Before they could celebrate their new partnership two winters ago, Patrick Mahomes and agent Leigh Steinberg needed to have one final talk over dinner at a restaurant in Tyler, Texas.
Steinberg warned Mahomes of the potential pitfalls his impending fame would bring, and with the 2017 NFL draft just a few months away, he asked Mahomes if there was anything about his past that he should know about.
Then he told Mahomes that there was one final step he needed to complete before the quarterback’s draft process could truly begin: The agent would conduct one last scan of Mahomes’s social media accounts.
The audit turned up nothing, as Steinberg expected, and Mahomes would go onto become a top-10 pick of the Kansas City Chiefs that spring and a league MVP by his second season. But it was a reminder that, even for prospects with squeaky-clean online images like Mahomes, there is a new rite of passage during the evaluation process this time of year.
Old tweets, Snapchats and Instagram posts are being reviewed and dissected, and can be as influential to a player’s draft stock as his 40-yard dash or vertical jump.
“Teams are looking at Twitter and Facebook and Instagram as another research tool,” Steinberg said. “(The players) get to explain whatever it was, but they are being held to account on postings, pictures.
“This didn’t even exist 15 years ago. It’s a big change, because some players are under the illusion that when they post on social media, it’s like going to their friends in a private form of communication. But it’s an international broadcast system.”
In 2016, offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil was a projected top-five pick, but fell to No. 13 after someone hacked his Twitter account minutes before the draft and posted a picture of Tunsil smoking out of a bong with a gas mask on. Last spring, racist tweets sent by Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen surfaced, and the story consumed the day of the draft.
Allen apologized for the tweets, which he had sent when he was in high school, before being drafted seventh overall that night by the Buffalo Bills.
Everyone is now looking at Mahomes, who has 1.2 million followers on Instagram and nearly half a million on Twitter. He is the poster boy for what Steinberg wants his clients to be on and off the field, and also in the digital realm, where he has used his accounts to grow his brand considerably.
But there was a time when he had to pass the pre-draft test like everyone else.
And with another draft day approaching, even with the heightened awareness across all levels of football, Steinberg is convinced there will be more cautionary tales to come.
“It’s almost inevitable,” Steinberg said. “The level of scrutiny that the contemporary draftees are under is exponentially higher.”