NFL Draft

How 49ers, other teams deal with misinformation as NFL draft nears

NBC Universal, Inc.

This is the time of year when all the happenings around the NFL are behind the scenes.

Teams have mostly put their free-agent activity on hold as all attention shifts toward the upcoming NFL draft.

Lots of information that can be used for a competitive advantage is floating around — if only teams could easily identify fact from fiction.

“There are a lot of ways we try to get a feel for what other teams are thinking,” Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke answered when asked by NBC Sports Bay Area how he knows what reports or rumors can be believed this time of year. “If I shared that with you, you’d take that back to San Francisco.”

Oh, and paranoia is running at a high level as the draft approaches, too.

“I think you can drive yourself crazy trying to do that,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “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.”

Each team is allowed to bring 30 out-of-the-area prospects to their team headquarters. In some cases, there is genuine interest in those players. But other visits might be arranged to address concerns over character, pre-existing injuries or, simply, to provide a smokescreen.

The deadline for such visits is April 17. The 49ers also will host a group of local prospects for a pre-draft workout Wednesday in Santa Clara.

“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.” said Baalke, who spent six seasons as the 49ers’ GM. “Those are things we chart and keep track of.”

Plenty of instances of misinformation — or misinterpretations — about the 49ers’ draft desires have hit 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, NBC analyst Chris Simms, a longtime Shanahan friend, said he'd be “shocked” if the 49ers did not draft quarterback Mac Jones with the No. 3 overall pick. Obviously, Shanahan never gave Simms a nudge to lead him in another direction.

In 2017, the 49ers traded back one spot with the Chicago Bears and selected Solomon Thomas over Fournette, whom it appeared they had no intention of ever picking. The 49ers made the trade feeling secure that the Bears would not take anyone they would have chosen, and Fournette went to the Jaguars at No. 4.

And three years ago, the 49ers went with quarterback Trey Lance after moving up from No. 12 to No. 3 in a trade with the Miami Dolphins one month before the draft. Jones fell all the way to No. 15, where the New England Patriots selected him.

“We try to focus on us, but it is important to know your competition,” Lynch said. “I would say when we've picked real early, that's probably when it's most important to try to gauge. Once the draft starts, it's on and it's kind of moving.”

Every year — and in every round — teams routinely will trade up to select a player they believe another team is eyeing. In some cases, there might be actual intelligence that leads them in that direction. Other times, it just might be a hunch.

“At the end of the day, your job is to find the right place to pick a player,” Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said. “And that comes in a lot of different ways. You have to evaluate the player, look at some historical basis for what that draft pick value had and figure out if that’s a good decision to make.

“When you get caught up with what other teams are doing, I don’t know if that’s the best thing to do.”

In the 2020 NFL Draft, the 49ers saw an opportunity to leap 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 fourth- and fifth-round picks — to select wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.

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

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

“There are a lot of things out there that just aren’t accurate,” Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said. “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.

“There are some real things we get from direct communication, but I don’t read what the narratives are. You’d go crazy if you did that. It’s about focusing on our process and knowing what’s real.”

And while it might be helpful to anticipate moves from teams scheduled to make nearby selections, it never should prompt a team into a regrettable decision.

“You have to make the best decision you can for you,” Baalke said. “It helps if you have a feel for what other teams are going to do, especially if they’re right in front of you in the draft. But it’s impossible to know what every team is thinking.

“If you read, you think it’s fact, and most of the time it’s not fact, so I try not to read much. If I did, I’d be hanging from a bridge somewhere.”

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