Do NFL teams keep tabs on potential draft picks away from the confines of formal interviews, visits, and workouts? Absolutely.
And they should. During the 15-minute speed-dating sessions at the Scouting Combine, the team gets a pre-packaged, Eddie Haskellized version of the player. The challenge, given the magnitude of the investment, is to get to the truth about the prospect.
That’s why someone shadowed quarterback Jameis Winston on a flight in February. It’s also why, as former Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik said Thursday on ESPN Radio, his team surreptitiously studied receiver Justin Blackmon in 2012.
“We found out there was a bar called the Cricket Inn, or the Cricket, which was a popular bar there at Oklahoma State,” Dominik said, via NFL.com. “And so [the scout] would sit there for a week. He sat there for one week, went in every day at 3 o’clock every day and stayed till 11 o’clock at night. That was his job. And we checked: How many times did Justin Blackmon come in? And he came in too many times. And we took him off our board.”
It ultimately didn’t matter, because the Jaguars took Blackmon before the Bucs were on the clock. And the Jaguars surely wish they would have been hanging out at the Cricket Inn, too.
So where’s the line between monitoring and spying? Whenever a player is in public, anything he says or does is fair game to be noticed and scrutinized. Likewise, anything he does in the presence of a team employee — for example, while being driven to and from the airport by a kid roughly the player’s own age — can and should be obtained by the scouting department.
With their guard constantly up throughout the pre-draft process, it’s critical to get a look at players when their guard is down, as long as the team isn’t invading the privacy of the player’s home or hacking his phone or computer.
It would be naive to assume, given the stakes of the draft process, that no one has ever tried to get to the truth about a player in far less public and far more creative ways.