WELLINGTON — B.J. Finney did everything he could think of to pass time during the final rounds of the NFL Draft on Saturday.
He watched picks from a recliner with more than 100 friends and family at his uncle’s farm, he played horseshoes, he talked to his agent and he ran through superstitions, hoping to magically convince a general manager to select him. When none of that worked, he reversed course and began pleading for teams to pass on him.
“They better not pick me,” he exclaimed as the final teams made their choices. “Please let the draft end without anyone saying my name. Please, don’t pick me.”
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This confused the well-wishers surrounding Finney. They arrived hours earlier, wanting to be by his side when he heard life-changing news. They hurt as they watched him wait. Getting drafted was the goal. Yet here he was, begging NFL teams to do the opposite.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “I have wanted this my whole life. Now I’m rooting against it.”
Clarity soon arrived. Finney had been flooded with calls from NFL teams during the seventh and final round informing him they wanted to sign him as a free agent when the draft ended, should he go unpicked. He had so many suitors that teams offered signing bonuses exceeding $10,000. One, in particular, intrigued him. So much so, that he orally agreed to a contract with 10 picks remaining.
So, when the draft came to a close and Finney was unclaimed, he proudly and emotionally announced his future.
“I stand in front of you today as proof that dreams do come true,” Finney said, his voice cracking. “I am under contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
His dream of being drafted died, but another dream became reality. He hugged his mother, Christy, and wiped away tears as the room erupted with cheers. The Steelers have long been his family’s favorite team.
It was a special moment, one that Finney could hardly imagine five years ago. Back then he was a high school football player without a single Division I scholarship offer. And he could barely afford to walk on at K-State, borrowing money from his mother and draining his bank account to enroll. Even then, he only had enough cash to cover two semesters. The NFL seemed unreachable.
But after five productive years at K-State in which he earned a scholarship, rocketed his way up the depth chart, started 52 games and blocked his way into one all-conference award after another, he is on his way.
“I never dared to think this would actually happen,” Finney’s mother said, already wearing a Steelers shirt. “There are no words to describe how perfectly everything worked out.”
What to expect?
Though Finney was one of K-State top all-time blockers, he was never considered a surefire pick. Many experts projected him as a middle-rounder, so his long wait was a bit of a surprise. But his agent, Vann McElroy, warned Finney to prepare for all possibilities.
“That can happen with anyone,” McElroy said. “The draft is so difficult. You’ve got 32 teams, 24 positions and thousands of kids. Very few guys leave this thing excited, because the expectations are too much.
“The good thing about B.J. is that he is so prepared for the NFL, mentally and physically, that he can make it as a first rounder or a free agent. All he wants is an opportunity.”
He worked tirelessly to earn it.
“Traveling and training for four hours every day, I’m guessing I put in 500 hours,” Finney said. “Most job interviews last about an hour. Mine was four months.”
Finney spoke to The Eagle throughout the process, sharing stories about his trip to the East-West Shrine Game, the NFL Combine and his conversations with 25 franchises.
His expectations fluctuated wildly from early January to Saturday, at times saying it was “highly likely” he would go undrafted. At others, he allowed himself to hope, imagining a Friday selection.
No matter what, Finney told himself, he would be ready whenever and however it happened.
“It’s an opportunity to play in the NFL,” Finney said. “That’s all I have ever wanted.”
Finney’s journey began when he signed with McElroy. No one makes it to the NFL alone, so choosing the right agent was crucial.
He had plenty of options, but chose McElroy because of his track record with past K-State stars, including Jordy Nelson.
“What appealed to me most about B.J. was his story,” McElroy said. “It is impressive. He’s got a family situation where he doesn’t come from money and he lost his dad at a young age. He walked on to K-State and he is mentally tough. He has been through some things. He can deal with anything.”
McElroy also thought Finney was the most polished offensive lineman in the 2015 draft, ready to take what he learned under K-State coach Bill Snyder to the next level.
“They will like B.J.,” Snyder said. “He is going to be, as he has always been, a team guy. He is going to step up.”
In Finney, McElroy saw an experienced, intelligent, fundamentally-sound blocker that could play center, guard or tackle. Great hands, flawless footwork, high football IQ -- he saw it all, envisioning Finney as a plug-and-play blocker that could help as a rookie.
Finney said the Steelers will give him an opportunity to compete for a starting spot at guard.
“Versatility helps a ton in the NFL with their limited rosters,” McElroy said. “They base their teams off a number of players at different positions. A center really needs to be able to move over to guard. Guys are going to go down, and your ability to move is huge.”
“Of all the guys coming out,” McElroy added, “he is the most NFL ready.”
For every nice word Finney heard in college, he heard an equal number of criticisms afterward.
At 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, he is not as big as most NFL blockers. At K-State, he was best known for never making mistakes, but lacked many highlights. Seldom did he crush defenders. Some worried he lacked athleticism. Perhaps that is why he went undrafted.
“The stigma behind me was that I was a slow, yet intelligent, white country boy,” Finney said. “Which, in the grand scheme of things is not wrong, but it’s not necessarily good if you’re trying to be a professional athlete.”
Finney traveled to Indianapolis in mid-February hell bent on disproving that stigma at the NFL Combine, an up-close evaluation of talent that could mean more than his entire K-State career.
This was his best opportunity to prove himself. So, inside a cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium with every NFL scout, coach and general manager watching, he went from one drill to the next with a purpose. His future was at stake.
“I was super nervous going into it,” Finney said afterward. “Then, right as I was about to run, I thought to myself, ‘Why am I so nervous? I have done this hundreds, if not thousands, of times.’ So I just relaxed and put my best foot forward.”
His best was good. Finney benched 225 pounds 20 times, jumped 24 inches vertically and, most importantly, ran the 40 in 5.25 seconds. That may seem slow compared to a receiver covering the same distance a full second faster, but it was a personal record for Finney and the 16th-best time of the 52 offensive linemen in attendance.
“Fastest I have ever moved over 300 pounds,” Finney said. “The last time I beat that was right when I came to K-State and ran a 5.01. I weighed 260.”
Unlike many rookies that train in fancy complexes, Finney spent the majority of his time preparing for the draft in Manhattan, working with K-State trainers and attending classes. He wants a degree in wildlife and outdoor enterprise management to match the one he already has in history. He also got engaged.
One dream down
When Finney wasn’t training, he was talking.
One of the most tedious aspects of the NFL Draft process is interviews. They can seem endless. Finney, for example, spoke to scouts at the East-West Shrine Game, the NFL Combine, his pro day and then several more one-on-one.
In April alone, he worked out or privately interviewed with the Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers.
He was asked bizarre questions along the way. One coach asked Finney to draw K-State’s blocking schemes on paper. Finney said he would, so long as the coach promised to burn it afterward.
“Coach Snyder would kill me for sharing his plays,” Finney said.
The weirdest question of all: If your house was on fire and you could save one item, what would it be?
That was a tough one. His initial response was another question: Are there any people or animals inside? When assured all living things were safe, Finney chose an old rifle.
“I am the fourth member of my family to own it,” Finney said. “I have grown up hunting. I really love that gun.”
One day, he hopes to build a hunting resort and show the rifle to visitors. He dreams of purchasing land in southeast Kansas and creating a self-sustaining ranch geared toward affordability, with special discounts for fatherless teens and wounded warriors.
After losing his father, the biggest Steelers fan Finney has ever known, to a heart attack 11 years ago, Finney wants to give back. Perhaps in a decade or so he will.
“He had a hand in this,” Finney said. “Somehow, he helped me today.”
There are many ways he can raise funds for the project, but the most obvious lies with football. If he makes the Steelers’ opening day roster, delivers as a rookie and signs an extension, he will be set.
That thought drove him throughout the draft process and will continue to motivate him now.
Of course, motivation won’t be a problem after going undrafted.
“It is the equivalent of coming out of high school without a scholarship,” Finney said. “It’s a chip on your shoulder. This is a childhood dream, but I also want to play for this team. I don’t want to sit on the sideline. I don’t like sitting on the sideline. I never have and I’m not about to start.”