BBD Contributor: Evan Brennan
As all-star games around the country finish for the year, one can reflect on their chief purpose from the player and agent standpoints: exposure. For players and their representatives, getting that important face time and interest from NFL scouts moving towards the draft is paramount.
Thousands of collegiate players will attempt to play in the NFL each and every year, while only 750-850 will get even a workout’s shot.
It must be noted that like any good-and-salesman relationship, the product must be a sellable one, and the salesman must be focused, organized, energetic, and hard working. The same applies with agents and players, both have to be of that standard for there to be success. This is especially true the further down the NFL Draft one goes, and into free agency and small school prospects. An agent will find great difficulty selling the NFL on a player who is lacking the requisite skills (as the NFL deems them, not the agent or player) and a player can benefit to small degree by proactive agent and ability to generate exposure for him.
One of the primary means of gaining exposure for a player is done by playing in an all-star game. For the most part these are fairly meritocratic, as they are run by people that have coaching and scouting connections or histories such as Ron McBride and Dick Tomey at the Casino Del Sol all-star game. Both of these men have successful collegiate coaching accolades at Utah/Weber State and San Jose State/Arizona respectively, on their list of qualifications. Others may be run by sports marketing background or other connection such as Justin VanFulpen at the Texas v. the Nation game and Kenny Hansmire of Texas v. the Nation game. The later is a former NFL player and is also on the Board of Directors for the American Football Coaches Foundation. All in all, the Senior Bowl, the East-West Shrine Game, the Raycom Classic, the NFLPA Collegiate Game, the Texas v. the Nation All-Star Game, and the Casino Del Sol All-Star Game form the great majority of the invited all-star game players that will get a shot at playing at the next level.
The players are invited to an all-star game starting in November all the way up until shortly before the game. Agents will try and get involved in the process, making calls, shooting emails, and making brochures and game film reels for and to the executives of the games as a means of “promoting” their newest rookie clients to them. All of this is done in hopes of garnering an invitation for the player and thereby a week to three-day-long workout in front of NFL scouts. Although it must noted that there is always some wiggle room to the term “best,” and like most all-star events there are the qualified, yet uninvited “snubs” and the occasional invited “reaches.” It is an inexact science that can involve a degree of politics, conjecture, and some head-scratchers periodically as well. Overall, it does follow a fairly meritocratic model, especially with well-run and reputable games such as the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine game at the top of the food chain.
Agents know that not all games are created equal and they will look for those games that will have the most scouts and team executives in attendance, as well as having had the best histories of getting players to the next level. Some very low-tier games are avoided completely by players and agents if possible, as they charge money for player participation and have very few (if any) NFL scouts in attendance. For many mid-to-higher tier players, there may be some thought given as to which game to attend if they do receive multiple game invitations. The choice as to which game for a player to attend can be governed by things such as: injury rehab timeline, progress in combine training, location, and even if family can attend; all things beyond the possible team attendance issues. A growing trend is to have players on the mid-to-lower end play in multiple games, if invited, to enhance exposure. Others on the highest end of the scale, in an attempt to hide their flaws or possible risk of falling due to a poor performance, may forgo all-star game opportunities, with little to no perceivable gain from them.
Agents will attend all-star games that their clients play in, both in a supporting function for their clients, and also as a means to begin speaking with scouts about their players in the game. While there is more of this generally done at the player’s Pro Day and at the NFL Combine, the trend for all-star attendance from agents may be on the rise. While not much may be done to sway a scout right then and there with an agent’s presence, commentary, and obvious bias, networking in the player and agent’s interest certainly is on agents’ minds and paramount among their intentions.
Scouts generally value practice much more than the game itself, and actual scout attendance at the games may not be reflective of the amount of teams that were there during the week at practices. Agents pay careful attention each year, as to which games have the best scouting attendance for their rookie clients-to-be for the following years. It is also possible to have an unrepresented player attend such a game, and that provides further incentive for agents to attend and look for opportunities such as that.
While an all star game is a great tool to for a player and an agent to promote their skills and attributes, it is by no means a fail-safe proposition and several players without invites of any kind go on to NFL success. Michael Harris, who started several games for the San Diego Chargers this year at LT as a non-all-star game, non-NFL Combine invitee, being one example of such.