Friedlander: Zay Flowers bet on himself and blossomed into a 1st-round NFL Draft pick
Zay Flowers had offers.
Not Jordan Addison-type offers, mind you. But big enough that Boston College’s star receiver considered them to contain “life-changing money.”
Despite the lure of name, image and likeness deals he said would pay him $600,000 to transfer to 1 of 2 schools he declined to identify, Flowers opted to stay at Boston College for his final season of college eligibility.
He chose loyalty over cash. And for a while, it appeared to be a costly decision.
It’s not that he played poorly. His 78 catches, 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns were all career highs.
He just became something of an afterthought nationally as the only viable weapon on a team that lost its quarterback to injury and ranked dead last in the ACC in total offense while stumbling to a 3-9 finish.
There were also questions about his size, at 5-9, 182 pounds.
Talent, however, always finds a way to get discovered. Especially by the NFL.
Flowers finally began turning heads at the East-West Shrine Bowl, where he was named the top receiver at practices leading up to the prestigious college all-star game. His stock continued to rise at the NFL Combine with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and sure hands in passing drills.
Thursday night in Kansas City, Flowers’ gamble on himself paid off in a big way when he was taken by the Baltimore Ravens with the 22nd overall selection in the 1st round.
— East-West Shrine Bowl (@ShrineBowl) April 28, 2023
“I’m proud of the patience,” Flowers, dressed in a black leather suit, adorned with sequins down the sleeves of his jacket and the seams of his pants, told ESPN’s Suzy Kolber moments after his name was called.
“I just fought through everything, no matter what it was. Adversity. I had my family, I had my friends. I had everybody by my side. Coach (Jeff) Hafley stuck by me and gave me his word, and he helped me with this opportunity.”
The adversity Flowers mentioned goes far beyond anything he experienced on the football field.
He grew up in a family of 14 children, raised by a single father after his mother died of a head injury when he was just 5. An older brother was shot and killed while he was in high school.
But as he mentioned at the ACC’s preseason media event in Charlotte last summer, those tragedies only strengthened his resolve to succeed and represent his family in a positive manner. On the biggest night of his football life, the proud son wore a photo of his late mother over his heart inside a large gold pendant.
Zay Flowers' mom died when he was 5 years old.
He wore a chain with an image of his mother on it for NFL Draft night ❤️ pic.twitter.com/wnS6q5Oz9i
— The Sporting News (@sportingnews) April 28, 2023
While she continues to be Flowers’ inspiration, it was his father Willie Flowers that provided the most guidance in persuading him to stick it out at BC rather than transferring to a higher-profile school.
“My father is thinking ahead for my future,” Zay said. “He’s got my best intentions in mind. He really loves me and wants the best for me. The BC degree is a lot more valuable than the degree from a lot of the schools reaching out.”
In a twist of irony, Flowers’ selection at No. 22 came 1 pick earlier than Addison, the former Biletnikoff Award winner who took the opposite approach by taking the NIL money and running to Southern Cal after spending his 1st 2 seasons at Pittsburgh.
Addison went No. 23 to the Minnesota Vikings.
Suffice it to say that the money Flowers left on the table by staying at BC will pale significantly to the deal he’s about to receive as a 1st-round NFL Draft pick.
But the financial windfall isn’t the only reason Flowers should be considered among the biggest winners of Thursday’s opening round. As an explosive playmaking receiver, he couldn’t have hand-picked a better situation in which to begin his professional career.
His selection came only hours after the Ravens re-signed star quarterback Lamar Jackson, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Louisville, to a 5-year, $260 million contract extension.
Jackson has been unhappy with the team’s management, partially because of an offense that relied too heavily on the ground game and a receiving corps that amassed the fewest yards in the NFL last season.
But the recent hiring of a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken and the addition of a new target who has been compared favorably to Miami Dolphins Pro Bowler Tyreek Hill has clearly put him in a better mood.
It sure seemed that way from his excited social media posts shortly before and after the announcement of Flowers’ selection.
I’m smelling More good news🤭😅 dropping soon👀👀👀👀👀 pic.twitter.com/OmTSyPNGCn
— Lamar Jackson (@Lj_era8) April 28, 2023
The newest member of the Ravens was just as excited at the prospect of being on the receiving end of passes thrown by the 2019 NFL MVP.
“Tell him let’s do it!” he exclaimed with a wide grin. “We’re about to work.”
Like Flowers, Jackson also bet on himself by playing hardball with the Ravens in his contract negotiations, going so far as threatening to sit out the 2023 season if he didn’t get the deal he wanted on his terms.
Thursday night, both their gambles paid off. Now, together, they have a chance to help the Ravens hit the jackpot.