This week, we’re talking to agents about their experiences this year as they prepare for this weekend’s draft. I think it gives an interesting window into the league from a different perspective. Today, we hear from Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Brandon Smart of Smart Consulting. Brandon, who was certified in the summer of ’14, is unique in that he has a background in high school and college football, so he has a number of connections and rare perspective on the business for a second-year agent.

I think Brandon gives a great account of what he’s learned in his brief career in NFL representation and what’s ahead for his clients and he this weekend.

Last year, I had a player who attended the combine, and I was really excited about it. I mean, it was my first year, and I had never done it before, so I started reaching out to teams, but there were no teams calling and reaching out to me. I didn’t know if that meant anything or not, so we waited around. Later, I had some priority free agent guys sign before my combine guy, and they even got signing bonuses. Finally, after the draft, I realized there was no interest in him, and we had to beg to get him a tryout.

This year has been very different. Several teams have flown Washington St. DT Destiny Vaeao in for workouts, and he’s had a Top 30 visit. Kansas State KR Morgan Burns has had multiple workouts and a Top 30 visit, and we’ve had several other clients who’ve gotten plenty of interest.

A lot of interest picked up right after their pro days so teams could make sure they could get things lined up. Even some of my guys that didn’t get interest immediately after their pro day, I’ve gotten calls on and I’m still getting calls on them. If teams are interested in your player, either a scouting assistant or some medical personnel will want records. Somebody would be calling at this point if they’re not going to be considered more than a camp body.

We have three guys that have late-round or priority free agent grades. Of course, one of them’s a defensive tackle, and this is a good defensive tackle class, so there needs to be a run on defensive tackles for him to be drafted, but I’m going by what teams are telling me. They’re expecting 16 defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends to go in the first two-and-a-half rounds, and there could be five that go in the first round. Once there’s a run, (teams) start picking them up. I also have probably the best kick returner in the nation (Burns). I’ve had three teams tell me if a team takes a KR, they’ll go after him, because he has elite speed and plenty of starts at corner. He’s had six or seven workouts. Green Bay brought him in on a visit, and I’ve had different scouts say he was a 4.33 on their clocks. Then there’s (Minnesota DE) Thieren Cockran, an edge player, and he’s long, 6-4 and 260, so if there’s a run on edge players, he could get drafted.

Last year, my approach was, OK, I’m (recruiting and) signing guys to get them into a rookie mini-camp because I need to build my name. So if I could get a guy in a rookie mini-camp, that gave me a connection with the team. (Those teams and those scouts) remember me this year. This year, I didn’t want anybody unless they were at a special position, and I was only gonna recruit (FBS players). Many Division II and Division I-AA players can be unrealistic, and you have to guide them. Most people (from small schools) say, ‘we’ve had 15 guys in the NFL.’ Well, that’s because (those schools) get all the ‘drop-down’ guys from bigger schools. . . Very few guys are late bloomers going from college to pro the way high school to college is. Very few guys fall through the cracks anymore. Some will say (EKU DE Noah) Spence was a I-AA player. No, he played at Ohio State. He didn’t sign with EKU right out of high school.

The big difference this year was really relying on my contacts from the year before. I had scouts that would say ‘I wouldn’t touch (a player).’ The player you’re recruiting might be a great college player, but when it comes to the NFL, size and measurables matter. You can’t make a living having short guys at a position and guys that are slow. You’re going to be spending a whole lot of time trying to get them into camp. This year, I said, ‘what am I hearing from scouts, and what am I hearing from people I built a relationship with, and what are they telling me?’ It doesn’t matter what I think. They’re signing checks and I’m not.

If I took risks (this year), it was on players that are highly athletic or very big for their position. I was not going to take a 6-2 guard again. In fact, I’ve got a guard that’s 6-5 this year. It’s really about building relationships and not being afraid to call scouts you have numbers on. They don’t want to talk on the phone. If they responded, it was always, ‘he’s late round, I’m just being honest,’ or ‘we may have interest down the road.’ At this point, they know they need information from me, but after the draft, they won’t respond to any of my calls. At this point they still need medical information. That’s how this year has been different from last year.

You can’t go into this business blind. It’s a different business model, different from everything else. While they’re in college, there’s not enough time for an agent to build a relationship with a player. You have so many colleges that won’t let you talk to a player, so you’re trying to build a relationship with a kid in three days (after the season).

If I was a computer engineering dept at a college and IBM and Microsoft came in and said, ‘we’re gonna be on your campus tomorrow, and we want to start interviewing your guys,’ if a college told them, ‘we’re not going to let them talk to you until after they graduate,’ everyone at the college would be fired. But colleges look at it that way (with their players). The reason why is, they don’t even know the rules, don’t understand them, and aren’t proactive. Players are going to talk to agents. Instead of being proactive, colleges don’t see it as important. But they sure will tweet it out if one of their players gets into an NFL camp. Then, it’s “I’m on y’all’s guys team.”

One thing I’ll say is, you can’t get through (the agent business) alone. I’ve called you over 50 times in the last year and a half. Either new agents need to find a mentor in this profession, or they need to be an ITL subscriber. Time is money. (Joining ITL) is the best decision I’ve ever made. Otherwise, (an agent’s) going to be out in three years.