There are 26 players in New York City for Thursday night's annual NFL draft, and here's what I want to know: What are they thinking in the hours leading up to the event? I'm not talking about someone like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III because we know what they're thinking -- which is how long it takes for Indianapolis and Washington to announce their names.
But what about the others, including those who aren't chosen in the first round?
"It's nervous time," said Josh Luchs.
He should know. Luchs is a former agent who worked in the business for 18 years before he was suspended by the NFL Players Association, who changed professions and who then went on write "Illegal Procedure: A Sports Agent Comes Clean on the Dirty Business of College Football" -- a fascinating tell-all that pulls back the curtain on the world of sports agents and their clients.
Luchs has been to the draft and helped represent first-round picks, so he knows the drill-- and what he knows is that things seldom are what they seem.
"The main thing agents are doing today," he said of the draft, "is managing the expectations of their clients. It's a long day, and, even if you have a guy who's expected to go in the third round, in his mind he's a first-round pick. So with the time that ticks off the clock between picks in the first round you will get calls from the guy, saying, 'What's going on?' You got a lot of nervous people, and it's very important you calm their nerves, keep them grounded and keep their expectations realistic."
That sounds easier than it is ... especially when a player overestimates his value. Trust me, you'll see it this weekend -- and you may see it with a guy like Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, whose stock plummeted so far that he could drop out of the draft.
"You get a lot of phone calls," said Luchs, who worked with Harold Daniels, Gary Wichard and Steve Feldman, "and the player will call and tell you he got a call from this team or that team ... and that this one likes him or that that one likes him. But most draft boards are pretty much set by now, and teams have done all their work. So, now, for the majority of player, they have interns making phone calls to verify numbers. It doesn't indicate there's any specific interest. It could be that they just see guys as undrafted free agents."
By the day of the draft, the player and his agent are helpless, waiting for someone, anyone, to call their names. But, according to Luchs, agents can and will influence a draft months in advance -- and not all of it with NFL clubs. By creating what Luchs called "a buzz" about a client -- through media contacts or planted stories that go viral -- he believes agents can influence decisions ... mostly because he's seen it happen.
"Any agent who says that he can't make a difference in the draft process shouldn't be in this industry," he said, "because agents can make a difference in the draft process. And any general manager who says that agents can't make a difference in the draft process is in denial. They've drafted guys higher because of pressure or because of what they believe in their own mock drafts, and that's influenced in large part by someone behind the scenes who generated buzz about his players.
"You can't do it if the guy doesn't have the qualities people wants, but if you get a guy who performs well (at the annual scouting combine) and has good game film ... or a whole lot of one or the other ... you can quickly turn perception to reality. You can spin it, and that's what great representation does."
Luchs bowed out as a sports agent in 2008 after he was suspended and fined by the NFL Players Association, in a dispute over $5,300 with Wichard. He later told his story to Sports Illustrated, quit to become a commercial real-estate agent, then wrote an illuminating book that reads like a confessional and that has drawn the attention of the NCAA, law schools and investigative committees. Luchs said he's "humbled" by the response, though perplexed by some of the public reaction.
"I get a couple of crazy Facebook messages threatening me," he said, "and then the next message is a Friend request. So it's really confusing. They hate me and want to kill me, but they want to be my friend."
Hmmm, sounds a lot like the world he just left behind.
"I believe there are a lot of lessons, both good and bad, from my experiences," he said. "[The book] was a chance to be a part of, hopefully, a groundswell for change. I often quote Martin Luther King, who said that 'legacy is determined by where your journey ends.' I see it as an opportunity to change the ending to my story and the legacy I can leave to my kids."
Luchs will watch Thursday's draft. He said he hasn't missed one since he was a kid. But he looks at it differently now than he did, say, 10 years ago.
"There are a few agents that I have some kind of relationship withk, and I'll root for those guys," he said. "But I'm not watching college football so closely anymore. In fact, I haven't watched a college football game start to finish in three years, or since the NFLPA pulled my ticket.
"I'm kind of like an addict in that way. When I watch the game I watch a player and my immediate thought is: What coach do I know who I can get? Or who do I know to get to him? I start feeling the need to go recruit him. So I don't want to watch and get excited about a guy's potential and tease myself."