With the NFL draft just days away, football scouts are ramping up efforts to scan pro prospects’ Instagram and Twitter feeds. For front offices terrified of harboring another Aaron Hernandez or flippant divas like DeSean Jackson, it’s a seemingly logical next step from interviewing family, former coaches, and commissioning psychological profiles.
In fact, many teams now employ low-level scouts solely tasked with keeping social media tabs.
“Some of what we come across is alarming, so yes, our efforts have intensified,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider told Bleacher Report this week. “We have every tweet they have ever made,” said one front-office executive who requested anonymity. “When we interview them, we’ll ask them about their tweets. Some of them tweet about drugs, about ‘bitches.’”
The Bleacher Report piece proved telling as the NFL’s two highest-profile franchises, the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers (both coming off of 8-8 campaigns), planted differing flags with respect to draft-day prospects.
Pittsburgh invests heartily into measurable character.
“We eliminate the high-risk individual,” Steelers President Art Rooney said. “There are guys we wouldn’t take a chance on. With others, we put a risk-factor grade on. We wouldn’t take them as high as football evaluation might dictate.”
Dallas cares less.
“You have to be careful because every kid says something on social media or has a picture they wish they didn’t have out there,” Cowboys Executive Vice President Stephen Jones said. “You have to decide if it’s part of his character or just a kid making a mistake.”
To be clear, talent wins in the business of football. So the question, fundamentally, is about weighing social media gaffes with where the player gets drafted on your board. I maintain that most NFL teams are smart enough to ignore perceived thug stereotypes and dismiss casual hip-hop tropes. They flatly should with respect to things like tattoos and slang. But some intangibles linger.
Here are the class of 2014’s riskiest social media prospects.
10) Johnny Manziel
ESPN has taken to calling the former Texas A&M signal-caller, “Johnny Hollywood.” The Heisman Trophy winner’s Instagram account is littered with celebrity endorsements, flashy filters, and an overload of swaggering confidence. The good news is that Manziel is one of the best pro prospects ever. The bad is that he knows this and is a wide-eyed extrovert just dying to cash checks. His haters will point to a chummy friendship with rap stars, or how much the guy bathes in hometown affection, and thus question his potential investment in a place like Cleveland or Minneapolis.
Two other quarterbacks have enormous social media baggage, although it’s hardly their fault. Alabama’s A.J. McCarron is reality TV bound and his mom is kind of racist. UCF’s Blake Bortles spent the NFL combine fielding questions about his Instagram-famous model girlfriend.
9) Jeremy Hill
The former LSU ball carrier Hill is majorly talented. But NFL.com called out “an overinflated sense of his abilities and character red flags.” He’s had two big run-ins: arrested for reportedly punching a dude outside a bar (not at all a concern), and in high school for sexual assault (a major concern). But Hill has used social media like a master and deftly rehabbed his name. His Twitter feed is playful but strangely profound, and he even wrote a letter to all 32 teams explaining his arrests.
It’s easy to sit at home and take shots at someone over a keyboard but what mistakes have you made in your life? #lookinthemirror
— Jeremy Hill (@JeremyHill33) April 30, 2014
Trading Cards are Icy go get y’all one pic.twitter.com/jUgXhSXgRL
— Jeremy Hill (@JeremyHill33) April 18, 2014
8) Austin Seferian-Jenkins
The former Washington Huskies tight end is actually awesome on social media. He’s not vetted by handlers or stiff. He has opinions. His Twitter avatar is Napoleon Dynamite.
I’m ready for the draft. It’s been a long process. Excited to find out where my I’m going. #ItsTime
— ASJ (@Aesj88) April 26, 2014
On Instagram, he loves to post screengrabs of the songs that he’s listening to. He strikes me as creative and bright. He likes Chipotle and sneakers.
Seferian-Jenkins hurt his draft stock in March 2013 when he drank, got behind the wheel, and plowed his SUV into a tree. In terms of NFL-level offenses, a D.U.I. is a routine scrape, a Goodfellas-esque rite of passage. But an otherwise surefire first-rounder is now likely going to go in Round 2, and teams fishing for character clues can make the case that his affable brevity on social media shows a lack of hunger, aloofness, and enough quirks to evoke Ricky Williams.
7) Zach Mettenberger
Mettenberger spent a year under former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron at LSU, and the pro stylings helped make the guy a rising stock. But quarterbacks need to be the coolest guy in the room, and in college Mettenberger was a classic, “Oh that dude’s still in school?” TV draw. Similarly, his social media presence shows no personality, an aggressive bit of hashtag-based tweets that read like public relations, and he RTs so much positive reinforcement that I think Mettenberger just wants to be loved.
— SGT Glenn Pitre Jr (@SgtPitre) May 1, 2014
— Seth Katz (@AMGPROSPORTS) April 25, 2014
Great Day 2 already under way… #Measureables…6′-4 7/8″, 224.5, hands 9-7/8″ and wingspan of 78″…
— Zach Mettenberger (@mettshow) February 21, 2014
More importantly, Mettenberger’s Twitter feed prior to February has been deleted, and it doesn’t help that he probably just failed a marijuana test.
6) Ra’Shede Hageman
Hageman should be a slam dunk feel-good story, as the Minnesota offensive lineman is slated to be that school’s first, first-round draft pick in 10 years. There’s a Blind Side element to Hageman, a former Gophers team captain and father to a 3-year-old: His father died when he was a toddler, his mom was crippled by drug abuse, and by the age of 7 he’d been in 12 foster homes.
As a result, teams are examining his traumatic childhood—going so far as to troll search engines in order to find people from his past to interview. For his part, Hageman appears friendly and calm on social media, not afraid to toast the finer things in life.
Getting a pedicure, well still thinking about it
— Rashede Hageman (@Rashedehageman) March 12, 2014
In terms of Instagram, the guy might as well post pictures of his weather app. Oh wait . . .
There is, however, one lingering photo on his IG that will turn heads. It’s Hageman as a child learning how to shoot a gun. But keep in mind that he grew up in the rural Midwest, where kids shoot firearms all of the damn time.
5) Adrian Hubbard
I remember applying for a miserable receptionist job in the year between college and gainful employment. I took a personality test and every question was essentially getting at, “Will this person be quiet and answer the phones?”
That’s the microscope that NFL prospects are under, as evidenced by an NFL.com take on Hubbard: “Has a quirky personality, inflated opinion of his ability and carries a sense of entitlement that could be difficult to manage and require a patient positional coach.”
Translation: “Hubbard will not answer phones and sit still.”
The outside linebacker from Alabama could turn down the flexing. His Twitter bio reads, in all caps, “ROOKIE OF THE YEAR.” And he’s not afraid to call out ESPN analysts.
Todd Mcshay n Mel Kiper change so much that they don’t know anymore
— Adrian Hubbard (@__unchained42) April 30, 2014
4) Taylor Lewan
Lewan is getting a hard look by the New York Giants early in the first round. I hope that’s where he lands, because I detest that team more than any other and Lewan seems like a jerk. Think Richie Incognito with an affinity for Kings of Leon, with an alleged rape case buried in his early college career and a pending misdemeanor for fighting.
“I was lookin for a bad girl lookin for a bad boy someone who could take the night away” – Kings of Leon @BearUofM
— Taylor Lewan (@TaylorLewan77) May 5, 2014
3) Seantrel Henderson
Henderson was once a can’t-miss prospect, but the character bug plagued his career at the University of Miami. Henderson tested positive for marijuana on Monday. His Twitter and Instagram handles are both friends only, which must drive NFL scouts crazy. That means that Henderson’s agent took one look, threw a bunch of papers on a desk in despondent fashion, and demanded the guy go private. Henderson’s fun history with marijuana is worth revisiting.
Here are all the people shocked that seantrel Henderson was one of the positive tests at the combine. pic.twitter.com/eU76m4bPtl
— Curt Popejoy (@NFLdraftboard) May 6, 2014
2) Victor Hampton
The South Carolina cornerback has been disciplined for behavioral issues in high school and college. To his credit, Hampton spent his 21st birthday in Columbia, S.C. with his mom and appeared to amend his public image. Then he was arrested last month over a “spat” with his sister. With scouts watching more closely than ever, Hampton hashtags and quotes Lil Wayne—all of that is entirely harmless and even fun. But come on man, the shield is watching your every move. The post-Kanye persecution complex isn’t a good look.
Drag my name through the mud and watch it come out clean I’m grateful and blessed #BANDIT
— The BanDit (@victorhampton) April 16, 2014
That’s whatever. But his rampant IG selfies are cause for concern, as they don’t signal “team-first guy that’ll put on his hat and tackle without strutting.”
1) Colt Lyerla
Ultimately, the NFL will deal with rough edges and deplorable college antics. But Lyerla, a gifted tight end from Oregon, went rogue on Twitter and indulged his paranoid side–insinuating that the Sandy Hook shootings were a government conspiracy. He apologized, but that’s the kind of thing that’ll put you in an infographic next to Rashard Mendenhall faster than Lyerla can turn upfield on a go route.
If you have a half hour you should watch this and enlighten yourself. http://t.co/cDYzNX4Vft
— (@LongLiveLyerla) March 21, 2013