We’ve kind of danced around over the past couple weeks, touching on agent topics one day and scout topics the next, and rarely keeping a steady narrative. Once again, we’ll step away from our recent path for a story about agent recruiting.
I remember in the Fall of 2007 or 2008 watching a mid-week college game pitting Nevada and another mid-major team from out West, and the Wolfpack’s quarterback was sensational. His name was Colin Kaepernick, and he was tall and rangy (the new draft buzzword is “length”) and could really run. In fact, he left the pocket for several long gainers during the game. He also had a rocket for an arm; the broadcasters said he had an extensive baseball background with a fastball in the 90s, and I believed it. Though he ran an offense some considered gimmicky (the Pistol) and was still pretty raw, he had undeniable tools and was very productive. I filed him away mentally as a player to watch.
Sometime in late 2010, I remember speaking to Scott Smith of XAM Sports, and he let slip that he’d been recruiting Kaepernick. I was really enthusiastic about Kaep and I let him know, and pretty soon we were recounting how each of us had seen that same mid-week game some years ago and really become excited about his potential. As we continued our discussion, it became pretty clear that XAM had made recruiting Kaep the centerpiece of its efforts for the 2011 NFL draft, and though several mid-sized firms had reached out to the family, Scott liked his chances, having developed an excellent rapport with his parents. That turned out to be a real winning formula, as Kaep was leaning on his mom and dad to handle the vetting process for him.
As his senior season progressed and it became obvious that he was a special player, some of the big firms moved in. I remember finding out that CAA’s Ken Kremer entered the recruiting process very late and made a strong push because the agency had (and has) so much juice, but eventually, Scott called me to tell me XAM was getting Kaepernick. He signed, was drafted early in the second round by the 49ers in 2011, and remains a player who’s not ‘there’ yet, but whose needle is certainly pointing up. You could certainly argue that he’s the best quarterback in his draft class.
It’s truly a rarity for a mid-sized firm to ‘steal’ a big player, but it was a bit of a perfect storm of conditions surrounding Kaep. They were:
His head coach, Chris Ault, is old-school, with no agent ties: Many big-school head coaches make little or no secret of their relationships to agents and regularly make referrals. There are absolutely no rules restricting this practice. However, Nevada’s head coach at the time is not that way. Not at all.
Parents played a key role: Sometimes, a player’s parents make no effort to get educated or assist in the process. Even when they do, many prospects make their agent choices without consulting their parents. Neither was the case with Kaep. His parents were an essential part of the process.
He played at remote school: Even in the age of air travel and the Internet, prospects who play at schools in the less populous states in the Southwest and ‘Mountain West’ — Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, etc. — are more prone to getting overlooked, both by NFL scouts and agents.
He was rated as barely draftable: Agents lean heavily on the ratings services the NFL uses to gauge players’ ability going into their senior seasons, and he was registering as a seventh-rounder who was firmly on the draft bubble going into his senior season.
Other QBs were getting all the press: Remember, in ’11, Cam Newton was the clear ‘it’ player and went No. 1 overall, and three other signal-callers went in the first round (Locker, Gabbert and Ponder), all from BCS schools with strong pedigrees. It’s been my experience that the media, and even NFL teams in some cases, get more excited about junior prospects as there’s some measure of ‘senior fatigue.’ Kaepernick was perceived as far less safe than the five signal-callers (Newton, Locker, Gabbert, Ponder and Dalton) who went before him.
We’ll have more about the game inside the game Thursday.