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February 18, 2010 @ 4:30 am
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Agent X: Preparing Players For The Combine

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In this new "Agent X" feature on PewterReport.com, NFL agent Richard Kopelmen authors a behind the scenes view of the preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine. Kopelman writes about the process of how some players go under the radar and reward teams greatly, like his client Patriots LB Gary Guyton.
PewterReport.com is proud to debut a new feature where agents in the NFL community will write for Pewter Report readers. The agents will hit on a number of topics including: the NFL Scouting Combine, the NFL Draft, free agency, contract negotiations, and much more.

The first "Agent X" feature is from Richard Kopelman. Kopelman is the president of Klass Sports. Some of Kopelman's clients include Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Vance Walker, and New England Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton.

This time of year the agent community is extremely busy with a focus on free agency and the NFL Draft. With free agency impaired due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there is even more focus by teams and agents on the NFL Draft.

Everything associated with the NFL Draft is a job interview. Whether it is the Senior Bowl, combine, or pro-day, all of those methods of evaluation are job interviews to become NFL players. Any time you are in front of team personnel you have to be ready to interview just like you are going for a job interview for a Fortune 500 company.

There are a number of levels of preparation that we take our players through at Klass Sports. There is the physical aspect and then the mental and emotional part of getting ready for the NFL. The first item of business that we want to tackle is having our guys ready physically. We make sure that they are going to be able to excel at the standard drills, but also position specific drills. We make it our business to make sure that every player gets a high level of training.

The mental and emotional part of the training is very individual specific. Some guys really don't need much help. Other guys are going to need more work for a variety of reasons. Some guys have something in their past that needs to be dealt with. They may have children. They may have had some legal issues, or disciplinary and academic issues while they were in school. It is very specific. We sit down and talk with our clients about these things. We do our due diligence, but even then things come up throughout the process.

I know of a player who met with a team and was asked if he had any legal trouble in the past. The player told the team he hadn't. Two weeks later the player got a phone call from that team and they said, ‘You told us you never had any legal issues, but we have learned that when you were 16 you got a ticket for speeding, and you also were charged with eluding the police.'" The player was, at the time he met with the team, a 22-year old young man who had thought nothing of that incident that had happened six years earlier.

What showed up as an "eluding the police" charge was nothing more than driving home, and going into the house (the speeding offense occurred a very short distance from the player's home, and the player was home before he ever saw flashing lights - this was not a high-speed pursuit). The police officer pulled up and knocked on the door which the young man answered, somewhat surprised that he was being issued a traffic ticket. He certainly didn't view that as eluding, and definitely did not think of the situation as an "issue with law enforcement" when he met with an NFL team six (6) years later.

As an agent, if a client had told me of such a situation prior to meeting with teams, I would tell the player to be tuned into questions that might require him to reveal such an event, although such a situation pales in comparison to incidents we've all heard of with NFL players. As a general rule, it is best to be candid and offer full disclosure. A common mistake - not only among draft prospects, but among people in general -- is not addressing things head on, and trying to hide past problems. My client certainly was not trying to hide anything in this situation, but when there are more serious issues that need to be addressed, they should be handled directly. Knowing the scrutiny draft eligible players face, we caution them against using social media like Facebook and MySpace, etc.

We have our guys meet with a hired consultant that was a part of NFL front offices for over 30 years. They go through sample interviews, and he interviews them just like he did other draft prospects. We show them videotape of good and bad interviews. That is very helpful, and our guys have done very well in the interview portion of the evaluation.

NFL teams show interest in players, but contrary to what some may believe, except in very rare situations, NFL teams don't make any promises to agents or players. Many may recall that number one overall picks Carson Palmer (2003), Mario Williams (2006) and Jake Long (2008) all had deals done with teams prior to being selected in the Draft. Otherwise, what you hear tends to be more along the lines or rumor and gossip, and we don't place any stock in that at all.

A lot happens between now and April that causes teams to re-evaluate initial plans, and during the draft things happen that cause teams to re-evaluate their ideas on who they are going to come away with in the draft.

There probably isn't an agent who hasn't been surprised by the round in which one or more of his clients was drafted - or not drafted, as the case may be. Every year we hear about guys who went higher than expected, or lower than expected. But expectations cannot be based upon rumors or mock drafts because once you get out of the top 10 picks - a majority of which many prognosticators can get right - it becomes difficult to predict what may happen. Even if a team has expressed interest in a player, there are many variables that can affect where a player is selected. Free agent signings, draft-day trades and pre-draft trades are just a few of these variables.

The NFL Draft is an inexact "science," and even NFL personnel with decades of experience make the wrong call from time to time. Everyone is familiar with some big-name busts (I won't mention them here out of courtesy to the players), and others who may have gone undrafted who go on to have extremely successful NFL careers.

That happened to us just a couple of years ago when Gary Guyton (ILB, New England Patriots) did not hear his name called on draft day. Gary had a very solid career at Georgia Tech, played in the East-West Shrine Game, and then in the Senior Bowl (Gary was not originally invited to the Senior Bowl, but we were able to get him into the game when another linebacker withdrew due to an injury). Gary also posted tremendous numbers at the 2008 NFL Combine (first among all linebackers in the 40 yard dash - including fastest "10" time, first in the vertical jump and first in the broad jump). Gary also is bright and interviewed well with a number of teams. We had very positive feedback leading up to the draft, and were very surprised that Gary was not drafted.

Of course, as the draft wound to a close, our phones rang continuously with a dozen or so teams wanting to sign Gary as a "Priority Free Agent." After much thought, prayer and deliberation, we decided that New England was the best fit for Gary, and time has proven us right as Gary started every game for the Patriots in 2009, and played more snaps than all but one other defensive player. Of course, as they say, hindsight is 20/20, and Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick has said he "can't speak for the league, why things happen the way they do," and that Gary "should've never gone as a free agent."

By Richard Kopelman as told to Charlie Campbell.

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