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Volume 20 No. 42
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Despite uncertainties of NFL draft, traditionally strong agencies keep their spots at the top

Even with the most up-in-the-air talent scenario in years, familiar major agencies led the way in the NFL draft. Sportstars again led all agencies in most players drafted, with 21, according to SportsBusiness Journal research.

Athletes First was second, with 18, and the football division of multisport agency Octagon was third, with 11.

CAA Sports had five first-round picks, again leading all agencies for the most first-rounders drafted. Athletes First tied Lagardère Unlimited and Octagon for second; each agency represented three first-rounders.

When recruiting season for the NFL draft started late last year, the sentiment among many in the athlete representation business was that smaller agents and agencies might get a chance to break into the business, because it was harder to figure out which players would be drafted. ProSource Sports Management, for example, represented its first first-round pick, LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo, selected No. 6 overall by the Browns.

Despite some lower-profile firms making inroads, though, it appears that the major football firms navigated their way through a cloudy talent picture to dominate representation again.

Opinions in the agent business differed on which agent or agency had the best draft. Agents do agree, however, that what matters is who represents whom four years from now and whether those players are still in the league: Under the 2011 collective-bargaining agreement, contracts for high first-round draft picks are about half of what they were under the old CBA.

“Clearly this is a business of getting to the second contract,” said Alan Herman, founder of New York-based Sportstars, which has been known for years for representing some of the largest NFL draft classes and signing players who don’t always have the highest profile.

It is difficult for any agency to make a profit on a player, after training expenses for the NFL combine and NFL draft, Herman said. NFL agents are allowed to charge up to 3 percent of the total contract value, under NFL Players Association rules.

Herman said that, according to his firm’s research, Sportstars has represented the most drafted players eight of the last 11 years. It led all agencies last year with 20 drafted players and had its largest class of players drafted in 2006 with 22 players, Herman said. Sportstars recruits and signs first-round draft prospects, but it has built a business by agreeing to represent players projected as late-round picks. One of its clients is Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris, a sixth-round pick in 2012 who broke the team rushing record during his rookie season.

Herman, who has been an agent since 1984, agreed with the consensus that 2013 was a tough draft to figure out, and added that he thought many clubs took players based on need, rather than taking the best player available. “Some of those guys drafted in Round 4 could have gone in Round 2,” he said.

Doug Hendrickson, an Octagon agent who represented two first-round picks, including Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan, a surprise pick at No. 3 by Miami, agreed with that assessment. Octagon targets first-, second- and third-round players and was very pleased to represent seven players in the first three rounds in this particular draft, Hendrickson said.

“The hardest thing to do — any agent will agree if they are not lying to you — is to determine when you are signing these guys, whether it’s in late December or after their bowl games in January, where they are going to be drafted in four months,” he said.