In college, Buffalo Bills tackle Seantrel Henderson earned a reputation as a screw up. But now in the NFL, he's finally starting to show signs of being the player who was once the top offensive lineman recruit in the nation.
Henderson was the Bills' last pick in their 2014 draft class. They took a shot on Henderson's talent despite plenty of off-field reasons why he nearly slid out of the draft. Henderson took reps with the first-team offensive line last week in Buffalo's minicamp and has settled in well with the group.
Henderson is trying to rebound from a precipitous fall from grace. He was supposed to be as close to a sure thing as there is coming out of high school. The massive left tackle out of St. Paul, Minn. was the No. 2 player in the nation in 2010 according to Rivals.com.
But there were no major awards for Henderson and not a single bit of buzz after he completed his four years at the University of Miami. There were three suspensions though. All of his suspensions were for marijuana use, he later admitted.
Henderson never really lived up to his billing after a solid freshmen year, and it's a burden he still carries.
“Even though that's in the past – No. 1 player in the nation and all those things like that don't mean too much – at the same time, I still came out like that and I feel I need to live up to that," Henderson said. "And at the same time, I feel I'm just working and building, building and moving on forward to camp."
Getting a chance to work with Buffalo's starters, even in a minicamp, is a big step for Henderson considering how his draft stock was plummeting earlier this year.
He earned an NFL scouting combine invite this past spring, perhaps based off his name recognition and the immense coverage surrounding his recruitment four years earlier. The combine was supposed to be his chance to shine, instead it was clouded by a failed drug test – again for marijuana use.
Henderson was considered washed up. He was just 22 years old but his career appeared over before it started. Most NFL teams considered him an undrafted rookie free agent at best – if they even had him on their draft board at all. It wouldn't have been a surprise if he wasn't picked.
The Bills took a shot on him, however.
The Bills took Henderson in the seventh round at No. 273 overall, with their final pick of the draft. He was told that their would be zero tolerance for him and that the mistakes of the past had to be just that – in the past. If he got in any trouble, he would be out the door. It was a low-risk, high-reward move for the Bills. If Henderson finally got his head on right, he was a first-round talent. If he flaked out, he would be another low draft pick cast aside.
So far, it is working out for the Bills – and Henderson.
Last week, Henderson stepped into the first team at left tackle with several injuries keeping regular starters out. There is talk that he impressed the coaching staff and could be in the mix for a roster spot and also for a starting job.
He admits that to stick in the league, he can't go back to the same old ways that got him suspended three times in college and fail a drug test at the combine.
“Just taking everything a day at time," Henderson said. "Just staying positive all times. Working throughout and doing everything. Keeping myself busy. That's all the past. As of right now, I'm not trying to look back at that.”
When he was selected by Buffalo, there were obvious question marks about him. The character concerns were a key issue as was his underwhelming game film.
“Can he be consistent enough and be disciplined enough and have the structure to be a pro?" Bills coach Doug Marrone wondered publicly about Henderson during a press conference in May. "That’s what being a pro is really.”
The NFL is filled with cautionary tales of stud athletes who flame out. There's more celebrity in the NFL along with more money and free time. There isn't the structure of college with classes and study halls and tutoring sessions. Once practice and the weight room and film study is over, an NFL player's time is his own.
And with a pocket full of cash, the temptations for Henderson are much bigger than in college, even if he has traded South Beach's sins for more quiet surroundings in Buffalo.
He credits the Bills for giving him a support staff to help him take things one step at a time.
“I can talk to them about anything I've got going on personally or in life period. I've got people here that I can talk to that can help me out throughout the day,” Henderson said.
He doesn't go out most nights but stays at the team hotel and spends a couple extra hours studying the playbook. At Miami, he never really took to the playbook but in the NFL, suddenly it is clicking.
And he is actually is enjoying the accountability of the locker room and – gasp – studying the playbook isn't a terrible chore.
“I think everything is coming together," Henderson said. "Just moving forward, getting to know everybody. Things are going good right now.
"As far as the workouts and learning the playbook – I never learned anything this fast. I actually got things down pat. I'm not saying I'm all the way there but I'm further ahead then I thought I would be at this point. That makes me feel real good and gives me a little more confidence in my game also."
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Kristian R. Dyer writes for Metro New York and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KristianRDyer
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