FanPost

The 2014 NFL Draft: SUTTON'S Guide to Smokescreens, Non-Speak, and "Banana Peels"

Al Bello

That smoke permeating the air is not the lingering by-product of Beav's stuffed peace pipe emitting from his sanctuary. It's the hard work of 32 NFL teams to mislead, misinform, and manipulate to try and gain a competitive advantage. I'm fascinated at the lengths that teams will go, not to mention the money they will spend, to gain even the slightest upper-hand during the draft process. Call smokescreens the Game of Thrones of the NFL world.

To be perfectly honest, there's absolutely no way to deduce any absolutes from this enterprise of smokescreens (except for "banana peels" which I will explain later), for NFL teams certainly have more time and resources to try and uncover the "truth" than I. If they haven't figured out the formula or sifted through the innuendo, there's no way an amateur psychologist and philosopher like myself will trump their tenacious pursuits. However, we can make some more reasonable "educated guesses" as to the nature of the smokescreen and the possible implications of such, thereby increasing our probability into "reading between the lines".

With the adjustment of the NFL's off-season timeline, there will be even more opportunities for smokescreens due to the increased time between important calendar events. Without further ado, put on your gas masks and let's delve into the smoke.

"Smokescreen" definition: A smokescreen is seemingly authentic information being "leaked" to a media outlet that would give others "inside information" about how they feel about a player, when in fact it is "hiding in plain sight": the information is disseminated in order to confuse and manipulate the thoughts of other teams' front offices while keeping their true intentions secret.

There's a plethora of reasons for smokescreens, but it's all in the interest of gaining a competitive advantage. Perhaps it's trying to sell the fact that you're really into a QB to promote the chances of a QB-starved team to either A) trade with you because you secretly want to draft an OL, B) cause a division rival to leapfrog you and waste important picks in order to get the QB they want, when in fact you wanted an OL, or C) because you like a plethora of players and a trade-down allows you to acquire extra draft picks, regardless of the trading partner. In this light, let's take a look at a case study to see just what, if anything, we can conclude about the nature of a specific smokescreen and their possible implications.

Case Study: The 2013 Kansas City Chiefs.
Less than a month before the draft, reports came out in the media about what the Chiefs would do with their #1 overall pick. One high-level executive said that Geno Smith was the best QB in the draft and the Chiefs picking him would make sense, even with the recently acquired Alex Smith. Alex Smith was signed and named the starting QB 2 weeks before this report came out. The 2nd high-level executive said there was no way Kansas City passes on Luke Joeckel. Of course, they drafted neither and selected Eric Fisher at #1. The Chiefs did not attend Eric Fisher's Pro Day, but scheduled him for a private workout. It was chalked up to "due diligence". A very small minority of draft pundits and experts gave Eric Fisher a shot at #1. And that was by design.

What can we gather from this?: I hope you follow my logic here, but if 2 executives come out and declare "it's this guy or it's this guy", we are inclined to believe that one of them is lying and one is telling the truth. However, in my opinion, if 2 "high-level executives" (anyone's guess what "high-level" means, but I digress) come out and give you 2 alternatives, it is likely neither. Why? Because they want to divert attention away from the guy they actually like, while simultaneously capitalizing on the tendency to deduce that one executive lies and one executive tells the truth. It creates "the guessing game". For a smokescreen to work, everyone has to be on the same page. It is the reason for the "banana peel" that I will tell about later that led to a full-scale Washington Redskins (sorry for the racial slur) in-house investigation. Back to the Chiefs in 2013, their smokescreen involved feigning interest in a QB (this is conjecture, but considering how far Geno Smith fell, I don't think they were seriously considering him at #1…I believe it was done to try and convince a QB-starved team like Jacksonville to come up and get him if they wanted him and they would likely still get Fisher) and taking advantage of the relative consensus of draft experts (Joeckel), further pushing the agenda that drafting Joeckel was self-evident. The basic premise is that you don't want to connect yourself seriously with someone you have high intentions of drafting a month before the draft - this gives teams more time to discover if the interest is real or not, and be able to adjust accordingly. In a nutshell, the less time you connect yourself with a certain player that you authentically like, the better.

Conclusion: The Chiefs had been on the clock since the final whistle of the 2012 season, but their selection didn't become clear until the weaning hours before the draft. And if you possess the #1 pick, that's exactly the way it should be. It's not that they never talked about Eric Fisher, but any "leaks" of information involved other players, specifically Smith and Joeckel (these "leaks" happened on at least 2 separate occasions). My conclusion is that, when 2 executives come out and say they like Player A or Player B, they are most likely drafting Player C. It's a way to feed the monster, create potential draft partners, and all the while keep your intentions hidden. If you truly like a guy, you keep your mouth shut for the most part, and lie as well as you can if you are asked a direction question about him. That's exactly what the Chiefs did in 2013.

John Schneider of the Seattle Seahawks, considered to be one of the best GM's in the game, had this to say about drafting James Carpenter in the 2011 draft:

We tried to stay under the radar with this guy. We told our group yesterday that we were very proud of them that his name never got out.


Here are direct quotes from a long-time St. Louis Rams scout Russ Lande about the drafting process, further highlighting my logic (I know I didn't invent it, just saying…):

In many teams draft rooms, starting three months ago, when you've gone through your preliminary meetings with your coaches and scouts they put a list and say: 'Hey, here's 20 guys - anybody asks you about them, "we love this kid!" Nobody says anything negative, tell every reporter - if they have questions, talk about this kid.' Furthermore, 'Here's 20 guys, I don't ever want to hear their names mentioned outside of this room, even if you're at dinner talking amongst yourselves. Don't ever speak about this.'

Lande also had something to say about what happens if real information is leaked:

You cannot take the risk. You're talking about - teams put $3 million dollars into their scouting budget; you're signing these players for millions of dollars. Can you afford to let it slip and miss on the one guy in the first round you're really targeting? You can't. You'd get fired over that.

"Non-Speak" definition: saying something that means nothing. This is in direct opposition to my previous logic on smokescreens, that saying nothing means saying something. GM's, teams, PR people, White House staff, everybody does "non-speak", because they are forced to meet with the media. Yet, giving any real information would put an operation in jeopardy, or in the football world, it puts you at a competitive disadvantage if you give real intel. Here are some examples of "non-speak", and you don't have to look much further than our new GM's press conference at the Combine yesterday:

(On having to potentially rebuild the offensive line)

Every day that I wake up I think about how can I get the Miami Dolphins to the best 53 man roster. That encompasses all positions.

This is self-evident. All teams want to improve every position on their team. In other words, duh. But someone might read into this, "He wants to improve the punter position, he doesn't like Brandon Fields!" It's a typically vague blanket statement that serves as a general theory as opposed to any particular player. Don't read anything into this - he can't tell you how he is going to rebuild the line because that inherently involves specific players, putting us at a competitive disadvantage.

(On if he feels he has a starting running back on the team)

We like the running backs on our team, but again we are trying to build the best 53-man roster.

It's both an endorsement and an indictment. I.E., he likes who we have, but if someone is better he likes that guy better. This is essentially a contradiction, and nothing can be inferred from a statement like this because it can be taken both ways. In my book, that cancels each other out. In other words, he's said nothing.

Aside from these 2 examples, here are some more generalities that you shouldn't waste a single second considering (ironic that I'm telling you to ignore this stuff when I'm writing an entire FanPost on it) that you are sure to hear in the upcoming months:

"We want to win a Championship, and we will do everything possible to improve our football team." Duh. "We value leadership, integrity, a strong work ethic, and smart football players on our team." Duh. "We are going to look at free agency and the draft to get the guys who fit our system." Duh. It's like you are hearing from John Madden about the most obvious stuff: "Usually the team that scores the most points wins the game." "The best way to gain more yards is advance the ball down the field from the line of scrimmage." "If the quarterback throws the ball in the end zone and the wide receiver catches it…it's a touchdown." (I didn't make up those quotes.)

The "Banana Peel" definition: The authentic "slip" of information to the media about true draft intentions.

There's a way to spin your way out of this one if it's super early in the draft process. But the case study I am referring to happened to the Washington Redskins in 2005 and it happened just a day before the draft began, and is the only case of its kind that I know of (not to say it hasn't happened and not been reported, however). The 2013 Dallas Cowboys came close when their draft board was leaked, but it was leaked after the draft had concluded. The 2005 Redskins' case was unique in that the information was leaked just prior to the draft about their intentions on drafting Jason Campbell. There's not much to say other than: if a team conducts an in-house investigation about how draft information was leaked, that draft information is true.

Hope you all had fun in the purple haze with me. As the Combine is underway and the NFL off-season is in full effect, let us keep in mind what we have learned today to sift through the endless abyss of smokescreens and non-speak. Maybe, just maybe, we can avoid the contact buzz of misinformation, and take a hit from the truth.

Take care everyone, Phins up! I'd love to hear what you have to say about the topic!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Phinsider's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of The Phinsider writers or editors.

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