Laremy Tunsil was once considered the top prospect in the 2016 NFL Draft, but on the first night of the draft, all eyes were on him for a different reason. The Ole Miss tackle slid out of the top 10, thanks to a video of him ripping a bong that was posted to his hacked Twitter account 10 minutes before the start of the draft. Social media can get a bad rep -- especially when it gets football players in trouble -- but if used properly, it's the bridge that connects a player to his new team and city.
Forty-one top NFL rookies gathered in Los Angeles over the weekend to learn this lesson and other personal branding tips at the 22nd annual NFLPA Rookie Premiere. The three-day event is meant to help rookies learn the business side of football, from securing endorsement deals to building their social media following.
From the start of the offseason all the way up through training camp, many players use social media to create a buzz that keeps fans excited for the upcoming year. This could be in the form of simply recording a pump-up message -- which is how No. 1 pick Jared Goff went about riling up Rams fans at the Rookie Premiere -- or unveiling a hilarious new touchdown dance. Or maybe even pretending to be your new team's mascot:
First impressions are often indelible, which is why it's vital for rookies to show themselves in a positive light shortly after they're drafted. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Ricardo Louis, for example, used his screen time at the Rookie Premiere to tell fans he plans on giving his entire first NFL check to his mother.
Performing well on the field remains the surefire way rookies can propel themselves to NFL superstardom, of course. But a strong social media presence can augment their status as a player the fans can easily root for.
Rapport with new teammates
One of the first things that many players do after getting drafted is use their social media accounts to make money from endorsement deals. For the second year in a row, players teamed up with Tide on draft night, while other picks took advantage of the spotlight to promote different brands:
More importantly, though, players find a way to connect with the their new teammates and fans. Defensive back Jalen Ramsey was taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the fifth overall pick, and spent a good portion of his draft night retweeting shows of support and welcome messages. This kind of interaction is what can help build a young player's reputation:
Earning respect takes time, but getting words of encouragement from new teammates can make the transition from college to the pros a lot easier -- especially when it's a player the rookie is in competition with or will line up against during practice:
@JDoc_son welcome to the squad. I knew there was a reason I watched TCU all year lol. This kid is a stud— DeAngelo Hall (@DeAngeloHall23) April 29, 2016
Welcome to the family Laquon Treadwell. Be ready to line it up lol— LivingTheDream (@XavierRhodes29_) April 29, 2016
It also gives rookies a chance to show their newly formed bonds with each other. The Texans were more than willing to reshare Will Fuller's Instagram post of him posing with fellow first-year receiver Braxton Miller at the Rookie Premiere.
Getting to know their city and team
Rookies aren't just looking for some support on the gridiron, but can also use social media as a way to get acclimated with the new city they'll call home. By reaching out on social media, players can get a lay of the land from the fans:
Sooo I'm hungry.. Where can I get some good food in jax??— Jalen Ramsey (@jalenramsey) May 13, 2016
What the best soul food in buffalo?— Shaq Lawson (@Shaq_Lawson90) May 8, 2016
Social media is also a way to embrace their new fan base and show enthusiasm for joining their new organization. This is for more than just the player. The fans also have a chance to get excited about someone who wants to be a part of their community.
For example, Myles Jack quickly figured out the way to Jaguars fans' heart when he tweeted the "Duval Til We Die" acronym:
Getting to know the fans is also a sort of job security. No one is ever safe, but so long as the effort off the field matches that on it, teams will have a harder time cutting ties with someone they drafted and put in time to develop.
Rolling out the welcome mat
Teams use social media to welcome their new players and get fans excited -- and behind -- their rookies.
Several teams let rookies take over their Snapchat account:
Check me out on the Lions snap today!— Taylor Decker (@TDeck68) April 29, 2016
And every team celebrated when draft picks finally put pen to paper and signed their contracts:
Another benefit of social media is that it helps connect fans with lesser-known players as they prepare for the upcoming season. Even though William Jackson III was a first-round pick for the Cincinnati Bengals, the Houston cornerback was a relatively under-the-radar prospect. His social media accounts gave fans a peek into his life and gave them a chance to get to know him, not just as a player, but as a person too.
A fresh start
Some players recreate their online presence ahead of joining the NFL, like Joey Bosa -- known for tweeting about electronic dance music -- scrubbed his entire Twitter history, with his first tweet now from the first day of the draft.
Rookies also have the rare opportunity for a do-over when they first join a team. After on old tweet resurfaced of Goff criticizing Yasiel Puig, the new Rams quarterback apologized and became Twitter buddies with the Dodgers star:
It's not unusual for players not to tweet at all, or even have a Twitter account to begin with, but social media can be a good tool for those who use it responsibly.