You may have read about the recent “All-Star” games that college seniors played in, including the Senior Bowl, the East-West Shrine Game, and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. For many fans, these games represent the close of the college football season. For teams, agents, and players, though, these all-star games are really the kickoff of the NFL Draft process for prospects.
The scouting and selection of players for these games starts back in Summer before the college football season kicks off. Each game has a staff of scouts that travel the country looking for prospects, much in the same way that NFL teams do. Each of these games then invites players to participate in the game, usually sending out invitations in November and December. For players and agents, these invites are a crucial part of the evaluation process and are highly coveted. Agents will do their best to lobby and pitch their newly-signed clients to the staff that run the games.
NFL teams will fly in their scouts about a week before the game, where they will take each player’s height, weight, and body measurements before the first practice starts. As crazy as it might sound, a draft prospect may see their stock fluctuate based on these numbers, particularly measurements that are outliers on either spectrum. For example, an offensive or defensive lineman with very short arms will see a hit to their stock, while a corner with very long arms may see a boost. For a player that is overweight or underweight, it is imperative that they eventually get in the weight range that scouts and teams are looking for.
After measurements, the team’s players (usually composed of two squads that will compete against each other in the actual game) will go through two or three padded practices throughout the week. These practices are crucial, as they often feature one-on-ones where players will go head to head with each other. Scouts, general managers, and even sometimes owners watch from only a few yards away. These reps often showcase a player’s physical ability as well as their technique and fundamentals. For small school players in particular, having a strong week of practices will help their stock immensely, as it shows teams that they are ready to take the next step in competition. A bad of week of practices can hurt a player’s stock, but context is crucial: some players may be rusty or otherwise show great athleticism but poor technique, which is sometimes the result of coaching and not of a player’s overall projection. A good scout will take each part of the draft evaluation process in proper context, and will evaluate a player’s body of work as a whole.
Another extremely important part of All-Star week are the formal and informal interviews that players will go through. For many teams, All-Star week represents their first unfettered access to players. After practice, scouts will scramble to grab a player to go through some background questioning. Later in the afternoon/evening, at the players’ hotel, the lobby and meeting rooms are crawling with scouts and executives that are looking to interview players. For some players, the questions are just general background and information gathering; for others, it’s the start of some hard questions that they will face at the combine, pro day, and beyond. For example, players with injury or disciplinary history will be faced with tough questions, particularly those with legal issues or high-profile screw-ups. A good agent will already know the background and issues facing each player, and has already prepped their client to face these questions with the best possible answers. Players who interview poorly, or who are caught in a lie when they think that a team doesn’t know the facts or details about a particular incident, can see their stock take a hit. (Here’s a hint to any aspiring professional player: they’ve already done their background, and they know what happened). Candor is important, but showing what you learned and how you have improved is crucial. A good agent will help a client understand this concept and prepare them to navigate this process.
Lastly comes the All-Star game itself. Ironically, the game is the least important part of the event. In fact, most scouts leave the Friday before the game is even played. They may review the game film at a later time, but it’s really the measurements, practices, and interviews that they’ve come for.
In summary, a good agent will help a client to understand where they need to measure at, get them skills training for practices, and prepare them for the interviews and questions they’ll face. Once All-Star week is done, agents will help prepare them for the next step in the draft process: the NFL Combine.