In the NFL, complacency kills.
Think you’ve done enough? Lose that desire to constantly improve? Cool, here’s a line of a dozen comparably talented players ready to take your reps, starting job or roster spot.
New England Patriots offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor knows that feeling all too well.
Eluemunor’s journey to the NFL was an inspiring one. Raised in London, he took up football after moving to the United States at age 14, starred at Lackawanna Junior College after being ignored by every big-time program, landed a scholarship at Texas A&M and turned himself into a bona fide pro prospect. The Baltimore Ravens selected him in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, making him just the 14th British-born player drafted since 1970.
But once he reached the pros, Eluemunor plateaued. He played 18% of Baltimore’s offensive snaps in 2017 (mostly at right guard) and 8% in 2018 (mostly at left tackle). He also spent a month on the Ravens’ practice squad after being released early in his second season. Amid questions about his conditioning and commitment, he was traded to the Patriots a week before last year’s season opener.
Eluemunor fared no better in New England.
Despite trading a fourth-round draft pick to acquire him (along with a sixth-rounder), head coach Bill Belichick stapled Eluemunor to the bench in 2019. Eluemunor played just 2.5% of the Patriots’ offensive snaps — 29 total, a team-low among O-linemen — and was inactive for their final five games. Journeyman James Ferentz, who’d never taken a regular-season snap at guard, leapfrogged Eluemunor to become New England’s top interior O-line backup, logging 204 offensive snaps and staring two games.
For this, Eluemunor blames only himself.
In a remarkably candid interview Thursday, the 25-year-old admitted he “got comfortable” and lost his work ethic after reaching the NFL. This offseason, he rediscovered it.
“I feel like my first three years in NFL, I was under the impression that, you know, I finally made it,” Eluemunor said in a video conference. “You know, this little kid from England moved here with not that much and made it the NFL. … I got comfortable, and that’s one thing you can never do in the NFL is get comfortable, because things can change in the flip of a hand.
“So coming into this season, I was like, ‘I’m not going to be comfortable.’ Whatever happens, happens. But I’m going to make sure that I work as hard as I can and give everything I got and empty the tank out after every single practice so I come off the field saying I gave everything I had. And if I made a mistake or my technique wasn’t right in one place, fix it and never make that mistake again.”
Eluemunor didn’t need to find this motivation as much as rekindle it.
It was there at Lackawanna, when he sought to prove wrong the college recruiters who’d doubted his talent. It was there at Texas A&M, when he still felt like an underdog.
“JUCO is a grind,” Eluemunor said. “Anyone who went to JUCO will tell you the same thing. You don’t have much there for you. All you have is your team and your little room in your dorm and that’s it. You have used cleats, used helmets, used shoulder pads, so it’s not like the NFL where you can go in the equipment room and get up a new pair of cleats. My cleats cost 10 bucks in JUCO. But it’s just a mentality that I’m trying to get out there because I know there’s something bigger. I don’t get comfortable and, yeah, I can be good here, but it’s not about being here, it’s about getting to the next place.
“Playing in high school, I only played one year, and I didn’t really have too good of a year. I had teams telling me I wasn’t good enough. And I took that mentality in JUCO, saying I wasn’t good enough, having a chip on my shoulder. And that helped me get to where I got to, get to A&M, and my senior year, I feel like I had that same mentality. And I lost that my first few years (in the NFL) because I got way too comfortable. I’m not afraid to say that and acknowledge that, because I did get too comfortable. I feel like I finally found that mentality that got me here. And I’m not going to lose it, because I’m never going to get comfortable again. I’m just gonna keep working and working until the day I feel like I’m done playing football.”
Eluemunor now has a golden opportunity to revive what still is a relatively young NFL career. With Marcus Cannon opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, Eluemunor has looked like the Patriots’ top choice at right tackle since Day 1 of training camp despite not playing there on a regular basis since his final collegiate season.
Regardless of whether he’s installed at the starter, he plans to operate as if his job is in constant jeopardy.
“If that is me at right tackle in Week 1, I’m not going to be comfortable,” Eluemunor said. “I’m not going to be like, ‘It?s mine,’ because I can lose it the next week if I don’t perform up to the Patriots’ standards. So just having a mentality (of) don’t get comfortable and keep working, give everything you’ve got and never quit.”