Often with young players making the transition from the collegiate ranks to the NFL, the first thing that really becomes a priority is film study.
After trying to balance schoolwork, working out, studying film, and practices in college, being able to focus more on off-the-field preparation like film study instead of schoolwork becomes a huge priority for the players, which leads to real development at the next level.
Football goes from being an activity they do as a student-athlete into a full-time job. For Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Warren, who was undrafted out of Oklahoma State last year, that’s exactly what happened.
Going from a side gig to a full-time job allowed Warren to really dive into the tape study. That helped him carve out a role as the No. 2 running back behind Najee Harris, and really helped cement his spot on the roster following a strong rookie season.
Speaking with Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley, Warren credited his understanding of defenses due to his film study as part of the key to his success as a UDFA.
“I also grew a lot understanding defenses more. What they bring in certain situations, understanding how they play. I understood what the defense does in college, but in the NFL it’s your job,” Warren said to Varley, according to Steelers.com. “They pick up on all the little tendencies. Film was a huge thing. Film kind of took over the role of going to classes on the NFL level.”
That isn’t surprising at all from Warren. Football becomes your 24/7 life in the NFL because of its demands, especially in-season. If you’re not trying to improve day after day, you’re falling behind, which puts your career in jeopardy.
Warren wasn’t taking any chances after going from an unheralded UDFA who was sixth on the depth chart entering training camp into the backup running back to Harris in the season-opener — a role he held down throughout the season.
When players are able to understand what they’re seeing from the opponent snap-to-snap, things tend to slow down and then the player is really able to take off and let his physical traits shine. That’s what happened with Warren down the stretch. He was already a bowling ball with the football in his hands, consistently making something happen. But he got better and better as a runner, receiver and — most importantly — a blocker, becoming an invaluable third-down back due to his pass-protection abilities.
Now that he has a good grip on the film study aspect of being an NFL player, we’ll see just how much of a step forward he can take in 2023.