Sun, Smiles, Signings and So Much More at the 2024 NFL Rookie Premiere

May 23, 2024

By Isaiah Lucas
Panini Staff Writer

In the words of the late Nipsey Hussle, players grinded all their lives for the chance to make it to the NFL. Attending last week’s NFL Rookie Premiere was another part of that dream turning into a reality.

Over the course of a few days in Los Angeles, a select crop of rookies got their chance to become acclimated with the league, hearing panel discussions and meeting with various brands and sponsors, including Panini.

The first few days were spent signing cards in one of the ballrooms at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown.

The guys were determined to knock out as many signatures as possible, which is always a good sign. Cards and sheets of stickers were swiftly transferred out of and back into packaging as they were marked with ink. Some players had been preparing for those moments since they were kids, admitting to practicing their signatures as middle schoolers without much variation.

The atmosphere was much like a locker room. The guys were all doing their own thing and even at eight in the morning, the sounds from the room were almost deafening thanks to each player having their own Bumpboxx to try out.

Players had some of everything blaring through their speakers. Walking around the room I could hear sounds from all across the country. The musical melting pot largely featured Rap, R&B and Country. Most of the music was dominated by tunes from the rap heavyweights the players grew up on along with the stars of the new school, meaning the chart-topping records and b-side classics all got their fair share of love.

Regions were well represented, reflecting where players grew up and/or the music from the colleges they attended. A ton of underground artists got some shine by way of SoundCloud, YouTube, Audiomack, and even players’ File apps. Sounds from Tampa, Philly, California, Louisiana, New York, Detroit and the Carolinas that you don’t hear on the radio every day got their streams while players were knocking out signatures.

With that, some players were trying to sell the fact that their music was better than the guys beside or around them, tempting to drown the other sounds by maxing out the volume on their speakers.

There were even moments when they would parade them around on their shoulders and dance a little bit.

When there was a consensus banger being played, others turned down what they were listening to rock out. For example, Bucky Irving’s mix of classical R&B took center stage during lunch.

Joe Milton III and Michael Penix Jr. brought the energy when they arrived for the first time.

Penix also showed off his rap talents with a freestyle and Xavier Legette played some of his unreleased music.

All of it helped the players churn through thousands of cards and stickers. Their competitive edge came out while competing with each other to be among the first to lay down their autos. Players were willing to lock in and fight through the feeling of being in one spot for a while or having cramped hands.

The other locker room-like element of the atmosphere was the conversations among players. Guys would scream out to their college teammates, or new league teammates to get their attention and just start chopping it up. The banter included reliving rivalries and roasting players amongst the group. Discussions around game performances against other teams and players and top games were some of my favorite interactions to witness.

Lots of chatter centered around FSU being snubbed from the College Football Playoff in favor of Alabama.

Buffalo’s Keon Coleman, Cincinnati’s Jermaine Burton, and Minnesota’s Dallas Turner dominated the back left corner of the room debating the hypothetical matchup of the two schools in a conversation that included rosters, players from the same high school regions, decisions to commit and how much NIL had an impact on those choices. The talk got the attention of Coleman’s FSU teammates Trey Benson and Jordan Travis, who were on the other end of the room.

Coleman, in just being his authentic self, provided great soundbites all week. It’s not an act, it’s just Keon being Keon. The tales about his days starring on the baseball diamond as a hitter who smacked homers for ice cream and pitched on the mound were summed up with this one-liner: “I was throwing gas, putting holes in gloves at 10.”

The Bills’ wideout was also seen donning a pair of bracelets for his photos that were given to him by a young fan:

He’s about ball all the time and was looking forward to getting back to the grind. When asked what he likes to do in his free time, he said, “I don’t have fun. Training is fun to me.”

Most of the players there had already been through minicamp or team workouts, but the week really served as a bit of the final transition into life as an NFL rookie. The week allowed them to rock their full threads for the first time and reflect on the reality of being a pro football player ready to make a mark on Sundays.

Penix: “It’s been crazy. It’s lit outchea. It still hasn’t really hit me. It probably will when I run out of that tunnel for the first time.”

Travis: “It’s just a blessing to be out here this week, it’s been great.”

Blake Corum: “Yeah, it’s hit me, but I also realize it could all be gone in an instant.”

Rome Odunze: “I don’t know if it ever will honestly. I’m a pretty even-keeled guy. It’s a blessing for sure but I’m really trying to make sure I stay here.”

Ja’Lynn Polk: “I haven’t really had the chance to reflect. Everything has been moving fast.”

It was a cool and cloudy start to the day. At 7:30 a.m., the majority of players were attentive and excited to be out on the field in their jerseys. As the day progressed, the sun kept creeping out and as a result, the players’ personalities began to shine a little more.

Stations included action shots, promotional videos, portraits, card breaks and interviews.

The interactions were loose and fun for the most part as the guys paused to reflect on the reality of the situation. Complimenting each other’s jerseys and photo-bombing guys at the picture stations.

The one thing that got all the players to perk up was the ball-toss station. The energy from the signing room came right back out. While the quarterbacks gave it an attempt or two for the sake of their pride, everyone who wasn’t a QB wanted to prove they could be one if it came down to it. There were competitions amongst groups of skill players that included racing to complete all four of the targets first and making one pass into the target from the furthest distance.

Players talked about what they looked forward to, whether that was things in the immediate future once they got back to their teams or during the season, like specific moments or matchups.

Troy Franklin: “I’m really ready to get there and prove myself.”

McMillan: “Getting into the playbook and digesting the plays.”

Odunze: “Excited to ball and learn from those guys (Keenan Allen and D.J. Moore). I’m glad to have been able to spend time with fam.”

Malachi Corley: “Training camp and that first game, you have no choice but to feel like you’re in the league then.”

Polk: “The divisional games, I’m already a beast, but that’s going to bring a different beast outta me when it’s packed out in Miami and Buffalo (and New York).”

Audric Estime: “I’m ready to play and meet up with Fred Warner (in the box). ”

Corum: “The first game is gonna be big for me, returning to Michigan and playing in Detroit. I’m also looking forward to playing against my teammates who got drafted.”

Corum also added he was eager to continue adding to his decorated ring collection.

No matter where they went to school, what pick they were drafted, or what their situations are with their franchises, the NFL’s newest crop of elite talent all made it known of their intentions to come in and dominate.