We’re running a little late on War Story Wednesday, considering it’s Thursday, but I think you’ll like today’s story. It’s a good look at how players slide below the radar.
Bill Schwenk had only been in player representation a month when, during the 2011 season, he noticed a cornerback at Nicholls State in Thibodaux, La., named Bobby Felder. Felder had played alongside Nicholls St. CB Lardarius Webb, who went 3/88 to the Ravens in 2009. Webb and Schwenk had a mutual friend, and this friend insisted to Schwenk that Felder was a player.
Felder had compiled big-time stats during his college career, but no interest from agents and only minimal attention from scouts. Though Felder had logged 190 tackles in three years, along with five picks, eight passes broken up, 12 passes defensed, 49 tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and three blocked kicks during his senior season, he was missed.
How come? Maybe because Thibodaux is in swamp country in South Louisiana; Nicholls’ main claim to fame was that every summer it was home to Manning Passing Academy. However, it was by no means a football factory, having gone 01-10 in 2011 and 4-7 in 2010. The fact that the team went 1-10 his senior season didn’t do anything to help him create buzz. In addition, Felder wasn’t written up by either of the scouting combines, National and BLESTO, going into the season; of course, this was because the school didn’t bother to have a ‘junior day,’ the time when the combines come in to time, weigh and measure possible prospects. If a team were to find him, it would have to actually go to campus and check him out, or at least see him in a road game. It’s easy for a player to develop a rap as non-athletic when no one has a 40 time on him, and lack of speed at cornerback is the kiss of death.
It turns out that only three teams made it to Nicholls that season: Seattle, Oakland and Atlanta. Seemingly, none were all that impressed (though the Falcons met with Schwenk at the Senior Bowl to discuss Felder). Later, Bill asked a friendly scout why only three teams had made it to Thibodaux. “Honestly, they’re lazy!” was the response. The scout told Bill that because Felder played at lowly and remote Nicholls State, scouts knew few GMs would ask about the school or its players. That meant they could cut the school out of their route, and most did.
At any rate, Bill was a believer, and he continued to recruit Felder. He only got competition from one other agent, a veteran who heard of Felder very late and tried to get through to him through the cornerback’s brother-in-law. Bill staved off the older agent and signed Felder, but making believers of NFL teams wasn’t easy. That’s why he made a game film and started to send it out to teams.
One of the scouts who saw his film was Green Bay’s Alonzo Highsmith, who’s known in the business for his keen eye and excellent insights. Highsmith went directly to GM Ted Thompson and told him he had found a sleeper.
From there, word started to get out, and by the end of February, there was buzz around Felder. It reached such a fever pitch that when the school scheduled its pro day, many NFL scouts called to request that it be rescheduled to be held the day before LSU’s pro day so scouts could make both workouts. Alas, at his big day, he ran in the 4.6 range, turning most schools off. Only one team retained interest: Minnesota. The next day, Bill drove him to Baton Rouge to meet the Vikings’ scout and defensive backs coach after LSU’s pro day.
His chances mainly extinguished, the Vikings were the only team that called after the draft in April. Bill quickly signed Felder to a contract as an undrafted free agent, and the Colonel beat overwhelming odds and made the roster. Two years later, he’s still in the league with the Bills.
It’s just one more illustration that there are still sleepers, and scouts and agents who are willing to trust their instincts can find players in out-of-the-way places.