Football players now engage in elaborate training in the period between their last game and the NFL scouting combine in February, and the agent takes on the financial and advisory role in the process. As recently as 2005, I was asked by a father what my training program was. My response: “From 1989 to 2005 I represented the very first player in the first round of the draft -- impossible to be selected higher -- and they all trained themselves at their universities with the help of the staff." He responded, “Then we can't select you.”
And a new era had begun.
Elaborate training facilities and programs have arisen to meet the need. Players usually are focused on nutrition, strength and weight training, and prepared for the combine drills in January and February. I monitor these sessions closely to chart the progress physically and skill set wise of a client. A state-of-the art program transforms weary bodies into RoboAthletes and the improvement is marked. We prepare players for the 20-minute interview process with teams using a former NFL exec. We give them our own intelligence test so they are prepared. One year I had a player score a 11 on the Wonderlic. We then had him tutored in test-taking and the next time he scored a 27.
We use a physician to monitor their injuries. The NFL is obsessed with speed. It is the variable that vaults or diminishes draft status most dramatically. So we hired a speed coach who produced the fasted player at the combine by having him "count steps." We also had a player set the record one year for most 225-pound lifts.
The first “second season” events are team bowl games. Then the focus turns to All-Star games like the Senior Bowl. For a week players are scouted daily at practices as well as the game. Playing in these games is voluntary. Attendance at the Scouting Combine is mandatory. Every single team executive, coach, asst. coach and scout is present in Indianapolis for the week. Players are weighed, measured, tested for banned substances and given intelligence tests. They receive the most thorough physical exams imaginable -- if they have a tender spot, multiple physicians will put stress on it.
Players choose whether to compete in physical drills including ...
1) 40-yard dash
2) Vertical leap
3) Horizontal leap
4) Lifts at 225 pounds
5) Lateral drills
Players can choose to display their position talents in workouts. For a quarterback, a session throwing to receivers is the "Super Bowl of Testing."
The action then returns to college campuses in March and early April for “Pro Scouting Days”. The same tests and drills given at the Combine are administered all over again. Clubs especially interested in a player may return to campus for a specialized workout. Teams compile their Draft Boards by position and by overall athletic rating and prepare to draft.
The key to being drafted high is to have an individual franchise "fall in love” with a player and desire him specifically, not simply to feel that he would be a good player for someone. All of scouting is a search for enough teams with real passion for a player to drive him to the top of the draft. Having the most accurate assessment of how a player is rated throughout the process is necessary to be flexible strategically. No one tells a draftee which scouting events he should perform at and in what order. The agent is crucial in understanding the process and which activities will show the player at his best.
Making sure that a player is courteous and cooperative and interacts well with teams is important. Character is key. A team is risking guaranteed bonus and a damaging hit to their salary cap if a player has behavioral problems or motivation problems. The player is applying for employment and the burden is on him to explain his past and deal with whatever concerns a team has. He also has to be rigorously disciplined in avoiding any incidents of any kind in this period.
Teams will be in touch with the agent in the weeks leading up to the draft, so it ought not be a surprise who is interested. If a team gets a sense that the agent is planning a difficult negotiation, it can point them in a different direction.
Successfully guiding a client through this process builds a bonding and confidence in the relationship that will last a lifetime. The ultimate question on the night before the draft is: "Was there one single thing we could have done more to have enhanced the chance for this hopeful player to be drafted any higher." If the answer is negative, get ready to enjoy the single most exciting, dramatic moment of a players’ career to that point. A day like no other.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.