For more than three months, former Wildcat stars Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke have turned draft preparation into an art form.
Since Kentucky's trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl, the two have been evaluated by every team in the NFL. They've been poked and prodded at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. They've showcased their skills in front of dozens of scouts at UK's Pro Day. They've traveled for private workouts with individual team in states all across the country.
With the NFL Draft (April 28-30) finally at hand, Cobb and Locke are more than ready to finally learn what their professional future holds.
"Of course I'm excited," Locke said. "For one, just to see who I'm going to be around and where I'm going to be living. It will be a weight lifted off my shoulders once I know where I'm going to be."
In spite of his readiness for the next step, Cobb is thankful for the opportunities afforded to him by the draft process and for all the relationships he has developed in that time.
"It's been great," Cobb said. "Moving forward I think it's going to help me a lot with my career with the people I've met and the ways I can help them and they can help me. It's just a great opportunity to be around all those people."
Leading up to the draft, Cobb has been a popular topic with scouts. Teams were aware of his spectacular UK career that saw him score a school record 37 career touchdowns and gain a Southeastern Conference record 2,396 all-purpose yards during his junior season, but his performances in workouts, interviews and drills have helped his stock skyrocket. According to most, the Alcoa, Tenn., native is projected as a second-round pick with a possibility of moving into the bottom of the first round.
Cobb is now so highly rated that he will be one of 25 prospects in the NFL Draft "green room" in New York City's Radio City Music Hall. His mother, father and two siblings will be alongside. Cobb called the invitation "an honor and a blessing," but the trip has been a whirlwind since his arrival in New York on Tuesday.
"Right now it's just non-stop," Cobb said. "We have a lot of events to take care of and a lot of people to meet. It's just a great opportunity. My family will be up here this evening and I'll go to some parties and stuff with them, so it will be fun. This is my first time in the city of New York and having my family up here will be great. I'm going to enjoy spending time with them."
Cobb also said he looks forward to sharing the experience with his fellow draftees.
"It's very rewarding," Cobb said. "It's really a blessing to have so many guys that I've been watching and keeping up with over the past few years and to spend this moment with them."
With the new structure of the draft, the first round will take place beginning on Thursday at 8 p.m. on ESPN with coverage of the second and third rounds beginning on Friday at 6 p.m. and the fourth through seventh rounds at noon on Saturday. Cobb will likely be off the board by early Friday and it's his ability to do so many different things that makes him so attractive.
"The main thing they like about me is my versatility and the way I can do so many different things and how I can help their team and how I can fit into their program and their offense," Cobb said. "Also they like the fact that I'm level headed off the field and I take care of business off the field."
Cobb reports that teams have recommended he focus on improving his route running but reminded him to keep playing the style that made him an All-American at UK.
"A lot of teams have told me just to be me," Cobb said. "Being me is what got me here and I'll continue to try to progress on the field, but I'm going to keep playing like I've always played."
While Cobb will likely be selected by the end of the second round, Locke will have to wait a little longer to learn his fate. Locke is regarded as a mid- to late-round draft pick and really can't be sure of what will happen, so the main thing he's worried about is getting his chance.
"I'm really not expecting too much," Locke said. "I know I'm expecting to hear my name called, but what round and so forth I have no idea. I'm excited for it though. Whatever happens happens."
Locke will clearly be very interested in the results of this weekend's draft, but he is unsure of even whether he will watch.
"I'm really not sure what I want to do yet," Locke said. "I might just be off by myself or something. As for having a big draft party and all that kind of stuff, I might not even do that."
Locke is keeping the entire process in perspective because he knows that, regardless of where he's drafted, he has a lot of work ahead of him.
"You're so close but you're so far away," Locke said. "Getting drafted or making a team is just getting your foot in the door. To actually be out there playing, that's so far away. You still have to do so much more before you can get too excited, but to be able to make it this far as an NFL prospect, I'm happy but I'm still pushing forward."
Although Locke originally came to UK as a track athlete that also played football, he is not one of those NFL prospects that says an opportunity to play professionally came as a surprise.
"I always felt like I could make it," Locke said. "I wouldn't have played in college if I didn't feel like I could make it. Some guys go to college to say they played college football and that's great, but that wasn't for me. I always felt like I could do it or I wouldn't have played."
Like Cobb, Locke will bring a willingness to work to which ever team gives him his shot that he says will make any investment made in him worthwhile.
"They're going to get somebody that's going to continue to work," Locke said. "I know I'm young but I understand this business, so I just want to get out there and continue to play and do good things. Whoever gets me, whatever kind of money they spend on me it's going to be worth it. I'm going to make sure it's worth it."
Cobb and Locke will have very different draft experiences from one another, but the same daunting prospect faces them both afterwards. The ongoing labor battle between the NFL's owners and players has brought an element of uncertainty to this offseason and could drastically limit the amount of time that incoming rookies get to spend with their new teams.
Frustratingly, the lockout is out of their hands and Cobb recognizes that all he can do is keep himself ready for whenever an agreement is reached, although he doesn't know where he'll do so.
"I don't know exactly where I'll be," Cobb said, "but I'm going to make sure I stay in shape because I'll never know when it's going to be over so I'm going to make sure my body is ready."
Perhaps Cobb will rejoin his former teammate in Lexington. Locke does not anticipate that the labor situation will be resolved anytime soon and has already made plans to train with UK strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver.
"I feel like the lockout is going to continue for a while and I plan on coming back to Lexington and training with coach Rock," Locke said. "That way I know I'm getting some of the best training period."
An ancillary benefit of returning to the Bluegrass is being around a place that Locke came to call home during his four years as a Wildcat.
"Every time I come to Kentucky I feel like that's home to me," Locke said.
Locke also knows he can count on the support of the Big Blue Nation when he reaches the professional ranks.
"Whether I'm being criticized by someone or whatever, they're going to have my back," Locke said. "That's a good feeling. I'll always know I'm making somebody proud and somebody's getting joy out of what I'm doing because I was at Kentucky."
If his achievements at UK are any indication, Cobb figures to quickly endear himself to the fans of his new team, but he'll never lose the ones he made in Kentucky.
"We've got some of the best fans in the world," Cobb said. "It's awesome that I've got them behind me and they'll always be on my side no matter what."