In the lead-up to the 2003 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears brought in quarterback Kyle Boller for a visit. They even let the Cal product talk with the media. But the team had no intention of drafting him.
"We wanted that out there," said Greg Gabriel, the former Bears director of college scouting. "It's all games. All part of the misconception you try to put out there to throw people off."
It was a classic smoke screen from the Bears to show interest in Boller while they quietly targeted Florida's Rex Grossman as their No. 1 quarterback. No visits, no media leaks. This was kept in-house throughout the draft process.
The Bears ended up getting their guy at No. 22, and the false interest they showed in Boller had a true impact on the first round as the Baltimore Ravens traded up to No. 19 to take him.
This is just one of many examples when it comes to the games that are being played before the draft. Information is more accessible, and it flows freely to anyone who will listen as teams try to position themselves to get the top players on their boards.
Look around the NFL right now and you will find multiple reports on teams that want to trade back, move up or put together a draft-day deal to land Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. The same can be said for the draft stock of the top-rated prospects. Some guys are suddenly "rising," while others are drastically sliding down team boards.
But is any of it true?
"They don't call it the 'lying season' for nothing," said NFL agent Jack Bechta. "In today's Internet age of competition for content, a faint whisper or speculation can turn into a roar of headlines. And agents are working those thirsty for content to promote our clients."
That's part of the gig for agents and personnel men heading into the draft, which opens Thursday night in Chicago. It's that time of year again on the NFL calendar when teams have to be extremely cautious about what to believe and what to discard as just another pre-draft rumor.
Dan Hatman, a former pro scout for the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets and New York Giants and current director of ScoutingAcademy.com, knows the drill when it comes to the draft process, the visits, the private workouts and the "gamesmanship" being played by all 32 teams as they set their final boards.
"This is definitely the smoke-screen time of the year," Hatman said. "There are a certain segment of general managers that are playing this time of the year to their advantage."
That includes leaks to the media on injury concerns or character questions that pop up in the final week before the draft in an attempt to get a top prospect to fall to the back half of the first round. A shoulder, knee, whatever. Or it's the "red flags" due to off-field behavior. The idea is to get that info out there and see what happens.
Maybe it's an area scout who is willing to talk (anonymously) at this point of the draft process. He might not have the same grade on a player as the team or the general manager does, but it's still usable information to flood the market with.
The prospects themselves are also fed a bunch of false info this week with embellished scouting reports that surface and talk of draft projections only to be brought back down to reality when the clock starts ticking on opening night. This can be a kick in the gut for a guy who believes the hype and ends up sitting for hours—or even days—until his name is actually called.
According to Hatman, this chess match of information between teams starts early in the draft process. Every NFL club starts to track the 30 pre-draft visits for each team, along with the private workouts, to develop a "team needs" list. This allows them to identify the position groups opposing teams are targeting in the draft. For example, if a team brings in multiple wide receivers, there is a good chance it will invest in the position at some point early in the draft.
However, Hatman also said those same teams will put out smoke screens on specific players. Think of a team that needs to upgrade the running back position, and Miami's Duke Johnson, for example, is near the top of its board. In order to throw teams off, it could bring Johnson in on a visit, along with Indiana's Tevin Coleman. The idea is to create the impression among opponents that the team is considering many options, when really the organization wants Johnson.
One way teams avoid being linked with a prospect on their boards is to work out a group of players on campus. Take Florida State and the ridiculous amount of talent it has coming out this year. The Seminoles are a prime example for scouts and coaches who want to focus on a specific player. There, in Tallahassee, they can work out six to eight guys while hiding their interest on the one player the team really wants to target.
This all comes back to the information available and what NFL teams are willing to do in order to deflect that interest in the players actually on their boards while trying to impact the market through leaks and rumors to the media. It's all a game, a consistent race up until draft day with teams looking to put themselves in a positive position on draft night.
We can bet on a constant flow of information this week through our Twitter feeds as analysts frantically scramble to rework mock drafts up until the bell sounds Thursday night. But with any rumor that hits the web this week or shows up on social media, we have to remember that there is always an agenda behind it.
As Hatman said, "Why is it in a team's best interest to release any information that is actually valid?"
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.