me playing and how do you see me dominating?

"They tell me this is what you should focus on, this is how you can fix your pad level to help us, stuff like that," Cooper said. "It's an interview for them as well as me. I want to present to them a guy they should draft high, and I'd be worth the investment."

Conley said he enjoyed the interview process and found teams were genuinely interested in his life, asking about his aspirations to direct films, including a quirky "Star Wars" project he launched while at Georgia.

Questions about that didn't surprise him. Others did.

"I've been asked, 'If one of your players is upset with you and he jumps you in the locker room, would you be able to play the game the next day?'" Conley said. "I was like, 'Uh, yes.' That one caught me off guard."

Gordon didn't remember any off-the-wall questions on his visits.

The player gets dinner, but not always a fancy one

On one visit, Conley went straight from the airport to dinner with an undisclosed NFL head coach. But, most of the time, the player heads to the hotel and orders room service.

Conley usually requested a burger (hotel steaks can be hit or miss, he said), while Cooper preferred shrimp gumbo if available.

The team provides a lunch on its campus before the player flies out, so the best chance for a formal dinner is the night before. Cooper did enjoy good Italian food with Dolphins brass.

Mike Tomlin is a 'real cool' dude

The Steelers' head coach has been in Pittsburgh since 2007, so he must be doing something right. Cooper gets it.

"We talked football and a little bit of life," Cooper said. "He gave me some advice coach-to-player, how to handle myself and work hard and I'll be in this business a long time."

The days become such a blur that players don't remember every conversation, or they would prefer not to share.

Gordon said he understands both sides.

"It's big and it's serious, but to a point," he said. "It's casual in the sense that you're trying to get to know each other. So there's no real pressure there."

Team doctors 'poke and prod' the body

Conley imagined his medical evaluations went differently than for former Georgia teammate Todd Gurley, who aims to come back strong from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Even without injuries, Conley underwent an extensive medical check at every stop. They re-take X-rays and MRIs despite the NFL combine handling that portion. They "poke and prod," said Conley, who admitted this part isn't fun while acknowledging that it's necessary.

"Your body is your résumé," Conley said. "Being honest about it is the best thing."

See through the smoke

Teams generally seem honest and forthcoming about their opinions, players said, but occasionally they will hear they have first-round potential or they might get drafted here or there.

Cooper, for example, has heard first round or third round. He's not sure which one is true, and that's OK. He knows he'll get drafted, likely in the first two days, so he approached the visits with a clear mind.

"I'm learning it's all about what a team wants and how you fit in their lineup," Cooper said. "No one really knows. Some teams might say they rank me third round knowing they really have me in the second. So you learn what you can while in the facility, learn what the NFL is about, and soak it up and move on."

A harsh reality hit Conley the last few weeks -- he's likely being drafted to take somebody's job.

"Someone who has family, has kids," Conley said. "So you need to know the business and respect it as such."