Introducing Our New Book, Moving the Chains: A Parent’s Guide to the NFL Draft

Today’s a day that’s been years in the making.

When you get into the business of helping people succeed in football, you get a grass-roots understanding of the problems they face. When I launched Inside the League in 2002, the idea was to root out and expose the bad agents in the business as well as cracking the scouting code and figuring out why some players make it to the NFL and others don’t. We’re pretty much 0-for-2 on those goals, but there’s something we have gotten pretty good at: helping parents and their sons negotiate the obstacles of the NFL Draft process.

The parents of players like Giants DE Connor Barwin (2/46, Texans, 2009), Cardinals WO Christian Kirk (2/47, Cardinals, 2018), Dolphins OC Travis Swanson (3/76, Lions, 2014), Jaguars DT Taven Bryan (1/29, Jaguars, 2018), Redskins OT Morgan Moses (3/66, Redskins, 2014) and many more have read our newsletter during the run-up to their sons’ respective selections in the draft. Many of them have been kind enough to give us testimonials.

I think they’ve found our series helpful because it breaks down what NFL scouts do, how all-star games work, what you should expect from an agent, who gets invited to the NFL Combine, and a number of other topics. You can get an overview of our series here. For five years now, we’ve cold-called the parents of rising seniors and pitched them on our free newsletter. We’ve gotten some interesting responses for sure, but enough people took us up on our offer that we’re still reaching out to parents even today.

However, there’s more to the topic than can be covered in four weeks, so we expanded our newsletter into a book, and today, we introduce Moving the Chains: A Parent’s Guide to the NFL Draft. If you’ve read our newsletter, the first quarter of the book will look very familiar to you. However, in the rest of the book, we develop all the things we touch on and really tell stories, provide numbers, and share nuggets that we just can’t provide within the bounds of a newsletter series.

Maybe you’re the parent of a young man who will be eligible in this or a coming draft cycle. Maybe you’re an aspiring NFL player who’s still a few years away, or you’re close to someone who is. Maybe you hope to be an agent someday, or you’re a college student majoring in sport management and thinking hard about being a contract advisor or scout. My book is something you should read. We go inside the process in a way that I always sought before I launched my site. And believe me, all of this matters. You can learn it the hard way, but why would you?

Here’s the best part. It’s just $12.95. It’s about the cost of a burger and fries at your favorite fast-food joint, or a piece of pie at one of those fancy dessert places.

Here’s the next-best part. It’s only 150 pages. You can read it in a couple hours. I mean, come on, it’s football. Our idea of a big word is “substantial” or “Indianapolis.” You can handle it. If your wacko uncle starts going off about politics at the Thanksgiving table, you can excuse yourself, read our book, and by the time you’re done, he’ll be sleeping off the turkey. You’ll be all set.

Want to learn more? We’ll talk about it more in today’s Friday Wrap, which comes out at 7:30 p.m. EST. It’s free, and you can register for it here.

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Who Did The Best In The ’18 NFL Draft? Here Are Five Candidates

Last year, we asked the question, why doesn’t anyone reward the team with the best NFL draft class? When we couldn’t come up with an answer, we decided to step up and do it ourselves. After holding a vote with only current and former NFL scouts voting, we presented the New Orleans Saints with the first-ever ITL Best NFL Draft Class Award for 2017 at our annual combine seminar.

We’ll do it again in February at our 10th annual seminar. But who will voters choose? It’s still too early to tell, but since we’re at midseason, it’s time to take a look at the possible finalists for the award. Here’s who we’re considering with half the season left to go, in no particular order.

  • Browns: It’s been an up-and-down season for the top pick in the draft, but QB Baker Mayfield deserves the benefit of the doubt so far. At worst, he seems to give Cleveland a passer the team can build around. Meanwhile, DC Denzel Ward looks like a keeper, as well, and we’ll know more about OH Nick Chubb by the end of the season as the team shipped out OH Carlos Hyde a week and a half ago. WO Antonio Callaway has provided glimpses of ability, too, as has OB Genard Avery.  Right now, the Browns look like the early leaders for best draft.
  • Colts: First-round OG Quenton Nelson has been solid, but the real find so far has been OB Darius Leonard, a true difference-maker the Colts found in the second round out of South Carolina State. The team also found a starter at right tackle, Braden Smith, one pick later, and fourth-round OH Nyheim Hines has been a threat as a rusher and a receiver.
  • Giants: Running back Saquon Barkley has been as-advertised, an undeniable talent and the leader in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race. Also, DT B.J. Hill looks like a building block, or at least part of the solution on defense. As for the rest of the team’s draft class, the grade has to be ‘incomplete.’ Guard Will Hernandez is learning on the job for a weak offensive line but there’s hope he’ll come away from the season as a bright spot. We may find out sooner rather than later what the team has in QB Kyle Lauletta, though there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding DT R.J. McIntosh.
  • Broncos: Denver struck it rich twice, once in the first round with DE Bradley Chubb and once after the draft, when it landed UDFA OH Phillip Lindsay. We could see a lot more of WO Courtland Sutton in the second half with fellow receiver Demaryius Thomas now in Houston, so their draft could look even better in the second half.
  • Jets: So far, QB Sam Darnold has had his problems, but he’s the starter, no questions asked, so presuming he stays healthy, he’s got a chance to learn from his mistakes and make the Jets’ draft class look really good. In non-franchise QB news, the Jets also got a starter on the DL in the third round (DT Nate Shepherd) and fourth-round TE Chris Herndon is tied for the team lead in receiving TDs with three.

There are several other teams that could edge their way into the top five, and we’ll look at five more of them today in the Friday Wrap.

Not registered for it? Why not? It’s free, it comes out at 7:30 p.m. ET every week, and if you’re into the football business, we promise you’ll find it to be a good read. Register here, and check out last week’s edition here.

Twelve ‘Football People’ the XFL Should Target

On Thursday, we at Inside the League pointed out a couple of the Alliance of American Football’s hires for their central offices, to wit, two men with a strong NFL background (Director of Player Personnel Russ Giglio and Executive V.P. of Football Operations Trey Brown) and another with ESPN ties (Senior Administrator of Player Personnel Joey Roberts).

When you factor in the hires of Bill Polian, Tony Softli and Bill Kuharich to the AAF’s central command, plus the dozens of former NFL GMs and scouts who’ve been hired by the eight league teams, you start to wonder if there will be anyone with experience left for the XFL, which launches in 2020, to hire.

Of course, it’s not as easy as simply Googling “NFL scouts fired.” How do you sort through the self-promoters? How do you know who is worth another shot vs. who totally blew it and doesn’t need to be recycled? Which ones have the energy and patience to be associated with a football startup? And while most people with NFL jobs are loathe to give up their jobs, how do you know which ones might be willing to take a risk?

There will certainly be new scouts, officials and executives that come available by the end of the year, but here’s where I’d start as the league begins to look for real ‘football people.’ However, here’s a dozen people (in no certain order) that warrant consideration if the powers-that-be don’t want to wait.

  • Jeff Bauer, former Director of College Scouting, Jets: Jeff got washed out in New York when Mike Maccagnan took over as GM. He’s no longer in the league because he didn’t play the game — the ‘you scratch my back’ game; he was a DB at Iowa State — and he was never a self-promoter. He’s a guy who kept his mouth shut and did his job. He’s loyal and deserves another chance.
  • Blake Beddingfield, former Director of College Scouting, Titans: Blake has had opportunities, but not the right one yet. He’s highly organized, smart and knowledgeable about scouting as well as the business of football. He’d be an excellent hire.
  • Cody Cejda, Director of Football Operations and Strategy, Northwestern: Cody is the only name on this list without NFL work experience, but he’s a consummate professional, well-connected and highly organized. To succeed, the XFL might have to take a few risks. Cody would be well worth it.
  • Mark Dominik, former GM, Bucs: My understanding is that Dominik has been conducting interview prep from his base in Tampa since he left the Bucs. People with experience running NFL front offices don’t grow on trees.
  • Ray Farmer, former GM, Browns: We all know things weren’t pretty in Cleveland. However, I know Ray as a progressive thinker who was already trying to crack the analytics code when he was dumped in Cleveland, and he’s got an impressive resume.
  • Matt Manocherian, Director of Football Development, Sports Info Solutions: If you want to succeed in today’s pro football environment, you need to do things differently. Matt brings NFL scouting experience (Browns, Saints) as well as a tremendous handle on what analytics can tell you about today’s prospects.

OK, we lied. For the other six candidates we like, you’ll have to wait for our Friday Wrap, which comes out at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can register for it here.

Of course, there are several others that are prominent in the media, such as ex-Browns GM Michael Lombardi of The Ringer, former Eagles Director of Pro Personnel Louis Riddick of ESPN and others. On the other hand, they may see how things have worked out for their former media associate, Jon Gruden, and decide to stay the course. There’s also former Niners GM Trent Baalke, who’s working with the NFL and likely cooling his heels, waiting on another NFL opportunity.

Don’t forget: there’s plenty more to talk about in the business of pro and college football (plus six more men the XFL should be considering), and we do that each week in the Friday Wrap. It’s free, it’s full of information on the business of the game, and it’s read by literally thousands of people in the business as well as others who will be part of its someday. Here’s last week’s edition. Register for it here.

Ask the Scouts: Is Bosa Starting a Bad Trend?

You follow the game, so you already know about Ohio State DE Nick Bosa’s decision to scrap the season and move forward in preparing for the ’19 NFL Draft. The true junior, who has missed the season so far as he’s struggled with a core injury, is expected to be a top-five pick, as was his brother, Joey, in 2016 (1/3, Chargers).

I was curious to know what people in scouting thought about Bosa’s decision, not so much as it specifically affects Bosa, but as it impacts the evaluation process in general. So I reached out to several friends in the business, and asked them this.

Do you think it’s a good thing for scouting (don’t have to wonder if he was healthy this season, gives you a chance to evaluate his backups/more players)? Do you think it’s bad (fewer games to evaluate for Bosa, plus it could ignite a larger trend)? Or does it have very little impact on scouting and player evaluation? 

We talked to 13 active scouts to get their feedback. Though you might expect alarmist responses from a generally traditionalist audience, some applauded Bosa’s decision, or at least expressed understanding of why he did it. Here’s what they said:

  • “I don’t think it will signal a larger trend, but I could see a few top players in a similar situation possibly doing the same thing in the future. I don’t see players en masse sitting out.”
  • “Little impact on scouting. Only thing really is that it may give insight to what he’s going to be like when it comes to contracts down the line.”
  • “It’s all a moot point. Apparently he wasn’t going to be healthy enough to play anyway.”
  • “Same category as players who decide not to play in bowl games. There will be some chatter as to how this will change the ways scouts view this player: does he compete every (day)? Is he a team player? In the end, it won’t make a difference.”
  • “I don’t think it will be a trend any more than how things play out now. It’s all about the advice kids get. I mean, you have (Stanford OH Christian) McCaffery (perceived great kid and team guy) not play in his bowl game vs. the Texas kids who got blown up for leaving their teammates a year ago. I always like to see guys play as much ball in college as possible, but you also have to consider each circumstance on its own.  Rodney Anderson at OU is another one this year.”
  • “Great question. In reality, it doesn’t really matter if it’s good for scouting. What is important is whether it is good for the player and good for the university. Scouts shouldn’t take it personally. If they want to hold it against him or project out how he’ll handle the business of the game, that’s their prerogative. If they simply note the new situation and carry on, that’s probably a healthy way of handling it, too.”

On the other hand, other NFL evaluators saw negatives associated with Bosa’s decision, and not just because of a perceived disloyalty toward his fellow Buckeyes. We’ve got several takes (seven in all) from other scouts that were a bit less bullish on Bosa’s choice. Check them out in this week’s Friday Wrap. You can register to receive it — just as thousands of NFL insiders from across the business spectrum do each week — right here.

Were you a little late to register? No sweat. You can access our Friday Wrap for Oct. 19 here.

NFL Draft Analysis: Is It Mostly Good or Bad to Skip Your Senior Year?

At Inside the League, we’re always interested in looking at the draft in ways others don’t. With half the college season wrapping up after this weekend, this week, we thought we’d look at the true juniors, redshirt juniors and redshirt sophomores that might be thinking of passing up their respective seasons.

We hear a lot about the poor decisions so many players make in leaving early, and how the number of early entries is inclining steadily. The NFL puts a lot of resources into educating players on their pro chances, yet still, the perception is that countless players are throwing away their college careers to chase wild dreams, often egged on by unscrupulous agents.

Based on our look at the numbers, that perception doesn’t match reality. Do players who leave early blow their chances of getting to the league? For the most part, no. Consider.

  • About one in seven players who leave early (15.5 percent) won’t make a 53-man roster or practice squad at all. Looking at those numbers as half-full, rather than half-empty, just over 84 percent will make an NFL team, at least for a little while.
  • Numbers aren’t available on what percentage, on average, doesn’t even make it to an NFL camp, but I’d estimate it’s about half of that. Again, turning the numbers to half-full, I’d estimate that more than 90 percent of those leaving early at least make it into a camp.
  • Would another year in college have made any difference? It’s impossible to tell. What percentage of those players left school with eligibility remaining, but already had a degree? Those are also numbers we don’t have.
  • More on education and degree completion: it’s worth noting that most often, offensive linemen make it furthest in their coursework because they redshirt their first seasons. However, of the 87 players in the last five years who left early but never made it to the regular season, just six were offensive linemen.
  • More on the players that never made it to the regular season: 26 of 87 (about 30 percent) were from FCS-or-smaller schools, which statistically only make up about nine percent of the league anyway. If you’re leaving early for the NFL and you didn’t play FBS, it’s like having to notch a hole in one for the chance to make a half-court shot. The odds aren’t good.

At the end of the day, if you’re a player who feels he’s had a good season, is ready for the league, and has explored all his options and submitted his name for review with the NFL, I don’t think it’s a completely outrageous idea. After all, the NFL can be a very fickle organization, and your chances this time next year are not automatically as good as they are this year, especially when you figure in the chance of injury.

At the same time, before you make any decisions, we recommend you look at the hard numbers, which you can do here (with an ITL account, that is; sorry).

One question we’ve avoided entirely in this space is, what are the statistical chances a player who leaves early gets drafted? We take a long look at that in this week’s Friday Wrap, analyzing our statistical breakdown, which is presented here (sorry, it’s an ITL link again).

Make sure to check out our full look at early entries, where they wind up, and why in today’s Friday Wrap. You can register for it here.

Ask the GM: How Does a Team Handle an Earl Thomas Situation?

It’s been a privilege to get to know former Bears GM Jerry Angelo over the last few years. Jerry is not only an incredibly connected and experienced veteran of NFL front offices (scouting with the Cowboys and Giants and serving as personnel director of the Bucs before heading to Chicago), but he’s a true gentleman and a man of great class.

Jerry has headed Inside the League’s interview prep work over the last couple years, and he’s worked in classroom settings and one on one with dozens of top draft prospects over the last several years. However, Jerry’s true value comes in drawing on his time in the league to address situations that arise in the NFL. He’s a great sounding  board and provides counsel on a number of football topics to people across the game.

For this reason, I reached out to Jerry this week to give me some perspective on a storyline that has dominated the early going of the 2018 season (and to some degree, even ’17): Seahawks safety Earl Thomas and his ongoing attempt to get a new deal from Seattle or to press for a trade to a team that will give him one.

There aren’t many people alive with first-hand experience in situations like the one that faces Thomas and the Seahawks, but Jerry is one of them. With that in mind, I decided to ask him about the Thomas scenario in Seattle as well as the Bell situation in Pittsburgh. My questions, and Jerry’s answers, are what follows.

  • Did you ever face a situation where a key player and locker room leader was openly dissatisfied with his contract with several years left on the deal, and campaigned for a trade? 
“I have experienced the situation you described where high-profile players were disgruntled with their contracts. I had several situations, one with (former Bears LB) Lance Briggs, (Bears) running back Thomas Jones and (Bears TE) Greg Olsen. All wanted new deals and requested trades if we weren’t able to accommodate their demands. For whatever it’s worth, they were all represented by the same agent. I’m not blaming the agent; it was just a coincidence.
“Saying all this, all I can say when you’re in those dilemmas, you ultimately have to do what’s in the best interest of the team. In Briggs’ case, we were able to work things out. Unfortunately, the other two situations ended up with us trading the players, which was my last resort, but we had to do something or potentially watch things continue to escalate and have a very negative affect on not only the player, but the team.
“The lesson is twofold. Do your best to stay in front (of) taking care of your core players. Secondly, when you come to an impasse, don’t put your head in the ground. It’s about damage control, and again, when in doubt, the only question to ask is, ‘How does this affect the team?’ “
  • How would you have handled this situation, starting with the time that Thomas initially expressed dissatisfaction with his contract?
“Really, I can’t sit and give a specific answer. I have a lot of respect for the Seahawks and their front office. I don’t know (if) they didn’t try to get something done, but couldn’t. There were some trade rumors, but we don’t know the specifics. These types of things happen all the time.
“All I can say is, that’s why they have contracts. A player can show dissatisfaction, but the bottom line is, he agreed to it. No one twisted his or his agent’s arm to take his last deal. Naturally, the next contract/contracts for players at his position are going to be larger in all likelihood, and why? (Because) the cap keeps going up. Players understand this, and certainly their agents do. Unfortunately for Thomas (I’m presuming), he won’t accept it. His gesture was child-like and uncalled for. Why? Because he didn’t get his way, and because he got injured, it’s the team’s fault? That’s what babies do.”
If the Thomas and Bell situations interest you, you’ve probably got a mind for the inner part of the game. That means you’d probably really enjoy our weekly newsletter, the Friday Wrap, which is read by thousands of people in the industry every week. In it, we talk about the news of the week that no one’s talking about, plus we look at trends and items of interest to people in the business of football.
This week, we’ll continue our conversation with Jerry, asking him several other questions, including how to maintain team harmony and salary structure in this situation; whether or not you risk losing the locker room in this situation; and how he would compare the situations involving Thomas and Steelers OH Le’Veon Bell, who’s also in a contract dispute.
And the best part is, you don’t have to be an agent, financial advisor, coach, scout, player or draft prospect to receive the Friday Wrap. You can register here. We promise we won’t spam you, and you won’t be disappointed.

Analytics and the NFL: Our Conversation Continues

Last week in this space, I talked about the changing way NFL teams build and manage rosters, and how it’s forced the people behind the players — agents, wealth managers, marketing professionals, trainers and everyone else — to adapt, though most of them are still not sure how. One of the points I made was about the disposable nature of draftees (even recent ones that were high picks).

My post drew an email from former NFL scout and longtime friend Matt Manocherian. Those of you who follow this column know Matt scouted for the Saints and Browns before leaving to pursue his Masters in Sports Management from Columbia (he got his undergrad from Duke, so he’s not lacking in the brains department). Today, he’s the Director of Football Development at Sports Info Solutions, one of the leading analytics-based services in the game and a vendor to multiple NFL, NBA and MLB teams. Matt’s also spoken at our annual ITL Combine Seminars in 2017 and as a panelist in 2018.

In his email, Matt (politely) took issue with his perception that I blamed analytics for the fact that teams have selected, and already cut, eight players drafted before the end of the third round. He wrote:

“I couldn’t help but get curious while reading the newsletter last week, so I had our intern pull some college stats from 2016 on the guys that you listed as high pick busts from last year.  You can see the attachment for yourself, but long story short: most of these guys had poor advanced college stats.  One exception is (Cardinals 2017 4/115 selection) Dorian Johnson, who we expected to play better based on our metrics, but in general, at least in the case of this analytics organization, we weren’t the source of volatility on these misses…if anything, we warned of the possibility!”

This prompted a few thoughts.

  • I didn’t express myself well. I never meant to blame analytics for these busted picks. I intended to express that we’re in a period where teams are weighing the value of traditional scouting, metrics, cost analysis, positional scarcity and other factors without a consensus on what’s most effective, and it’s created a very uncertain landscape for draft picks.
  • Matt listed the SIS analysis of several of the players listed prior to the ’17 draft. He makes a compelling case that, had the NFL been paying attention, teams might have known what they were getting with these players. There are numerous examples, and I encourage you to check in with SIS’ numbers on your own. Many of the better NFL writers I read regularly cite SIS’ work. For example, Ardarius Stewart was the ninth receiver taken in ’17, while Carlos Henderson was 10th, Amara Darboh 14th and DeAngelo Yancey 25th. Yet based on SIS numbers, all of them rank in the 50s and 60s, at best, among key categories like completion percentage, on-target catch rate, yards per reception and drop percentage among the 200 wideouts SIS ranked. Stewart was their No. 55 WO. Henderson was 58, Darboh was 60 and Yancey was 145, and this is just a cursory look at SIS’ work.
  • Virtually every NFL team is trying to figure out in-house how to skin the analytics cat. Meanwhile, services like SIS are spending big money to do an incredibly thorough job evaluating college and pro players alike, and they haven’t yet managed to offer a cost-effective information model for the independent consumer, i.e., agents, trainers, etc. This means there are an awful lot of voices out there but not one that everyone is listening to. Not yet, anyway.
  • Until one service shoulders to the front of the pack and becomes the industry standard, or one NFL team becomes the Oakland A’s/Moneyball team, I expect volatility to continue.

Remember: if you dig talking about the direction of the game, how different factors affect scouting and the draft, and what football insiders are doing, thinking and saying, I really recommend you sign up for our newsletter, the ITL Friday Wrap. It’s free, and you can do so here.

 

Some Deep-Game Observations on the Changing NFL

This week, an established agent from a top-10 firm who’s been a longtime friend had some time to kill while waiting on a plane, so he texted me with a couple observations from early recruiting. It turned into a lengthy text exchange on the present and future of the game.

It was pretty illuminative for me, and sparked a lot of thinking about what’s happening in the business, so I thought I’d break down the main points of our conversation here. Today’s post is a little long, so bear with me. There’s a lot to cover.

  • NFL teams are still furiously trying to pick the analytics lock: I think there has been a perception that the failure of former GM Sashi Brown in Cleveland ended the analytics push in pro football. Not so by a long shot. Teams are still looking for the Rosetta Stone when it comes to sifting out talent from pure numbers, and most seem determined the answer is in there somewhere.
  • This creates incredible volatility: Already, these picks from 2017 have been cut: Seahawks DT Malik McDowell (2/35), Raiders FS Obi Melifonwu (2/56), Jets WO Ardarius Stewart (3/79), Broncos WO Carlos Henderson (3/82), Patriots OT Antonio Garcia (3/85), Giants QB Davis Webb (3/87), Broncos DC Brendan Langley (3/101), Seahawks WO Amara Darboh (3/106), Packers OB Vince Biegel (4/108), 49ers OH Joe Williams (4/121), Bucs OH Jeremy McNichols (5/162), Cardinals OG Dorian Johnson (4/115), Colts OT Zach Banner (4/137), Bengals PK Jake Elliott (5/153), and Packers WO DeAngelo Yancey (5/175). And while this is far from an exhaustive list, that’s eight players drafted in the second or third round! Maybe 2017 was just a bad draft class. On the other hand, it seems like teams are less willing to live with and develop their picks than ever. There’s a disposable nature to the draft that we haven’t seen before.
  • Agents — even veteran agents — are scratching their heads: Do modern NFL teams want good football players from traditional powers? Most of the players listed above check those boxes. Or do they want former rugby players with lights-out measurables like Eagles OT Jordan Maliata (7/233, 2018)? Or ex-basketball players who look great on pro day, like Cowboys TE Rico Gathers (6/217, 2016)? Or players from other countries like Bengals TE Moritz Bohringer (6/180, 2016, drafted by the Vikings)? Or giants without any real position that they can mold, like Army-captain-turned-Steelers-starting-OT Alejandro Villanueva? Nobody knows.
  • Solid middle-class agencies are seeking shelter: These questions are pushing the middle class of agencies out of the business, or at least to look to other sports like baseball that have fewer risks. The friend I texted with said he thinks that within a couple years we could see 95 percent of all NFL players represented by about five percent of agents. He was exaggerating, of course, but he’s not far off. There are hundreds of good agents — rank-and-file guys that love their clients, work hard for them, and care about them, as well as the game — that are either trying to find a buyer/merger partner, or worried about how they’re going to stick around long enough to pay their loans and/or investors.
  • Uncertainty across the board: As teams become schizophrenic in their preferences, the trickle-down is starting to affect training facilities. As recently as 3-4 years ago, the perception by agents was that a $10,000-$15,000 training cost was baked into every player signed. There’s been a market correction, however, and fewer contract advisors are willing to go that route. That’s forcing some trainers  to limit their work with draft prospects.
  • Players haven’t caught up to this yet: Unfortunately, for lots of reasons, the draft prospects themselves aren’t aware of this cycle. The number of players leaving early is trending up, and the number of lesser prospects that expect to get the same training deals their buddies got remains constant. This is why we’re starting to see parents whose sons have NFL dreams rationalize that part of the money saved by a college scholarship can be spent on combine prep.
  • The new leagues are a wildcard: As we discuss in today’s Friday Wrap (register here), there are a lot of ways the new leagues, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) and the XFL, could move to take advantage of this volatility. With a work stoppage expected in two years, there are plenty of variables to weigh and opportunities that could be exploited, if the leagues so choose.

Obviously, the winners, both on and off the field, will be the ones who figure out how to exploit these opportunities and think in new ways. I think we’re going to see scouting and evaluation change drastically in the next 10 years, along with player representation, in ways as drastic as we’re seeing the on-field game change.

At the end of the day, these new trends will benefit the innovators and cripple those unwilling to adapt. I guess that means it’s a great time to be young and interested in working in the game, and not as great for those writing checks and hoping.

Does It Hurt An NFL Prospect Not To Hire An Agent?

Thursday, a longtime friend from one of the top agencies in the business asked me to list recent players who had gone through the draft process without an NFLPA-licensed contract advisor. When I asked if he’d come across a player in the ’19 class who was weighing whether or not to hire representation, he demurred. His firm was just “getting its ducks in order,” he texted. Fair enough.

Anyway, I came up with five names of recent agent-less draftees. They were, in order of draft class, Florida SS Matt Elam (2013), Miami (Fla.) OT Ereck Flowers, Louisville TE Gerald Christian (2015), N.C. State QB Jacoby Brissett and Louisville QB Lamar Jackson.

Today in our Friday Wrap, we take a detailed look at all five (plus one more who almost went without an agent, but hired one late) and try to determine if their decisions to skip an agent helped or hurt on draft day. However, whether or not they were better off on draft day, there are common threads among them.

  • All five played played high school or college ball in the Miami area. Elam, Christian and Brissett went to the same high school (William T. Dwyer in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.).
  • The lion’s share of them are offensive players, and two are quarterbacks. It’s probably no surprise that touchdown-scorers come to think of themselves as needing less help, and that may be at work here.
  • All of them played in the ACC or SEC (Brissett played in both, having transferred to N.C. State from Florida), and all of them were heavily recruited. When you’re used to being in demand and commanding the spotlight, it’s easy to believe there’s a market for you, no matter what you do. It’s no surprise you don’t hear of many small-school offensive linemen skipping out on an agent.
  • Though it’s difficult to know exactly how much money they made or lost in the draft, it’s fair to say most of them could have made more money in marketing with professional representation (and some of them did hire marketing firms though not contract advisors). I heard consistently this winter that shoe and apparel companies were frustrated in their inability to get call-backs from Jackson’s people.
  • Often, those who don’t have an agent initially get one eventually, especially if their NFL fortunes take a dip. Though Brissett remains without an agent, Flowers is now co-repped by Miami Beach, Fla.-based Rosenhaus Sports and his father. Christian has been in and out of the league over the last couple years and hired Huntington, W.Va.-based Rich Sports to help find him opportunities. For Jackson, it’s too early to tell what course his career will take, and it’s unknown if Elam has a CFL agent now that he’s playing for Saskatchewan.
  • Could it be having an agent has a settling effect during a player’s career? Most of those who pass on agents cite the lack of a need for one during the draft process, but as veterans, most have had up-and-down careers. Elam is playing in the CFL, Christian is out of the league, Flowers is having a rocky time in New York, and Brissett is a backup and on his second team.

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UPDATE: A reader reminded us that there was actually one we forgot since 2013: Stanford DC Alex Carter, who went 3/80 to the Lions in 2015. Alex is a little bit of an anomaly, as he isn’t from Florida (he’s from Virginia), didn’t play offense (he’s a cornerback) and didn’t come from a major East Coast conference (Pac-12). He relied on his father, former NFL DB Tom Carter, to guide him through the draft process. Like many others, however, when his career stalled, he hired an established firm (Priority Sports) to help him reconnect.

Going Inside 2018’s Opening Week NFL Rosters

The first week of the NFL season is always exciting, not just because it offers renewal and possibilities for all 32 teams, but because we always take a deep dive into the rosters to identify trends and find out how the game is changing.

This year, with members of the ’18 agent class having just received their results, we decided to look at opening-week rosters to determine how they were built with respect to rookies. We especially wanted to see how teams used the 1,926 players signed by NFLPA contract advisors in the ’18 draft class.

We also expanding our annual Draft Class by the Numbers report for 2018. It’s something we’ve been doing for four years now, and you can look at how many players, by position, were drafted, signed post-draft, invited to try out, or snubbed altogether for the ’17 draft class, ’16 draft class and ’15 draft class at our home site.

Here are a few observations we made based on the totals compiled this week.

  • Which position had the most players make a 53 or practice squad, based on the number signed by agents? Surprisingly, it was inside linebackers. Perhaps because so few were signed (87), more than a third of those on SRA (36.78 percent) landed on NFL rosters in Week 1.
  • Second-most popular, surprisingly, were running backs. This year, 35.71 percent of rushers signed by agents in the ’18 draft class (45 of 126) made a roster or practice squad. What’s more, 16.7 percent of running backs signed were drafted. That was the highest ratio of all offensive players except tackles (20.7 percent). Apparently, as backs become specialized and fewer teams give one bell-cow 25-30 carries per game, the position is becoming more popular.
  • Only three positions saw a third of all its signees make a roster or practice squad. Besides inside linebacker and running back, centers (34 percent) also made it a third of the time. Just missing the mark were tight ends (32.58 percent) and guards (32.58 percent). As we’ve been preaching for years, if you want to land a player on a roster in your first year as a contract advisor, think offensive line. And we count tight ends in that list.
  • Since the NFLPA expanded practice squads from five to 10 players a few years ago, there’s been a debate over how many PS slots would go to veterans — i.e., used as a reserve pool for when injuries strike — versus how many slots would go to rookies a team is hoping to develop. Based on our analysis, almost every team carried at least five rookies on their respective practice squads. The Broncos, Colts, Dolphins, Eagles, Giants, Lions, Patriots, Steelers and Texans were the nine teams with fewer than five rookies on their respective practice squads.
  • It’s probably not a surprise to see teams like the Eagles, Patriots and Steelers — teams with legitimate title expectations — keep mostly veterans on their respective practice squads. However, perhaps it’s a signal that some other teams seen as developmental, like the Colts (only two rookies on PS) and Broncos (5-11 last season, but only four rookies on the practice squad), are really going for it this year.
  • Here’s a tip to clip for agents in the UDFA process next year: the Jags are carrying eight rookies on their practice squad, including three cornerbacks. In fact, Jacksonville is one of five teams (Bengals, Chiefs, Redskins and Vikings) with three cornerbacks on their respective practice squads. No team has more than three players from one position on its practice squad, and in all five cases, cornerbacks glut the PS.

If you’re into looking at rosters from an analytical perspective, make sure to check out the 2018 NFL Draft by the Numbers and our 2018 Roster Analysis.

Also, if you’d like to learn more about what it takes to sign and represent players in the NFL — especially the costs of signing and representing a player if you’re a rookie or second-year agent — make sure to sign up for our Friday Wrap. It comes out in about six hours, it’s free, and thousands of people across the industry read it every week. You can register for it here.