Could 2016 NFL Draft Produce Next Endorsement Star?

By Alex Valentine

The 2016 NFL Draft initially looked devoid of high picks who would be immediate marketing stars. With offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil projected to go first overall and no compelling prospect who attracted mainstream America’s attention in college, buzz was minimal.

But with the Los Angeles Rams trading up to No. 1 two weeks ago and the Philadelphia Eagles trading up to No. 2 last week, the first two picks suddenly belong to big-market teams needing
starting quarterbacks.

The buzz is back.

But can that translate into immediate marketing magic? Will the endorsements flow?

California’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, once projected as potential top-10 picks, now could be the third duo in the past five years drafted 1-2. But both were relative
unknowns just a month ago.

Is flash necessary?

“Flash guys come and go,” said Jim Gould of Management One Sports Agency. “Companies are tired of flash guys and guys that eventually get in trouble.”

Still, the closer the draft came, the higher the visibility of Goff and Wentz was bound to be. They are, after all, quarterbacks.

The top four off-field earners in 2014, according to Forbes, were all quarterbacks — Peyton Manning ($12 million), Drew Brees ($11 million) Eli Manning ($8 million), and Aaron Rodgers ($7.5 million) — but Cam Newton’s numbers were unavailable. The Carolina Panthers quarterback is expected to leap toward the top of the 2015 list.

Cam Newton looks to be one of the NFL’s highest off-field earners in 2016 (AP Photo)

On April 20, Nike confirmed an ESPN report that it had signed Goff, releasing a cartoon. That was the day, by the way, that the Eagles acquired the No. 2 pick. In the April 25 edition of ESPN the Magazine, Wentz grabbed with cover with the accompanying blurb, “Who’s ready to bet $20 million on Carson Wentz?”

Despite the number of quarterbacks drafted high in recent years, the NFL has experienced a dearth of top picks at the position who combined marketability, excitement and skill.

2015 first overall pick Jameis Winston had the skill the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted, but companies were wary of his off-the-field legal issues, no matter what the result. Second overall pick Marcus Mariota signed several local deals in his home state of Hawaii, but did not make much a national advertising impact, heading for the small-market Tennessee Titans.

In late July last year, wide receiver DeVante Parker, the 14th overall pick by the Miami Dolphins, seemed to have more endorsements than any other 2015 pick, his agent, Gould, told the Louisville Courier-Journal. Parker had deals from adidas; Bose; Proctor & Gamble’s Tide, Gillette, Pantene and Olay; and trading card companies Topps, Upper Deck, Leaf and Panini.

“If a player has skill, high character, stays out of trouble and has a good agent,” Gould told Medill Reports recently, “he can get endorsements right away.”

Still, last year’s top two quarterbacks were bound to produce off the field.

Adam Grossman, president of Block Six Analytics, which created a model for calculating athletes’ off-field value for company endorsements, says Winston’s overall off-field value last season was $18.2 million. Mariota generated $37.3 million for advertisers.

Some of the most recognizable figures in recent drafts didn’t manage to turn their fame — or infamy — into sustained success and and off the field.

In 2014, Texas quarterback Johnny Manziel had the buzz, but also off-field issues, and he couldn’t produce with the Cleveland Browns or stay out of trouble. First overall pick Jadeveon Clowney signed a deal with Puma before the draft, but injuries limited the Houston defensive end to four games his rookie season.

Devante Parker was one of the highest off-field earners from the 2015 draft. (AP Photo)
Devante Parker was one of the highest off-field earners from the 2015 draft. (AP Photo)

In the 2013 draft, offensive lineman Eric Fisher went first overall to Kansas City. Linebacker Manti Te’o was arguably the name with the most buzz, but again mostly for off-field reasons, and he didn’t get drafted until the second round, by San Diego.

2012 first overall pick Andrew Luck had the skill and the position, but the new Indianapolis quarterback did not immediately soar as an off-field marketer. Not like second overall pick Robert Griffin III, who signed with Subway, Castrol Motor Oil, EA Sports and others before
taking a single snap as Washington’s new quarterback. But after just 28 starts and a myriad of
injuries, he was relegated to clipboard duties and now is on Cleveland.

Newton holds the record for a single rookie endorsement deal, signing for more than $1 million annually from Under Armour in 2011. Generally, it can take time to break through for the major
endorsement money. And it isn’t always the top few picks who find endorsement success.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was a third-round pick in 2012, but after having success in the league, eventually signed deals with Bose, Duracell, Braun and others. And Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, a first-round pick in 2011, was No. 5 on Forbes’ list for 2014 off-field earners with endorsements totaling $7 million.

As for Goff and Wentz, whichever quarterback goes to Los Angeles will have the advantage of being the face of the franchise, now that it has returned from St. Louis. Assuming there are no Draft Day shockers, both quarterbacks will have the advantage of heading to decent teams, considering the Rams and Eagles were both 7-9.

Goff and Wentz appear to be smart and don’t seem to have any character questions, which should help.

“Companies want athletes who are recognizable,” Grossman said, “and who will represent the company well off the field.”

But can they play?

Concerning Wentz, North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman told Texans Radio in February, “He’s an extremely confident guy without being arrogant or egotistical. He’s just got a great presence about him and confidence. He’ll command a room.”

Concerning Goff, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said in a recent conference call,” He is a quick study. He’s got a real strong group of intangibles for him. He’s got a great family background that has
pushed him and pushed him to this level.”

Photo at top: Peyton Manning, the longtime advertising face of the NFL, retired this offseason.(Spots USA/YouTube)