Passing a Social Media Background Check Is More Important Than an NFL Prospect’s 40 Time
Scouts were no longer just evaluators—they became private detectives who watched game film on the side.
“Now, it’s about 70-30 (percent) background checks,” said Jeremiah, a current NFL Network Analyst, who breaks down the business on his “Move The Sticks” podcast.
Diving into the private lives of college athletes is a dirty business. This week, the process begins anew in Indianapolis, when hundreds of college stars are grilled—and sometimes, viciously so—on their upbringings, friend groups, relationships, legal troubles, past drug use, and so on. Scouts who jot down drill results carry much less weight now than they did years ago—and social media is primarily to blame.
A prospect’s tweets, posts, and snapchats are just as important in 2015 as his on-field measurables at the NFL Combine. And like scouts crowding around the cone drill and the bench press, NFL talent evaluators are getting paid to closely monitor prospects online.
Imagine this: a prospective draftee receives a follow request on Facebook from an attractive woman he’s never met. She claims she wants to befriend the player; that she’s one of his biggest fans from his college days.
It’s all a ruse, though.
NFL general managers will have a few names highlighted on their list this week the ones that fell for their phony Facebook profile test and failed it.
Anything is fair game in the post-Manti Te’o league. NFL talent evaluators hate surprises; employing someone to evaluate a prospect’s “catfish-ability” is money well spent.
It’s called “ghosting”—a process meant to highlight the players who could cause some long nights for the team’s PR staff. The teams who didn’t engage in it years ago—or overlook it—could pay the price.
After all, one look at Aaron Hernandez’s old profile showed scouts he was a gun enthusiast and sported a few questionable tattoos.
Cameras are everywhere, and Instagram is just a few smartphone taps away. In a new era of player conduct investigations, teams will eagerly investigate every avenue.
Most of the photos are chalked up to college kids being college kids.
For instance, if the NFL was holding its 2004 Draft this year, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and others would have to answer for a few inebriated-looking candids. Top 2009 pick Matt Stafford surely had to do the same for his keg stand picture that someone at Georgia posted.
But sometimes, NFL prospects are the ones doing the damage themselves.
After engaging in a Facebook and YouTube feud, Texas and Oklahoma players slid in the NFL Draft a few years ago. Pictures that surfaced during the vetting process might’ve caused Matt Leinart to slide in 2006. And last but certainly not least, Vikings GM Rick Spielman found a picture posted by a prospect that showed drug money and drugs.
Oregon’s Colt Lyerla was 2014’s top tight end prospect heading into his senior season. He tweeted out a conspiracy theory video about the Sandy Hook shootings—and went undrafted.
A similar search for last year’s top tackle prospect, Taylor Lewan, might’ve revealed some troubling signs about his past. Lewan denied involvement in the 2009 rape case against former teammate Brandon Gibbons, but posts like this show his social media judgement could use a tune-up.
Hageman was known in NFL scouting circles for having the worst upbringing in recent memory. But before the Atlanta Falcons selected him in the second round, they leveraged social media and sophisticated search engines to dig up local news stories on Hageman.
“The cost of player-targeting databases, like BLESTO, costs teams about $100,000 a season,” as mentioned in Pete Williams’ 2007 book, “The Draft.”
The information it revealed—like news stories showing who the Falcons should go talk to in Hageman’s hometown about his upbringing—was invaluable.
Moreover, GMs want to know whether or not a college kid can be trusted with valuable information. When offensive Combine questions inevitably leak out to the press after this week, they’ll have a better understanding of which guys they can trust.
Add it all up to get what GMs are really going to Lucas Oil Stadium this week for. A player can have perfect form when he bends down to take his mark in the 40-yard dash this weekend. If he posts pictures of a party he’s attending with Johnny Manziel the following weekend, NFL decision makers will surely take pause.
By Nick Toney, posted on sporttechie.com