Agent’s Take: How pre-draft damage control can help keep top prospects’ stock from falling

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By Webdesk

Agents are occasionally required to deal with circumstances and information that emerge close to the NFL Draft that may cause a client to be selected later than expected, or not at all.

University of Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter is arguably the best player available in this year’s draft. Off-field issues could affect Carter’s selection. In March, Carter pleaded no racing and reckless driving charges related to a car crash that killed one of his college teammates and a Georgia football staffer. He will not serve a prison sentence.

Carter also didn’t do himself a favor when he didn’t finish his pro day workout, during which he was several pounds heavier than at the NFL Combine. Veteran agent Drew Rosenhaus, who has a lot of experience with pre-draft damage control, seems to have been able to avoid a major draft slide.

Two of the most notable instances of their draft stock plummeting in recent years — La’el Collins and Laremy Tunsil — weren’t as lucky as Carter.

Collins was to be a top choice until Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police wanted to speak to him about a pregnant ex-girlfriend who was murdered in her apartment in the days leading up to the 2015 draft. LSU’s offensive equipment was not selected because he was only acquitted by the police a few days after the trip. Collins signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent. He was a starter during his six seasons in Dallas. Collins currently plays for the Bengals.

Tunsil was a potential top-five pick in 2016 when a video of him smoking marijuana through a bong in a gas mask minutes before the draft began was tweeted from his account. The video resulted in Ole Miss’s offensive tackle slipping several places in the draft. The Dolphins selected Tunsil with the 13th overall pick.

Tunsil bounced well. He was the first $20 million per year offensive lineman in the NFL in 2020. He became the league’s first $25 million per year offensive lineman in March.

I was involved in a unique situation 20 years ago in 2003 when I was still a cop. The sports management company I helped found, Premier Sports and Entertainment, represented Oregon State cornerback Dennis Weathersby.

On Easter Sunday (April 20), six days before the 2003 draft, Weathersby was the victim of a shooting in his hometown of Duarte, California. He was lucky to survive when he was shot in the back, where a bullet passed through his torso without damaging any organs or muscles before landing in his left arm.

Naturally, our first and foremost concern was Weathersby’s well-being. As you might expect, NFL teams pulled Weathersby off their draft boards after learning of the shooting.

Once we knew Weathersby’s injuries weren’t life-threatening, we went into attack mode to try and save his draft stock. There is no blueprint or playbook for dealing with an eligible client who is shot so close to the draft.

Weathersby was considered a late first-round pick until midway through the second round prior to his shooting. He had excellent size and speed for a cornerback. Weathersby was six feet tall, weighed 205 pounds, and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds at the NFL Combine.

Police initially investigated Weathersby’s attempted murder as a gang-related incident, which was of concern to NFL teams. Weathersby had no gang ties. He was a member of the Pac-10 All-Academic team.

We were in regular contact with the police to clear up misconceptions about Weathersby. He was quickly cleared of any wrongdoing. The police agreed to publicly state that Weathersby was an innocent bystander who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We also asked the police to put their conclusions in writing. The report was sent to NFL teams to address any concerns about the character that may have been raised by the incident.

Getting up-to-date and accurate information about Weathersby’s condition from his doctors was crucial. The hospital and medical staff were extremely cooperative. Reports and written statements from Weathersby’s doctors detailing the extent of his injuries, his expected recovery time of six to eight weeks, and assurances that his football career would not be affected, were handed to the teams.

I was the internal liaison with the Oregon State Football Department. Mike Riley, head coach at the time, was particularly helpful. I had met Riley while attending Oregon State’s Pro Day in March. Riley felt comfortable being a character reference for Weathersby, making phone calls to NFL teams on his behalf. I had talks with Riley that week where I would give him the latest information we had from the doctors and the police.

One of my colleagues, Steve Caric, was responsible for handling the media. He was best equipped for that role because of his background in marketing and public relations. Caric, who is currently senior vice president of Wasserman Football, hosted a television interview for Weathersby with ESPN to air the day leading up to and the morning of the draft.

We thought “a picture is worth a thousand words” might apply to Weathersby as he slowly began to improve medically. The thought was that a visual where teams could see and hear Weathersby would be helpful. Caric traveled to Duarte to coordinate the interview with ESPN.

The interview was a bit of an optical illusion. Caric recalls helping Weathersby get dressed and out of his hospital bed for the play, as he was quite weak. Weathersby had lost a lot of blood since he was shot.

The interview included footage of Weathersby dressed appropriately and walking outside the hospital so teams had visual confirmation that he would not have any long-term physical effects from the shooting. Weathersby was still in hospital when the interview was first shown. He was released from hospital before the tour was held.

The design was performed on weekends for two days in 2003 (April 26 and April 27). The first three rounds were on Saturday. The fourth through seventh rounds took place on Sunday. We were relieved when Weathersby was drafted by the Bengals with the first pick in the fourth round (98th overall).

Apparently the ESPN interview was effective. Caric recalled a conversation he had with the Bengals after the draft, in which he was told that Weathersby had not been put back on the Cincinnati draft board until he saw the interview.

Weathersby’s NFL career never went unnoticed. His recovery took longer than expected. Weathersby played four games in his rookie season, mostly on special teams. Nearly a year after the day of his shooting, he suffered severe head trauma in a car accident on a rain-slicked highway exit in Cincinnati.

Weathersby was in a coma for a few weeks. He missed the entire 2004 season and was released in March 2005 when Cincinnati team doctors would not release him to resume his NFL career. Other teams that expressed interest in Weathersby after the Bengals released him would also not physically pass him on initially.

It was not until May 2006 that Weathersby was given the go-ahead to attempt to resume his football career. In the end, he decided the risk wasn’t worth the reward.

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