Tell-All: NFL Rookies Bare their Souls to the Panini America Editorial Department

May 24, 2013


The 2013 NFLPA Rookie Premiere was an overwhelming success for Panini America, highlighted, of course, by last Saturday’s photo shoot at the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Among the myriad highlight-reel moments was an impromptu freestyle rap session courtesy of Seahawks running back Christine Michael (who, incidentally, has the firmest handshake since Michael Irvin) and a laser-like 50-yard pass from Vikings wideout Cordarrelle Patterson that drilled the crossbar of the goalpost.

For the first time at this event, the Panini America Editorial Department interviewed each of the 40 players in attendance, and while the majority of that information will appear on the backs of future trading cards, we’re going to share some of our favorite answers here. Enjoy.

If you could watch a football game with any four people, living or dead, who would they be:

E.J. Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills: “My grandfather, Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson and Bill Clinton.”

Gavin Escobar, TE, Dallas Cowboys: “Michael Jordan, even though he didn’t play football he was still my hero growing up. Maybe Tony Dungy. I’m going to throw in MLK (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and Gandhi in there. That would be an interesting group.”

Tyler Wilson, QB, Oakland Raiders: “Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi.”

Stedman Bailey, WR, St. Louis Rams: “My late grandfather, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jay-Z and Gabrielle Union.”

Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams: “Barry Sanders, Kim Kardashian, Alicia Keys and Young Jeezy.”

Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets: “Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick.”

Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: “John Madden, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath and Ochocinco.”

Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles: “Vince Lombardi, John Mackey, my mother and Ray Lewis.”

Matt Barkley, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: “Jon Gruden, John Madden, Al Michaels and Peyton Manning.”

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans: “My dad, Martin Luther King Jr., President Obama and Abraham Lincoln.”

Landry Jones, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: “Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Will Ferrell and Denzel Washington.”

Johnathan Franklin, RB, Green Bay Packers: “Kevin Hart, my grandfather, Barry Sanders and King Solomon.”


Who was your favorite football player growing up?

Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams: “Barry Sanders.”

Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos: “Terrell Davis is my idol, so just to hear John Elway compare me to him when Denver drafted me was great. For me, it’s a dream come true. I think Terrell is the best running back to ever play the game.”

Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins: “Steve Smith. I just liked the way he played, a little dude that played with a lot of tenacity and was a great competitor. He was real tough and never shied away from contact going across the middle and that inspired me to be like that.” 

Vance McDonald, TE, San Francisco 49ers: “I was a bigger basketball fan. I didn’t have a single football player. My favorite basketball player was Michael Jordan.”

Marcus Lattimore, RB, San Francisco 49ers: “LaDainian Tomlinson. I was able to meet him at the (Scouting) Combine and it was an incredible experience for me.”

Aaron Dobson, WR, New England Patriots: “My favorite player was Michael Vick. From a receiver standpoint I like watching Larry Fitzgerald. He’s a real humble guy and he works real hard and he’s a great receiver.”

Quinton Patton, WR, San Francisco 49ers: “I didn’t get to watch Jerry Rice much. My favorite (growing up), before he changed his name, was Chad Johnson.”

Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys: “Deion Sanders was my favorite player growing up. He played the game with so much speed and played physical and he always wanted to guard the best player. That’s probably why I want the best corner to guard me.”

Mike Gillislee, RB, Miami Dolphins: “Ricky Williams. I always liked to watch him, especially when he was down South in Miami.”

E.J. Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills: “Donovan McNabb. My father was a Philly fan. Now, he’s a Buffalo fan.”

Le’veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: “Curtis Martin.”


Who is the best to ever play your position?

Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: “Barry Sanders.”

E.J. Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills: “Peyton Manning. A technician out there, just orchestrates his offense.”

Tyler Wilson, QB, Oakland Raiders: “Peyton Manning.”

Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: “Joe Montana was a little before my time, I’ll go with Peyton Manning.”

Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets: “Tom Brady.”

Ryan Nassib, QB, New York Giants: “Joe Montana.”

Landry Jones, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: “Terry Bradshaw because he won four Super Bowls.”

Denard Robinson, QB/RB/WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: “Tom Brady … he went to Michigan. And Michael Vick.”

Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks: “Emmitt Smith.”

Stepfan Taylor, RB, Arizona Cardinals: “Barry Sanders.”

Knile Davis, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: “Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Eric Dickerson and Adrian Peterson.”

Joseph Randle, RB, Dallas Cowboys: “It’s hard to say just one name. Like, who is the best at what? There are a lot of different types of backs. I mean, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a back exactly like me. I don’t think we’ll ever see another back like Barry (Sanders), like Jim Brown, Marcus Allen, Eric Dickerson, Roger Craig and Emmitt Smith. There’s never going to be another guy exactly like those guys.”

Gavin Escobar, TE, Dallas Cowboys: “I didn’t get to watch him play, but I read John Mackey’s book, so I have to go with him. I’ve seen some of those old NFL Films clips and he was unstoppable.”

 Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins: “John Mackey. I found out about him later in my college career, but I heard about all the accomplishments he had and the way he played. I was just amazed by it. He even returned kickoffs.”

Vance McDonald, TE, San Francisco 49ers: “Tony Gonzalez. He’s done some great things. Of course, I have to go with the guy that had my number, Mike Ditka. As much as it’s coming up, I have to do more homework.”

Kenny Stills, WR, New Orleans Saints: “I would say Randy Moss, loved the way he stretched the field, made big plays and he was always scoring touchdowns.”

Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams: “As far as receivers there is only the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time): Jerry Rice.”

Aaron Dobson, WR, New England Patriots: “I have to say Jerry Rice.”

Stedman Bailey, WR, St. Louis Rams: “Jerry Rice, best to ever do it.”

Dion Jordan, DE, Miami Dolphins: “Bruce Smith, hands down.”


Who has been the biggest influence on your football career?

Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks: “My mother. I see her and she’s a hard-working woman. She’s very dedicated to what she does, dedicated to her children, making sure whatever we want to do in life we do it as far as going to school and getting our degrees. That’s the most influential person in my life, just not with football, outside of football, anything. She’s just a great woman overall.

“She’s definitely supportive. But her thing was going to school and getting my degree. She always used to say, ‘Anyone can play football. But how many are going to go to school and get their degree?’ That’s what she stressed to me and my other brothers and sisters as well.”

Marcus Lattimore, RB, San Francisco 49ers: “Bobby Bentley, my high school coach. We won a lot of games in high school but that really didn’t matter. He taught us about life. He taught us about being able to trust people, being committed and, for one, he taught me about humility. Never think you’re better than somebody else. I’ve carried those values as long as I’ve been living.”

Aaron Dobson, WR, New England Patriots: “I would have to say my father, most definitely. He just pushed me to another level. I was young and sometimes I didn’t want to do stuff and he just kept me in it and kept pushing me. I really am where I am today because of him.”

Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams: “Barry Sanders just because of how small he was and the position I played when I was young.”

Mike Gillislee, RB, Miami Dolphins: “Nobody. I’ve always motivated myself. Me.”

Matt Barkley, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: “Definitely my father because of the values he’s instilled in me of leadership and competitive nature and never being satisfied with a goal or a milestone you’ve reached, but pushing past that and becoming a better player. He was a two-time All-American water polo player at USC. He definitely taught me lessons of perseverance and how to handle adversity.”

Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles: “Brent Jones, the former tight end of the 49ers. He came back to coach me in my junior year of high school and ever since then we’ve had a very good bond and he’s helped me out a lot. There’s a lot of mustard behind his points per se.”

Knile Davis, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: “My stepfather. First of all, he was my stepfather so he didn’t have to do what he did. He came in my life around second grade. I remember in eighth grade he asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to play professional ball and he sat me down and looked at Adrian Peterson’s size and speed and that’s who we wanted to mirror.

“Every day we worked to get to that size, that speed. From eighth to 12th grade till I got my scholarship, all grinding every day. He’s the reason I’m here. Sadly he passed my freshman year in college, but I owe him everything.”

What was your Draft Day experience like?

Johnathan Franklin, RB, Green Bay Packers: “The draft was a very humbling experience for me and a blessing in disguise. Going into the draft I was told by commentators on TV or my agent, I was perhaps the No. 1 or 2 running back. I might go at the end of the first round or the second round and I went in the fourth. I said, Friday it’s happening so I had over my family and friends and had a camera crew and it didn’t happen. Just standing there smiling and telling everyone there it’s OK wasn’t easy.

“It’s real humbling but I understood that my life isn’t in man’s hands but God’s hands. It helped me to let go and understand who He is and how big He is. It was such a blessing in disguise because it strengthened my faith and I felt it made me a better person.”

Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers: “I was at the house playing pool when I got the call. I was pretty chill at the moment and then the phone call came in and the excitement, everybody started screaming and stuff. There are a lot of guarantees made that aren’t actually going through. There’s a lot of disappointment and frustration going on but once the phone call comes, it all goes away and everything is all good.”

Marquise Goodwin, WR, Buffalo Bills: “It wasn’t stressful for me at all. I didn’t make more of it than what it really was. I have a lot of friends that play in the NFL and they already put me up on what to expect. Don’t get my hopes up on draft day because you never where you can go. And Buffalo, I had no idea that I’d be going to Buffalo. I didn’t take visits anywhere.”

Robert Woods, RB, Buffalo Bills: “For me, the first day was a little emotional. It was a slight possibility but I saw there were a lot of defensive players. Second day I went to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, I think it came on at 4 and I started to watch the draft. Name got called, turned off the TV.”

Andre Ellington, WR, Arizona Cardinals: “It was an amazing process. It’s just a little stressful sitting around and not knowing where you are going to end up. When the phone rang, I knew it was the area code of Phoenix and had an idea I’d be with the Arizona Cardinals.”

Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: “I had nothing to stress about. Everybody in the draft, we’re all blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of something like that. Everything was enjoyable even though you’re sitting there waiting for your name, we enjoyed that whole thing.”

Photography provided by Todd Wawrychuk. A small gallery of Wawrychuk’s images follows. Stay tuned to The Knight’s Lance for more.