As NFL draft draws closer, teams begin to pull cards closer

With the NFL draft occurring in less than a week, one practice, implemented by all 32 teams, will be in full force, and that is the employment of smokescreens.

A smokescreen, when used in this context, can best be described as seemingly credible information being leaked to the media by a team, which can give the public false insight into how that team feels about a prospect.

Its main purpose is not to confuse and manipulate the thoughts of the public, however. The targeted audience of this false information is other teams’ front-office personnel.

“It’s finally one time where we can use you guys [the media] to our advantage,” Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley said to The Tampa Tribune’s Ira Kaufman in a recent interview.

“There are things that you put out there to see if someone bites, and there are some things you put out there that are true,” he said. “You have people read between the lines, and you don’t want to show your hand. I’m sure everyone is doing the same thing.”

This is done so a team can veil its true intentions and increase the chances of its favored player falling neatly into its lap come draft day.

As Whaley mentioned, this strategy is employed heavily, so much that it has become nearly impossible to determine a franchise’s true intentions.

A good case study of this exercise is the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs held the No. 1 overall pick, and many believed the team had no interest in selecting a quarterback, such as highly regarded prospect Geno Smith, due to a trade that led to the acquisition of Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers.

However, a high-level executive stirred intrigue throughout the draft community when he said that Geno Smith was the best quarterback in the draft and the Chiefs’ picking him would make sense, regardless of the procurement of Alex Smith.

Then, a second high-level executive said the Chiefs’ likely selection was Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel.

When the time came to make the pick, the team drafted neither and selected Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher instead.

The Chiefs did not appear to show serious interest in Fisher throughout the pre-draft process, with the only example being a private workout.

It was assumed the team was just doing thorough research, as many analysts did not see Fisher a realistic choice.

There are multiple examples of this, but what does it all mean?

Simply put, if a team wows a majority of the draft community with the name that Commissioner Roger Goodell announces at the podium, that organization did a superb job of smokescreening.

Will the pick always turn out to be a success on the field?

No, but the point is if the team was successful in the execution, and in a day and age where social media dominates and seemingly no information is safe from its clutches, that is impressive.

But attempting to conceal pick intentions is not the only reason teams pull out these kinds of tricks.

Another practice you will see commonly utilized is the hyping up of certain prospects.

Primarily, hyping up a prospect is done by teams to drum up trade interests. If one team can make another believe a prospect is a hot commodity, the team with potential interest in that prospect may consider trading up in the draft to secure him.

In practice, this works out for both teams involved, as the team trading up gets the player it yearned for, and the team manufacturing the hype achieves its goal of wanting to move down in the draft and acquiring, in most cases, more picks later on.

If there is going to be an example of this in next week’s draft, look for it to involve Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Manziel is an electric, yet polarizing, prospect who will surely generate much interest among many teams.

He very well could be a top-10 pick when all is said and done, and do not be surprised if the selection comes from a team that trades into the top 10.

A team that may encourage this possible trade is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team has made no secret of its “interest” in Manziel, as it has been heavily connected to him throughout the pre-draft process.

“He had a very impressive interview,” general manager Jason Licht said of Manziel on Tuesday at the Buccaneers’ pre-draft news conference. “We had a great day with him.”

The interest could definitely be legitimate.

However, the Bucs recently signed former Bears quarterback Josh McCown to a two-year deal and named him starter for the upcoming season.

The team also has Mike Glennon, who performed well in his rookie season last year.

Thus, the team has more pressing needs than quarterback, and with only six picks to work with, this seems to be more of an attempt to garner trade interest in order to acquire more selections.

In the end, though, no one can truly disseminate the truth from the falsities. With all of these smokescreens clouding everyone’s views, predicting the outcome of draft is a complete crapshoot.

It may be frustrating, but these tactics also generate intrigue, surprise and excitement. And that is what makes the NFL draft so great to watch.

Even without such smokescreens, it’s practically impossible to forecast where each player ranks in the eyes of certain teams, let alone where each player will end up once commissioner Roger Goodell takes the stage.