by Jack Bechta
April 20, 02009
There are only 32 first-round picks, but there are about 125 to 150 draftable players who think they’ll be taken in the first round. They might not say it publicly -- and maybe not even privately -- but many of them believe their names will be called some time during the opening round.
Anyone who has an interest in the draft has seen all the mock drafts circulating around the Internet. The hundreds of media outlets that now exist, including this one, have given us intimate reports from the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine and the various pro days. So we all have a reasonable idea who the first-round picks will be. You’d think the players are as tuned in to this as any passive draft junkie, but they’re not. There’s usually one of several reasons why: ego, naiveté, they’re misinformed or the biggest reason -- competitiveness.
The draft happens only once in a player’s life; he has lived and dreamed about the moment his entire life. He hopes and wants to be a first-round pick. It’s a badge of honor he can carry with him the rest of his life.
The Ego: A big ego can blind a player from seeing the universe of talent that exists throughout college football. He’s usually too busy watching himself and doesn’t notice all the great players in the country. I once recruited a player named Art C. from New Mexico. Art was in a big deal in Albuquerque and throughout the state. He had his choice of agents narrowed down to me and two others who were well known and was demanding services normally reserved for a first-round pick. He acted like a first-round pick, and so did the money manager who was advising him on the agent process. None of the mocks had him rated that high, but someone in the agent community convinced him that he would be a high pick.
While recruiting him, he asked me to buy him a bottle of Courvoisier and give him $300 – and I hadn’t even signed the guy yet. It was at that moment I said to myself, “This guy thinks he’s better than he is and is going to be high maintenance.” I called a few of my NFL scout buddies and got another opinion, which was that he would be a third- or fourth-round pick at best. That night I did something an agent rarely does: I called his “adviser” and told him I was out.
Although Art C. went to the Combine and an all-star game and his name was floated around as one of the top players at his position, he was not drafted and was cut in his first camp.
Naiveté: This guy thinks he’ll be “liked” enough as he always was in high school and college and that someone will take a chance on him. Well, NFL teams don’t take too many chances with the kind of money being spent in the first round.
Let’s take a quick look at the average guaranteed portion of the money spent on a player in each round:
First round: $11.912 million
Second round: $1.932 million
Third round: $668,000
Fourth round: $432,000
Fifth round: $166,000
Sixth round: $89,000
Seventh round: $46,400
Now you know why everybody wants to be a first-round pick.
The misinformed: Actually, many players will be misinformed by their agents and the media. Players think -- and many agents make them think -- that GMs are telling the agents when they’re going to draft their client. I’m sorry, guys, but this rarely happens. I’ve been told more than once over the years by scouts, personnel directors and even head coaches, “If your guy is still there when we pick in round X, we’re definitely going to take him.” Although the execs may have believed it at the time, things change daily in the draft room. As an agent, you do not pass this information on to your client, thus setting a potential false expectation.
Four years ago, I got a call the day after the draft from Scott Mruczkowski, a player I recruited from Bowling Green but did not sign. I congratulated him on being drafted by the Chargers in the seventh round. I thought he was calling to get some advice on where to live, but instead he informed me that he was going to fire his agent and hire me because his agent had told him that he would definitely be drafted no later than the fourth round. Draft weekend turned out to a negative experience for Mruczkowski. The agent is a good guy and most likely believed what he was telling Scott, but when it doesn’t work out, the agent will usually pay the price.
Another problem is that when agents recruit a player on the basis that they can help make him a first-round pick, they have to keep singing the same tune. When I recruited Kevin Curtis out of Utah State in 2003, I told him flat out that I thought he would be a third-round pick, or a late second at best. He finally called me and said he was going in a different direction (I hate that saying). When I asked him why, he said, “Because Agent X was the only one who believes that I could be a first-round pick.” At that time, there had never been a white receiver taken in the first round. Kevin was a third-round pick by the St. Louis Rams.
The moral here is that guys like Kevin are smart and even without egos. If someone can make you believe your lifelong dream will come true, you are vulnerable at 22 or 23 and are likely to believe them.
The media: When I got into the business of writing for the National Football Post, it awakened me to how many media outlets compete for information and eyeballs about football -- which brings us to the many mock drafts that are floating around on the Internet. A good number of players will spend a lot of time checking these mocks and position rankings. Eventually, they may start to believe everything they’re reading from many unqualified “draftologists.” In taking a good look at the mocks I see out there, I would encourage players not to take anything they read too seriously. It gets pretty difficult to predict the draft after the first 20 picks. I feel more comfortable about our own mock draft because it was put together by people who have actually been there; we were at the all-star games, Combine and pro days. Film was watched on every player. As a matter of fact, I know of several teams that are using our mock draft to gauge what other teams may do. However, no mock draft has all the information that area scouts can gather such as hidden injuries, social habits, practice habits and locker room profiles. I do know that our guys dig for this info, but players should not rely on mock drafts to predict their future employers and pay scale.
One reason ESPN invites a bunch of guys to the draft is so that it can focus its cameras on the one guy each year who keeps getting passed over, thus making his experience an embarrassing moment.
I once represented a defensive lineman from Arizona named Jim Hoffman. He was on the Arizona Desert Storm defense with Tedy Bruschi. On the Friday before the draft, USA Today had a mock draft and listed each player and his expected draft spot. Hoffman was rated as the No. 1 nose tackle and a first-round pick. Many other mocks had him in the first or second round. But Jim wasn’t drafted because a knee injury he suffered in college raised a red flag. I didn’t think he would slip all the way through to free agency, but I did prepare him for the possibility he wouldn’t go as high as the mocks had him slated. The interesting thing is, I only had one team tell me before the draft that it had red-flagged him because of his physical. When teams find injuries, they rarely tell the agent because they really hope and think that they’ll be the only team that found the problem and that another team wastes a pick on the player.
One year, I represented a highly decorated TE from the Big 10 who had a reputation as a party boy. His head coach threw him the ball about five times a game and depended on him to help get the team to the Rose Bowl. But when scouts came to talk about the player, the now retired head coach told them, “You can’t depend on him. Don’t waste a pick on him.” Not only did the TE not get drafted, we didn’t receive one phone call on him as an undrafted free agent. I eventually got him into a team’s mini-camp, but he never made it.
Competitiveness: I used to spend draft day and weekend with some of my players, but now I usually just stay in the office and work, make phone calls and do research. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a player say, “Wow, they took him, and I know I’m better than he is.” Nothing chaps a player more than watching guys he played against go higher than he does. I once had a 5-foot-11 linebacker walk out of my office during the seventh round after watching two of his backer mates get taken ahead of him. He was pissed and had to blow off some steam. We couldn’t find him for an hour, and I had to agree, without his knowledge, to place him with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent. The placement turned out well as the player just received a multi-million-dollar extension. He still can’t believe he didn’t get drafted, although he’s having a better career than his teammate at the same position who were drafted in the second round.
If you’re a little short or a little slower than the prototype at your position, the draft can be a long, cruel weekend. Unfortunately, the cream does not always rise to the top in the process.
To any players reading this, please keep your expectations modest this weekend. Surprises are usually negative, not positive -- although in 1997, I did have a nice surprise when my client, O-lineman Adam Treu, went in the third round to the Raiders. On the Thursday before the draft, all the mocks had him as a sixth rounder -- and I even had a GM tell me the earliest he would go was the fifth. Thanks, Al!
In Part II, I’ll dive into some experiences I’ve had on draft weekend with my players and give you a behind-the-scenes look at the process.