Mixed Signals

Looking for an edge in the player selection game, NFL teams aren't slow to run deception plays.

Nfl Draft

April 18, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The intrigue of the NFL draft is often exceeded only by the hyperbole that accompanies it.

Sift through the mock drafts, sprint times and game tapes, and what you invariably find are smokescreens and subterfuge.

This is the time of year when telling the truth will get NFL personnel men nowhere, but dispensing misinformation might reward them with the college player of their dreams.

"April should be proclaimed national liar's month in the NFL," said Gil Brandt, a veteran talent evaluator of more than 30 drafts, most of them as personnel chief with the Dallas Cowboys.

"I think people are pretty honest with you until the first of April. Then it all changes. The day after the draft, they'll become honest again. It's people targeting a player."

The league's annual tryst in "Who can you trust?" will unfold with Saturday's opening round.

Will the San Diego Chargers take quarterback Eli Manning of Mississippi or are they dying to unload the first pick, as seems the case? Do the New York Giants want to trade up to get Manning, or is the object of their affection really ponytailed offensive tackle Robert Gallery of Iowa?

And what of the New England Patriots? Empowered with two first-round picks - the Ravens' and their own - they have the ability to trade up. But for whom - the running back they lack or the wide receiver they have targeted?

We won't know the answers to those questions until the first round is over. But it's easy to recognize the shadow dance that precedes it.

It happens every year. Bad information usually begets a dubious draft pick. The intrigue comes with the information.

"My own personal philosophy is, believe nobody," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "Information you get is often inconsistent. We get a lot of 40 [yard] times thrown at us and vertical jumps, and a lot of that is inaccurate.

"There is a lot of misinformation out there. What you try to do is build a network of sources on other teams or in the NCAA who can give you reliable information."

On the information highway, NFL executives must treat the massive flow of draft opinion and fact with a discerning eye.

"I treat it suspiciously," Kansas City Chiefs president Carl Peterson said. "Obviously, if it comes from someone you know and trust, that's one thing. Information from agents, you put into the circular file because they have their own motive."

The higher a player is drafted, the bigger the signing bonus. That's one angle in the gamesmanship. Agents pump teams and reporters with information to enhance their clients' draft positions.

Right before the 2000 draft, when the Ravens had two top 10 picks, an agent called a Baltimore writer with word that the Philadelphia Eagles would take wide receiver Travis Taylor with the sixth pick. The implication was that if the Ravens really wanted Taylor, they'd have to grab him with the fifth pick.

`We try not to lie'

Turns out, the Ravens took running back Jamal Lewis with the fifth pick and still got Taylor at No. 10. The Eagles? They took defensive tackle Corey Simon. Bad information.

NFL teams, meanwhile, are loath to reveal much of their draft strategy, either to the media or to other teams.

"We try not to lie," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' general manager. "That's not a good thing because we have to deal with these people year-round. There are certain things you can say that will lead a team to believe you like or don't like a player. But you just don't give up all your information."

Even information passed on between friends can have mixed results. Peterson was the director of player personnel with the Eagles in 1982, when his coach then and now - Dick Vermeil - told Buffalo Bills coach Chuck Knox, a close friend, how much he liked Clemson wide receiver Perry Tuttle.

"Lo and behold on draft day, Buffalo traded a spot ahead of us and took Perry Tuttle," Peterson said. "We were all upset."

But not for long. The Eagles settled for receiver Mike Quick, whose Pro Bowl career easily outshone Tuttle's.

In 1990, it was common knowledge that the Green Bay Packers, with the 18th and 19th picks, wanted a running back. The player they sought was Florida's Emmitt Smith.

Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson pulled the ultimate sting, though, when he traded up to 17 to snag Smith, who would become the NFL's all-time leading rusher. The Packers took their running back at No. 19, but Minnesota's Darrell Thompson never came close to a 1,000-yard rushing season in the five years he played for them.

Almost every team will leak limited information to the media, but while it has the ring of truth, it generally masks the real intent. Sometimes, teams blatantly mislead, too.

In 1997, then-Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay was looking for a running back himself. Asked about Florida State's 5-foot-9 Warrick Dunn, McKay responded by saying, "My goodness, he couldn't be our waiter, he's so small."

Of course, the next day McKay chose Dunn with the 12th pick in the draft.

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