Carolina Panthers scouts serve as football evaluators and private investigators.
Though game film and timed drills are paramount in determining a NFL draft prospect’s stock, hours can be spent looking at Twitter and Instagram accounts to figure out just who this young man really is.
Scouts go back to before the player hired an agent – when he may have cleaned up his social networking act – looking for red flags around a player their team is about to invest millions in.
But that is just one part the character evaluation performed by NFL teams. Teams interview teammates, coaches and staffers from a prospect’s college. They ask off-the-wall questions in scouting combine interviews and visits. They commission extensive psychological profiles.
“Every draft pick is gold, and you’re not interested in a guy who’s going to bust out because he can’t handle himself off the field for whatever reason,” Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said. “It’s part of the process and it has evolved, and we use it as part of the evaluation.
“Would you not draft a guy because of it, based on that and a lot of other information? You might not take him.”
Gettleman said the Panthers are ranking the players on their draft board now, and recently finished the character evaluation process.
In the past three months, the team has interviewed draft-eligible players at the Senior Bowl, the scouting combine, school pro days and when players have visited Charlotte.
“Our college scouts do a great job of investigating,” Gettleman said at the combine in February. “We have in-house security. They investigate. Because the margin of error is so thin, we have to really be detailed and thorough.
“And our guys have done a great job of that, as evidenced by the lack of issues we have in Carolina.”
N.C. firm provides profiles
The Panthers are one of several NFL teams that use a North Carolina-based service, Human Resource Tactics, for psychological profiles.
HRT created a personality profile of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez when he was coming out of college in 2010. Hernandez, who is in jail on charges of first-degree murder, reportedly received a 1 out of 10, the lowest score possible, on “social maturity.”
Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who has a reputation for picking high-character players in the draft since becoming a GM in 2008, said at the combine that he wanted a “rugged” player and not a “thug.” He defined that as a player who’s able to play with an edge on the field but still be a quality member of the locker room.
“It’s up to us as leaders in the NFL to be responsible with the type of people we take,” Dimitroff said. “Sometimes we’re going to have mishaps and challenges. We’re all human; we understand that. But it’s up to us that we get the right type of people. I believe you can truly have a very good locker room and still win football games and win a lot of football games in this league.”
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Aldon Smith was the seventh overall pick in 2011. While more than half of the 32 first-round draft picks from that season will have their fifth-year option exercised – including Panthers quarterback Cam Newton – Smith reportedly likely won’t be one of them.
Despite totaling 42 sacks in 43 career games, Smith has been arrested on suspicion of DUI twice in the past two years and voluntarily checked himself into rehab during the 2013 season. Last month, he allegedly mentioned the word “bomb” to a TSA employee at Los Angeles International Airport and was arrested.
According to a FoxSports.com article, Smith was red-flagged by HRT.
“He has some past experience with getting into trouble and is higher-than-average risk for this sort of behavior in the future,” the HRT report stated, according to Fox Sports.
If a player is crowing about his achievements on Twitter or posing with piles of money on Instagram, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said teams have to decide whether that’s really who the player is or if he’s just being braggadocios.
Before the combine, the Panthers go through the list of players and chart whether they have great, high, good or questionable character, and whether the player is a follower or a leader.
Then the investigation begins in earnest.
“High character is big for us,” Rivera told the Observer last month. “You know our culture; it’s very, very big for us. When you go to the school, it’s talking to the trainers, the equipment guys, the frat brothers, everybody.”
The player interviews are vital, but the interviews have lost their importance over the years, Rivera said, because players are so well coached by their agents.
That means the teams have to get creative.
Arkansas center Travis Swanson told the media at the combine that a scout from the Browns asked him to name in one minute all the things he could do with a brick. The Browns also reportedly asked some players how many things they could do with a paper clip.
“I just was like, look, if they’re going to invest in me, they have to know me for who I am,” said former North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, who is projected to be the first tight end taken in the draft.
“I didn’t get really harassed or any bad questions or weird questions. I didn’t get any brick or paper clip questions.
“I got tortured in one meeting with the Jaguars where it was basically rapid fire with questions. They were sending them out left and right. I was responding the best way I knew how, and I basically took them over in that meeting. They realized that I don’t crack under pressure and I’m not that type of person.”
Dimitroff said teams can’t evaluate players off the field like they did in 2008 when he became a GM. With more money and greater community involvement, the type of player teams bring in means more than ever.
“I say to everyone it’s not just what they’re doing on the field athletically, but how they’re getting their point across, how they’re communicating and articulating their thoughts,” Dimitroff said. “And for us to really discern whether a certain player will be a team fit for us, that’s very, very important for us.
“We talk time and again about the fit and match for our locker room, and that’s something that we’ll never move away from.”
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