Draft Day: Are Bo Callahan and Vontae Mack Real NFL Players?

‘Draft Day,’ directed by Ivan Reitman, is a sports drama film that follows an NFL Team Manager in the 12-hour lead-up to the draft picks that will determine the course of his and numerous players’ careers. On the morning of the NFL draft, where teams will be picking their players for the season, Cleveland Browns’ GM Sonny Weaver Jr. strikes a trade that secures him the first pick. Nevertheless, due to the high risk attached to the trade, Sonny must put everything he has into his strategy and secure a promising team for the Browns.

Within the narrative, Sonny remains torn between two players more than any others: Bo Callahan, Wisconsin’s favorable quarterback who’s on everyone’s radar, and Ohio’s talented— but underdog, linebacker, Vontae Mack. As such, even though the film prioritizes the managerial aspect of football, these two players remain significant throughout the plot. However, do either Callahan or Mack have real-life NFL counterparts?

Bo Callahan: Fictional Football Player With Real-life Similarities

No, Bo Callahan from ‘Draft Day’ is not based on a real NFL player. Even though the film revolves around a real-life occurrence— the NFL draft picks— the events as they transpired within the storyline remain a work of fiction. Therefore, even though the NFL and its teams are picked straight from reality, most characters— from players to managers— are fictitious additions. Thus, Bo Callahan, the central catalyst within the film, is confined to the world of fictionality.

Yet, the film’s creators— director Reitman and the screenwriting duo Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph— wanted to maintain authenticity within this peculiar sports-driven film. Even though ‘Draft Day’ strives to appeal to a diverse audience, regardless of their preference for football, the creators themselves share a communal love for the sport. Therefore, it was inevitable that some real-life parallels persisted within the film’s fictional narrative.

Callahan occupies an instrumental space within the plot as the season’s predicted top pick. Although Sonny had never considered him for the Browns, pressure from the team owner leads him to make a risky play that changes everything. Yet, as the actual draft nears, Sonny continues doubting his decision. Reportedly, the inspiration for this premise came from the real-life career of Ryan Leaf, drafted as the second pick for the San Diego Chargers in 1998, whose career ended due to a blend of injuries and poor play.

Rothman spoke about the same in an interview and said, “Why didn’t Ryan Leaf happen the way everyone thought he would happen? Then, on the other side, could there be a person who could have seen that he wasn’t going to happen?” He added, “[But] I was fascinated by, what if there was a guy who could see what the flaw in Ryan Leaf was? Then, OK, if there was a guy like that, what did he see? I’m not sure anyone ever gave us a great answer to that question, and that’s something we really at least tried to explore in the script.”

Interestingly, the film’s director, Reitman, drew a different parallel for Callahan’s character, equating him to a representation of Johnny Manzie, who had a short-lived career with the Cleveland Browns. “We had him [Manzie] see the movie, and I was wondering if he was going to be insulted by it, but he and his manager really liked it.” the filmmaker told Direct Conversations. Ultimately. Although neither Manzie nor Leaf charted an identical path to ‘Draft Day’s’ Bo Callahan, they ended up informing the latter’s realism through their real-life inspirations.

Vontae Mack and Ray Lewis

Similar to Callahan, Vontae Mack is also a fictional character with some real-life inspiration tied to him. Within the film, Mack remains a stark contrast to Callahan. While both players are skilled in their separate ways, Mack is a much better fit for the Browns, even if he might not make for the most dramatically gripping choice. Sonny is aware of the same, which becomes the root of his conflict.

Screenwriters Joseph and Rothman liken Mack’s character to Ray Lewis, who had a 17-year career in the NFL, the entirety of which was spent as a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Thus, the player was integral to the team in a way that Sonny believes Mack can be for the Browns. As a result, citing Lewis as a definitive inspiration for Mack, Joseph said, “Ray Lewis embodies the Ravens franchise in a way that transcends good playing, and he went 26th in the draft the year he was selected, and there were three linebackers taken before him. Who missed the boat on that one? Everyone. If someone had known it, what would they have done differently?”

Consequently, Lewis became the inspiration for Mack in the same way that Leaf’s career’s unpredictable trajectory compelled Callahan’s character creation. Even though neither characters chart a similar path to their off-screen inspirations, they exist as a what-if scenario originating from the latters’ careers.

Read More: Is Draft Day Based on a True Story?