SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis has the Raiders, Jets and Patriots being very active on draft night and Kyler Murray falling down the board. USA TODAY Sports
It’s that time of year. Lying Season. Be careful what you believe as the NFL draft looms. Because what you hear is not necessarily rooted in the truth.
No, we’re in full swing with another type of NFL gamesmanship. Misinformation and mixed signals rank right up there in the process with 40-yard dash times and three-cone drills.
As the league embarks on celebrating its 100th season, this too, is NFL tradition.
“April should be known in the NFL as National Liars Month,” Gil Brandt, the Hall of Fame-bound, former personnel guru told USA Today Sports. “Everybody is trying to create a smokescreen, both ways.”
Every draft season, it seems there is some top prospect whose stock suddenly falls in the weeks before the draft, while others rise. Typically, word is leaked that one or multiple teams were unimpressed with an interview, or conversely, a player blew away teams with a workout or chalk talk.
And why is that?
“It increases every year,” Brandt — once the Dallas Cowboys’ personnel chief and now a media maven with NFL.com — said of the agenda-fueled gossip. “It’s like the pole vault, where the record goes up every year. There are more smokescreens. More subterfuge. A very interesting time of year.”
This time, with the three-day draft kicking off Thursday in Nashville, it has been widely reported that Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins’ stock is supposedly slipping – just as Missouri’s Drew Lock and Duke’s Daniel Jones are climbing the QB charts.
BOOM OR BUST?: Drew Lock, Rashan Gary among 13 boom-or-bust prospects
Don’t buy the hype. Lock and Jones are indeed projected as first-round picks, but it’s not like Haskins is chopped liver. During the combine, Haskins was viewed as the alternative opposite Kyler Murray, who is widely pegged to go No. 1 overall to the Arizona Cardinals.
Now Haskins might not be the second quarterback drafted? C’mon. He hasn’t played a game since the combine and now his draft stock is in a free-fall?
Haskins insists he isn’t sweating the gossip.
“I don’t pay attention to it,” he told USA Today Sports on Friday. “Now my friends have been asking me. My mom is like, ‘Did you see what they said?’ It doesn’t bother me.
“The biggest thing is to do what I have to do. Do well in the meetings. Do well with the visits. Throw the ball well in the workouts. I know I’m going to be a great NFL quarterback.”
Still, stuff is out there from all angles. For instance, Brandt warns it could be a mistake to read too much into the 30 players each team is allowed to bring for official visits – presumably because they have more than casual interest. Some teams use the visits as a sleight-of-hand move in an attempt to conceal true intentions about prospects they could draft.
Add to that the pre-draft news conferences teams conduct, where the messaging can get deep. Or comical. That will continue on Monday when Washington’s Doug Williams, Seattle’s Pete Carroll and John Schneider, San Francisco’s John Lynch and Indianapolis’ Chris Ballard will be among shot-callers at the podium.
On Thursday, Giants GM Dave Gettleman danced around the quarterback question in weighing what he might do with his second pick in the first round, 17th overall. He threw out cornerback, wide receiver or maybe … “A sports writer,” joking to throw off the scent.
Of course, it would be a bit reckless to reveal specific strategy. But Gettleman, who hailed the worth of the quarterback crop, stopped short when asked if it was better than last year’s group.
“I am not going there,” he replied. “C’mon now.”
Whatever he said, as is the case for other GMs, was likely well-scripted.
“Anything that you say into a microphone can go all over the country instantly,” Phil Savage, former Browns GM and Ravens personnel director, told USA Today Sports.
Twenty years ago, Savage pointed out, the pre-draft sessions were attended by a handful of local reporters. It was local news. Now it’s national fodder.
“Now, I’d think that every GM in the league has a session with their PR director beforehand, determining what they are going to say,” Savage said. “There’s more strategy. Certain players, there’s already a narrative and the mock drafts. Well, if you think the player is overrated and want another player, as a GM you’re going to keep pumping that narrative.”
Like Brandt, Savage was a bit stunned to hear the narrative coming out of Oakland on Friday. Reportedly, Raiders coach Jon Gruden and new GM Mike Mayock sent the bulk of the team’s scouts home because of a lack of trust. During what could be the most important draft in the franchise’s history, with Oakland holding three first-round picks, apparently only a handful of the Raiders’ personnel staff will be in the mix during the draft.
Sure, every team runs its draft differently. Bill Belichick typically will have only four or five staff members in the Patriots’ war room during the draft (and no, Belichick didn’t give up anything during his pre-draft presser). Others fully involve scouts, even to the point of including them in open war-room discussions during the draft.
The Raiders’ apparent action, though, connects with concerns about how information – and misinformation – flows with the draft.
“I can understand why people would have some paranoia,” Savage said, alluding to the capabilities of smartphones. “I think there’s more risk than ever of having information go out of your war room.”
Yet that risk has always been part of the process. Let Brandt tell you about the 1987 draft, when he set a trap because he suspected one of his scouts leaked information to the media. In the days before the draft, he arranged the Cowboys’ draft board to appear as if the target with the 12th pick was Duke linebacker Mike Junkin – a player Brandt had no intention of drafting.
“Two days later, there’s a story by Jim Dent (in the Dallas Times Herald) saying that we were going to draft Junkin,” Brandt recalled.
The Cowboys ultimately picked defensive tackle Danny Noonan in the 12th slot. Junkin went fifth overall to the Browns – who swung a trade to move up – and wound up as a major bust with just seven starts and 20 games played in the NFL.
Did Brandt fire the scout?
“No, but we knew who did it,” he said. “And he knew we knew.”
Funny, but that brings to mind another episode with Brandt during the ‘80s, when I worked as a writer for the Cowboys’ team newspaper. The year before the Junkin experiment, Brandt told me he would use the Cowboys’ first-round pick on UCLA receiver Mike Sherrard.
Knowing the draft information twists, even back then, I didn’t believe Brandt.
A few days later, he drafted Sherrard, 18th overall.
I reminded Brandt of my suspicion. He laughed.
“Yeah, I remember,” he said. “I told you because I trusted you!”
Trust? With draft intel? Seems odd. Brandt tipping me off about Sherrard now seems like a classic smokescreen on top of a smokescreen. It figures. With the NFL draft, there’s a fine line between shooting straight and being bamboozled.