John Lynch, other GMs reveal how much 'smoke' there is before NFL Draft

The proverbial "smoke and mirrors" campaign is very much a real thing.
San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch
San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch / Michael Hickey/GettyImages

Teams never want to reveal their true NFL Draft intentions, and 49ers general manager Joh Lynch (and others) told just how much this is a strategy.

Very rarely will a team telegraph its true intentions entering an NFL Draft.

For 2024, about the only surefire thing is that the top-drafting Chicago Bears want to select USC quarterback Caleb Williams. Short of literally pre-announcing the pick of Williams, that's going to be Chicago's plan.

As for the rest of the draft, well, it's anyone's guess. And it's the job of general managers and executives everywhere to keep everyone else guessing as much as possible.

ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller once said that only about 50 percent of what's heard out there this time of year is believable. Teams feed insiders false information, while player scouts also embellish and misreport items, too, all for the purposes of misleading other teams and/or hyping up their own players for better contracts.

Sure, there is some truth to the reports out there. If a draft prospect has a top-30 visit scheduled with a team, that's news. It's not a false report.

But, does it mean that particular team is honing in on that player? Or is it a smokescreen?

Smokescreens are very real ahead of the NFL Draft

During an episode of FanSided's Stacking the Box podcast some time ago, now-Sports Illustrated's Matt Verderame revaled a story about when he was on a local radio show talking about the Kansas City Chiefs.

Per Verderame, an unnamed Chiefs executive texted him during the interview and asked him to share details about one topic while not at all discussing certain other topics.

In short, KC was using Verderame as a mouthpiece. It happens all the time, particularly when insiders have close and friendly ties within the organization.

Speaking with a number of top NFL executives and general managers, NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco discovered the same thing regarding a San Francisco 49ers "secret":

"In 2020, the 49ers saw an opportunity to leap over some teams to select a wide receiver.

The Vikings selected receiver Justin Jefferson at No. 22 overall and had another pick three spots later. The 49ers moved up from No. 31 to No. 25 — parting ways with picks in the fourth and fifth rounds — in order to select wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.

The 49ers managed to keep their interest in Aiyuk a secret, though Shanahan later claimed that Aiyuk was his favorite receiver in the draft.

But even if word had gotten out, would anyone have believed it?"

It's the ultimate poker game equipped with bluffs and ruses.

John Lynch, other GMs share details of 'smoke and mirrors' campaigns

Maiocco had the opportunity to chat with other general managers, including the Niners' very own, John Lynch.

What Lynch and the others revealed is telling, particularly understanding that teams can't read too much into what other teams are doing. While there's useful information to be had, there's also the realization that teams don't fully reveal their true intentions.

"I think you can drive yourself crazy trying to do that," Lynch admitted when asked about taking reports and rumors seriously. "Now having said that, you want to always be aware of things that are said in the media, reports on who's coming in for 30 visits and things like that. People have gotten pretty good at identifying those things. They can give you some clues. Or they could be pulling your leg."

This is where reading between the lines can come into play.

If a team is visiting with a bunch of wide receivers, let's say, there's a good chance that team will target a wide receiver early enough in the draft, especially if it's pretty evident that's a team need.

"You try to get a gauge on what the team needs are for other teams, and who they’re sending guys around to look at," Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke added. "Those are things we chart and keep track of."

The Niners have partaken in these kinds of misleading efforts over the years, too, as Maiocco described:

"There have been plenty of instances of misinformation — or misinterpretations — about the 49ers’ draft desires since Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan came to the team in 2017.

In that first year, a widespread rumor was the 49ers had their eye on running back Leonard Fournette with the No. 2 overall pick after they brought him in for a pre-draft visit.

In the weeks before the 2021 NFL Draft, longtime Shanahan friend and NBC analyst Chris Simms said he would be “shocked” if the 49ers did not draft quarterback Mac Jones with the third overall pick. Obviously, Shanahan never gave Simms a nudge to lead him in another direction."

In 2017, San Francisco used its first pick on defensive end Solomon Thomas, not Fournette. Then, in 2021, quarterback Trey Lance ended up being the selection, not Jones.

Plenty in the media bought into the latter Jones reports and rumors. But the 49ers went with another direction.

"There are a lot of things out there that just aren’t accurate," Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot told Maiocco. "So, personally, I really don’t read or listen to those other things. I stay focused on our process and what we need to do."

While this can obviously be frustrating to follow for teams, the media and even fans, it does add to the mystery and drama of it all.

And it helps make draft season that much more interesting.

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