How do you get scouts from nearly every NFL team to show up at a Connecticut suburb to watch a workout featuring a pair of Division III prospects, a Canadian running back from Yale, and a 28-year-old, former minor league baseball player?
Tell them agent Joe Linta organized the tryout.
BL: Emily, you call Linta “the chief advocate for the NFL draft’s marginalia.” How has he earned that distinction?
EK: Yeah, it's quite the title to have if you're an agent. But Joe Linta is one of the most fascinating agents I've come across in covering the NFL. His chief responsibility is looking out for guys who've kind of been cast off by these scouting services and kind of underrated — not the Jameis Winstons and Marcus Mariotas. His job is to pump them up and, if they deserve opportunities, find opportunities for them. And over the years he's found some gems.
He has found this niche of seeing guys and helping them realize their dreams when no one else really believes in them.Emily Kaplan, Sports Illustrated
BL: You write that about half of Linta’s prospects will not be drafted. But Linta has a history of representing undrafted players who do end up making teams. One of them is the Cincinnati Bengals’ Jayson DiManche, who went undrafted in 2013. How did he make the Bengals’ roster?
EK: Jayson DiManche is a fascinating story. Joe had heard about Jayson — he's the son of Haitian immigrants, from New Jersey. Had, you know, not the typical upbringing and ended up at Southern Illinois. Joe found out about him and actually had to drive through this epic, blizzardy snowstorm. I really wish I was there for part of this drive. Joe said he didn't think he'd make it out alive. Scouted him and the minute he met Jayson he knew that, A, he had the skill set to make the NFL, and, B, his personality was something that was so infectious, Joe needed to represent him.
So Joe signed him on the roster. And because Joe is such a trusted voice among NFL front offices, the Bengals brought him in for a pre-draft visit. And though he went undrafted, they picked him up.
BL: As you write, Linta has represented more than 100 players over his 22 years as an agent, he negotiated Joe Flacco’s six-year, $120.6 million deal, the largest in NFL history at the time, and he has three current starting quarterbacks among his clientele. What does he know that other agents don’t?
EK: Joe Linta is a football guy. There's some agents who pride themselves on being a marketing guy — you know, they're going to get their clients endorsements, this and that. But Joe really kind of prides himself as a scout. And every time he signs a player, A, he watches film, and, B, he puts them through a personal workout where he checks their hip movement and things like that. And if he believes he has this caliber of style that he can play in the NFL, then Joe will sign them on.
BL: You also write that Linta lives comfortably, which doesn't surprise me if he has a client with a $120.6 million deal. He says he isn't in this for the money. So why does Linta still bother doing things like driving through blizzards to Southern Illinois to look at people nobody else is looking at?
EK: This is something about personal satisfaction. He has found this niche of seeing guys and helping them realize their dreams when no one else really believes in them. And for Joe, I think that's kind of why he's in this.
BL: What does he do when he isn't scouting?
EK: So he spends, in the fall, 20 to almost 30 hours a week coaching high school football in Connecticut. He said, "I can still make time for my clients, but this is something else I find personal satisfaction in."
BL: The 2015 NFL draft will be held this week in Chicago. The first round is on Thursday — the final six rounds will transpire over the course of Friday and Saturday. Should any of the 16 players represented by Linta bother tuning in Thursday?
EK: Maybe not Thursday — he definitely has a couple guys who might make it in the third round, like that Yale running back, Tyler Varga, that you mentioned. He also has a Harvard player who might go pretty high. And by high I mean fourth round.
This segment aired on April 25, 2015.