The most anxiety-fueled, suspenseful, nerve-wracking, emotional and ultimately explosively joyful day of the year for anyone who represents prospects for this year's NFL Draft is coming this week: Draft Day. The long "second season" of All-Star Games, the Scouting Combine, Pro Scouting Days on campus, and individualized interactions which constitute post-season scouting are done. NFL teams have compiled a draft board, which lists their assessment of every potentially draftable player by an overall rating number and then by position. They have run through computer simulations showing them every possible permutation of what players will be available round by round when it is their turn to draft. The teams' internal debates over who to pick largely occur prior to draft day, because on draft day, teams will have only ten minutes in the first round and five minutes in every other to announce their selections.
As an agent, to ensure that my agency's players have the best chance at their brightest NFL future, considerable information exchange has been going on between office, our key front office personnel and myself in the last few weeks. We are attempting to assuage any last-minute concerns a team may have about a player’s desire to come and fit in with their organization. Because the quality of that information has improved over the years, I can reliably prepare a player for which teams are most likely to take him. We run through every possible scenario and try to anticipate every outcome.
Proper preparation of a player and his family can prevent anger, humiliation or embarrassment from erupting on the day itself. In my experience, watching quarterbacks like Brady Quinn and Matt Leinart agonize on live television when they were drafted far below where they were projected was painful. Whether in preparation or by phone immediately after, my job is to insure that our client can talk about the owner, coach, incumbent at his position, and a little about the fans and the city he’s going to play in, so he can praise them in the first press interaction.
On draft day, most players watch the event at home surrounded by their families and friends. It is important for an agent to try and share that experience with as many clients as possible, and certainly to stay in constant phone contact with those in another location.
One solution I found was to assemble multiple clients and their families on a floor of the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel. We had ample refreshments to last for as many coaches, friends and family members as our clients wanted to invite. An added bonus: Many of the players either grew up in Southern California or played at USC, UCLA or local schools and it allowed local press to be there to cover them.
This has led to some incredibly memorable draft years. For example, in 1991 Miami defensive tackle Russell Maryland was picked first in the first round by Dallas, UCLA safety Eric Turner went No. 2 to Cleveland, and San Diego State quarterback Dan McGwire was taken by Seattle. Because we were at the Marriott, they were all together so we could share the experience and we could communicate instantaneously with each other.
For years the first pick in the draft would be the only player in attendance, I had been there with Troy Aikman, Jeff George and Drew Bledsoe. The NFL brilliantly decided to turn the draft into more of a marketing bonanza and extend the off-season focus on the NFL and invited a much larger group to New York. So in 1995, I was in New York with running back Ki-Jana Carter, whom Cincinnati took with the first pick in the first round and quarterback Kerry Collins who was taken four picks later by the Carolina Panthers. That year, we were lucky enough to have our own room below the main stage.
In 2004, I sat backstage with Ben Roethlisberger and his family as draft countdown began in what turned out to be one of the more anxiety-producing years. I had carefully prepared Ben for the certainty that Giants GM Ernie Accorsi felt so strongly about Eli Manning and the Chargers had fallen so much in love with Philip Rivers (they coached him in the Senior Bowl) that they would swap picks. But when draft day arrived, they hadn't. Giants coach Tom Coughlin called Roethlisberger's coach, Terry Hoeppner, the night before and said if San Diego took Manning, Oakland took Robert Gallery, and Arizona took Larry Fitzgerald, Roethlisberger should be ready to come to New York.
All of my preparations couldn't counteract that. The first three picks went in the exact way Coughlin said. When the Giants were on the clock, 14 minutes passed as if they were 14 days. With seconds to spare before their turn ran out, the Giants selected Philip Rivers and traded him to San Diego for Manning. The next possible team I saw for Roethlisberger was Pittsburgh at No. 11, and that would be two more agonizing hours.
We all know how that turned out. At the end it was a marriage made in heaven and ended as most draft days do -- with validation and joy.
-- 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.