NFL Draft 2017: How teams investigate players off the field
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
By Aaron Kasinitz and Jacob Klinger
The Los Angeles Rams were in the midst of move to the West last offseason, which left a high school coach surprised when their head of security strode into his Central Pennsylvania office.
Bishop McDevitt’s Jeff Weachter knew NFL teams were interested in drafting his former player, defensive end Noah Spence. And Weachter also understood the magnitude of Spence’s transgressions in college – the Big Ten banned the speedy pass rusher after he failed two drug tests at Ohio State.
But he didn’t think the Rams would fly an executive to Harrisburg to investigate Spence’s background. That, Weachter thought, seemed like a gaudy investment.
“It shows how much they care about making sure they’re covering all their bases,” Weachter said.
The Rams, though, aren’t the only team willing to shell out for background checks on potential draft picks. Their probe into Spence — who landed with the Buccaneers as a second-round pick in 2016 — was typical, according to coaches, agents and scouts, who spoke with PennLive in the run-up to the start of the 2017 NFL Draft on Thursday in Philadelphia.
In an age where a leaked video or damning police report can send a career and franchise into a tailspin, teams often bankroll rigorous investigations into draft prospects.
The high school coach of Joe Mixon, the Oklahoma running back who struck a female in the face in 2014, said he’s received phones calls and mail from scouts this year curious about his former player’s character. As did Chris Godwin’s high school coach. And Carson Wentz’s last winter.
“It’s not a one-step process,” said Chris Landry, a former scout for the Tennessee Titans. “It’s four, five, six, seven steps. You do a very, very thorough security check on every single player we scout.”
“Trust me,” he added, “owners, as much money as they make don’t like to spend it. But they’ll do it on these investigations.”
Freedom (Calif.) High School’s Kevin Hartwig, who coached Mixon as a teenager, said he understands why questions are pouring in from NFL scouts.
Mixon faced misdemeanor charges and a suspension in 2014 after police said he punched a female student during a night out and broke bones in her face.
Widely published surveillance video shows Mixon sending a right hook across the student’s face, causing her to drop to the floor. The footage has led to heated debate surrounding Mixon’s draft status, and it’s resulted in a busy few months for Hartwig.
He’s fielded calls from more than a half-dozen NFL teams, who want to know what Mixon — considered a potential second-round pick — was like as a high school student.
“The scouts who call know it’s like, ‘This is where they started; you know them the best,’” Hartwig said. “They want to know who he really is, behind the six-second video.”
Hartwig said Mixon is a good-hearted kid who made a mistake. He hopes teams will believe in Mixon.
But franchises have continued to dig, and last week, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweeted teams have taken notice of another potential incident involving Mixon punching a student in high school.
Off-field scouting reports can go back even further than large-scale missteps, though, and include smaller incidents.
Most NFL teams pay about $150,000 each year for National Football Scouting Inc’s report – others use BLESTO’s – that comes out each July on every senior in the country, said Joe Barkett, an agent with Empire Athletes. Seniors get a grade that indicates their level of on-field NFL readiness, while star underclassmen are also listed.
Barkett gets a copy of National Football Scouting Inc.’s report, and he’s seen notes on incidents as simple as a player stealing a classmate’s pen in seventh grade.
When blunders more concerning than a middle school theft appear on the report, Landry said, scouts begin their own investigations.
Oftentimes that includes the team’s head of security researching family relationships and ties to friends. Scouts, meanwhile, lean on connections in the football world to unearth information as thoroughly as a criminal lawyer investigator would, Landry said.
“You have people that can help,” Landry said. “You have a director of security that can dig in. You work through your sources. They have to find out everything about that player.”