With college football season wrapping up, there are a lot of questions about the agent selection process. With that in mind, I wanted to step away from our look inside scouting to post an interview with Rob Blanchflower, whose son, Rob Jr., is a tight end with the Steelers after being selected in the seventh round (230 overall) last spring. This piece is far longer than our usual posts here, but Rob has some interesting insights on the process and what tools he did and didn’t have when it was decision time for his son.
Did it concern you that Rob was going into his senior season with a team that had struggled? Did it worry you that it might impact his draft status?
“I think when you look at what’s out there in the U.S. and the powerhouses that you have, the Stanfords, Michigan, SEC, and coming from an area other than Washington, D.C., not a lot of people are developing programs. It’s always a concern. We were hopeful that being in a Division 1 program might raise some eyebrows, and as a parent, you’re always pulling for your child, but you balance that with being at UMass. Even at Vanderbilt, that’s not a powerhouse, but it’s still a respected school in the SEC.”
What kind of guidance did former UMass head coach Charley Molnar and/or his staff provide regarding agents?
“I think they were OK. Coach Molnar had some challenges and I don’t think he had the connections with the larger programs and with other guys in the NFL that the more established schools could have. But from a standpoint of being encouraging and helpful, they were there. It does nothing but help their program if they have guys like Blanchflower in the league. One feeds the other.”
Going into his senior season, what was your perception of where Rob would go in the draft? Where did you get that information?
“To be honest, as a parent, you always want to try to balance your child’s expectations, and this was always a dream, and as he went through his senior year I became more respectful of his drive and focus, and his talent started to unwind. He broke a 40-year-old record for receptions that was held by Milt Morin, who happened to be from his hometown, and (Morin) was a Pro Bowler for three years, I think, so those things come along and you don’t want them to be disappointed, but as the season began going, it became more of a (possibility), and we didn’t have the resources you would normally have, and that’s about the time (ITL) reached out to us, and (its) program and (its) services provided were very strong and a very good influence on what’s happening and how the process works, and understanding the mindset of the agents, and what to do and what to talk about and what to think about, and as it gets closer, you have to be prepared for that step.
“I didn’t really focus on it too much because we just wanted to get him through the program, but we had no idea of the qualities they were looking for in each round. It’s seven rounds, and then you see the 1st, 2nd and third rounds, and then his agent said he might go anywhere from fourth through seventh, and at that point I would say probably 2-3 games into the season when Rob started to put up numbers and I started doing some pretty exhaustive and intensive research and tracking every tight end in the country on a weekly basis, and seeing where they stood, and at that point all the soothsayers come out, and I probably had 25-30 guys on my spreadsheet what we were tracking, and it distilled out to a dozen or 15 or so, and you start to weigh where they might go. I was hopeful he could go as early as the fourth round, but that was pretty high expectations, and it would be a great thing to go as high as someone from the SEC or California. I was always hopeful he would go somewhere in the fifth or above. And if a team had a hole maybe they would jump on it, probably late in the fifth or maybe the sixth. Until draft day, I thought maybe sixth round. And the other thing that’s been a phenomenon for me, is the number of insane people out there (who follow) fantasy football. It’s like these people don’t have a life. You can get all kinds of (research), and somebody’s done (the research) somewhere, with Bleacher Report and a lot of them you told me about, and then it kind of rolls out. You go there, find another one, and it’s amazing. You’re not going to get the kid from Maine, who was also pretty good, but you do get the big names. You can see them, and the harsh reality is that you have 250 or thereabouts picks, and any given year you might have seven tight ends go and some years two. (With all the research I did), my wife was starting to wonder about me.”
When did agents really start reaching out?
“I think we had 1-2 guys really reach out to Rob even in the late spring/early summer, and we started getting some promotional materials in the mail. Nobody would directly reach out but you’d get an email or something in the mail and congratulations on a great career, and maybe one or two in June, and then we had three or four in late July/August, and then probably 3-4 guys again in August or September, and the frenzy probably was really, well, what happened was that the former GM from Dallas, Gil Brandt, ranked Rob as one of the top five tight ends in the country on NFL.com, and that was an unbelievable surprise for us, and once that hit the (web), we started getting people calling, and that, I think, was probably the first week in October, and then it started to build, then it quieted down a bit, and then we went through the selection.”
Did you have any resources or friends or ex-teammates or attorneys who helped you vet people in the process?
“A local attorney . . . was a very big help, and he knew a couple of agents, and when it came time to look over (the SRA) he helped, but that’s pretty boilerplate. He was probably the best resource there, and when you start talking to people, everyone knows somebody who’s an agent, and you have to be kind of careful there. You want someone who’s a full-time agent and not someone who’s selling cars on the side. But some of the coaches were very helpful, and his old coach was very helpful with Robert, and (ex-UMass teammate) Emil Igwenagu was a big help, as well as (ex-UMass teammate) Michael Cox he talked to, even some of the other guys around the league were out there. . . There was not really anyone who pushed a certain guy. We had a few guys who were runners who pushed and some who were trying to get in with agents, and I was relatively surprised. It was a pretty clean process. Everybody wants you to believe they’re Jerry Maguire.”
What’s the one thing you wish you had (resource, website, advisor, anything else) that you would have found helpful?
“I will tell you that until my son became a junior in football, I was always a fair-weather fan. I always taught my children that sports are something you do and shouldn’t be a spectacle, so I never got into the minutiae. If I’d had a crystal ball, I would have tried to learn more early on the process. It’s hard to try to absorb in a six-month period of time, and (agents) would tell you of signing bonuses and who got what and where they went, and from that standpoint, I wish I had been more enthusiastic and had taken a detailed interest in the game prior to having a dog in the hunt. I thought (the ITL newsletter) was very helpful for me, and those are the sort of resources you can really use. They helped me tremendously. The Internet is a tremendous resource. I do think the schools could do a better job, and maybe the schools that have a better hit ratio do. If they had someone you could call and say, ‘what’s this all about,’ that would be very helpful.”