April 24, 2014

Making Sense of NFL Draft Tall Tales

By - Tim Swift

When you work at a sports radio station in an NFL city for over a decade, you tend to get immersed in football 24/7, 365 days a year. In the past (in the weeks leading up to the draft), I've called this the NFL "silly season," because general managers, coaches, scouts, agents, players and the media are talking loud but not really saying a word.

Photo by: Getty Images
No one admits it, but everyone is lying this time of year, and it's fascinating to try and put it all together. In this day and age where essentially every Joe Blow can get access to a highlight film of a kid from Appalachian State, you have to use misdirection to get what you want.

Let's look at all of these parties and figure out how they use the art of deception to their advantage.

- General Managers

Obviously GMs have a lot to lose when it comes to the draft and their reputations. I've heard GMs spend weeks on end talking up certain players, but then when draft day rolls around, if you were to go into their "war room" that particular player is way down on their board or in some cases not on it at all. In the spring, some GMs will play things close to the vest and stay away from the media completely, while others will talk to anyone holding a microphone, but most of what comes out of their mouth is BS until draft day.

- Coaches

Most coaches don't have the time to watch the college football that the GMs and the scouts have, so they might get a distorted view of a particular player. Also, coaches might talk up depth at a particular position, and then you look up on draft weekend and they have spent a high pick on a position that the coach hasn't talked about in months. Some coaches will target a guy and downgrade him in the media, then he ends up on the team. A case to watch for is new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who has seemingly gone out of his way to talk negatively about Johnny Manziel. If he takes him at No. 8 come draft day, everything he's said for the last 3 months or so has been bull; clever bull to get the other teams in front of them thinking.

- Scouts

Whether you are the director of scouting or you're a scout just for a particular conference or region, you always want to be the person who discovered the small school guy or the undiscovered player on a SEC or Big 10 team. It can get your reputation up and keep you in the NFL for years to come. Scouts will often talk to the media and let them know what players they would never take and players who should be snatched up in the first round. Of course, most of it is done anonymously to get the mystery factor up.

- Agents

Naturally agents will talk up their clients as if their the next great All-Pro because it could mean more money in their pockets and more clients down the road. There are plenty of agents who do their job the right way and try to protect their players, but there are just as many who aren't realistic with their guys. Countless times you've had agents tell players one thing about their draft status, then come draft day they're a third round pick instead of a first round one.

- Players

Obviously you'll hear this throughout the spring; Player X will say, "I'm the best quarterback in this draft." As a general rule, the best player at a particular position doesn't have to announce it because everyone is already aware that they are. Most coaches appreciate the confidence, though, even if it's completely irrational, because it shows that when the player arrives to camp he won't be afraid to compete whether he's first string or third. As far as the players go, if they are lying about their ability it won't matter in the end regardless. They'll be out of the league soon enough.

- Media

Right or wrong, the media will do almost anything to get their story. The teams want to get out their narrative on a certain player to raise or drop his stock. Anonymous scouts and coaches will feed things to the media, and even if that particular media member doesn't believe it, they will put it out to the public, and in exchange they might get a story first from that player or team. During the spring, a narrative can change without a whole lot actually being changed by the player himself. For example, QB Teddy Bridgewater went from a consensus top 5 pick in February to a late first round pick in April because everyone questioned every aspect of his game. What really changed besides a sub-par pro day? The media has a ton on control on what people think about a player heading into the draft, and they don't always use the information in a truthful manner.

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