When examining the career of St. Louis Rams center
With a Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl ring to his name, Wells has built a resume typically befitting an early-round selection. Yet well into the seventh and final round of the 2004 NFL Draft, Wells remained firmly on the bubble.
By any account, the weeks and months leading up to the NFL draft can be a tedious, and at times, a nerve-wracking experience for the best of prospects. For a player projected in the middle rounds, the internal questions and apprehension can reach a crescendo when name after name scrawls across the TV screen on the final day of the draft.
“I had mixed emotions on draft day,” Wells said. “Your agent gives you your expected draft range. The draft isn’t an exact science, but they give you an estimation. I had an idea that I would go between the third and the fifth round. After the third, fourth and fifth round, and I still wasn’t drafted, you get a little anxiety, frustration—all the mixed emotions that go with it.”
Finally, with the 251st pick—only four selections remained—Wells was chosen by Green Bay. He joined a Packers team that had been stacked with veteran talent, and was preparing for yet another NFC North run. Wells was the only offensive player taken among the Packers’ 2004 draft choices. The selection was met with further mixed emotions for Wells, unlike many NFL prospects, did not make a single visit to an NFL facility following his collegiate career at Tennessee. Green Bay had contacted Wells prior to the draft, and gauged his interest in joining the Packers as an undrafted free agent. Wells was less than enthusiastic.
As a native of the town of West, Texas, who attended high school and college in Tennessee, the notion of traveling to a cold-weather environment with an already-established offense was not particularly appealing. But with his pre-draft expectations re-evaluated as the final picks came in, the mood quickly changed from frustration to relief when the Packers made their selection at 251st overall.
“Once you get that call in the seventh round, that all goes away,” Wells said. “You’re just excited to have an opportunity at that point. It’s a relief that the draft is over, but then the real work starts. Growing up in the South and not knowing much about Green Bay other than what I had seen, it was uncharted territory for me. There was a little anxiety with being the only offensive pick on a team that had several Pro Bowlers. My initial thought was to take it a year at a time, and once we got to camp, that became a day at a time. I just tried to do something each day to make them remember me.”
Wells certainly made his presence felt, not only as a rookie, but in the years following. All Wells did with that opportunity was gain a starting job at left guard in his second NFL season, before moving to center in 2006. He remained the Packers’ starting center for the next six seasons, a tenure that included a Super Bowl title over Pittsburgh following the 2010 season. He was named to his first Pro Bowl the following year, before entering free agency.
While his path from late-round draft choice to Pro Bowl selection and 11-year veteran is an unorthodox one, Wells credits the work he performed early on in Green Bay for paving the way for the opportunities enjoyed in recent seasons. Now more than a decade removed from his own draft-day hoopla, Wells is quick to advise today’s current crop of NFL prospects to avoid viewing the draft as a destination more than an opportunity.
“It’s exciting and it’s something you dream about,” Wells said of joining an NFL roster for the first time. “It’s a time to relish, but that’s really just a beginning. The work gets a lot harder after that.”
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