Jimmy Kennedy (Tom Dahlin/Getty)
Information about draft visits and workouts has been flowing for the past few weeks, so how much of it is legit interest and how much is a predraft smokescreen? There are high-profile past examples of both.
As we close in on the draft – as of today, the countdown is inside of three weeks – the big question surrounding much of this draft is what should be interpreted by a team expressing an interest in a specific player? There are differing schools of thought and both have shown themselves in the past.
An example of the unabashed man-love for a player came in 2005, when Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden and his staff worked as coaches in the Senior Bowl. The buzz all week was about Gruden and his staff raving about running back Cadillac Williams. Although he and Ronnie Brown had shared the same backfield at Auburn, the prevailing rumor was that Gruden wanted Williams and, even if it meant using the fifth pick in the draft on him, he would. He followed the script. When the Bucs made the fifth pick in the draft, they drove up to Caddy. He has never panned out as a great NFL player due to numerous injuries, but the point was made that, in his case, interest meant intent to draft.
On the other end of the spectrum is current Viking Jimmy Kennedy. In 2003, the Vikings had a secret. They had serious intentions for Kevin Williams. The defensive tackle with the most buzz was Kennedy, whom many believed would go in the top 10. The Vikings were starting to get much more stealthy than in previous years, when head coach Mike Tice once announced a round in advance if a specific player was still on the board, they would take him. The Vikings were at the early stages of predraft stealth. They were sneaking players in for workouts, but Kennedy was trotted out like Lee Harvey Oswald in front of the media. There was a problem, however. The Vikings had other ideas and it didn’t take him long to figure it out.
“I got a bad vibe the minute I entered the building,” Kennedy said of his pre-draft visit to Winter Park. “It was pretty clear to me right away that those guys didn’t have any real interest in me. You could tell. I left that day never wanting to come back.”
When both Kennedy and Big Kev were available when the Vikings were on the clock – so long that two teams jumped in front of them to make picks – Williams, not Kennedy, was the pick of the Vikings. The Vikings had used the public predraft visit as a smokescreen to try to confuse other organizations to their true intentions. Ironically, more than five years later and with the Vikings having a different coaching staff, Kennedy joined the team as a free agent and re-signed with Minnesota last month.
Perhaps the best example was given recently by ESPN football analyst and former NFL player Marcellus Wiley. Wiley played his college ball at Columbia, an Ivy League school without a lot of national following among the college football scouting fraternity. To see Wiley pass the eyeball test, teams had to attend his games. Wiley, who would end up being selected in the second round of the 1997 draft, said that he met with representatives of 28 of the 30 teams in the league at the time. One of the two teams he never met with – either on campus or in discussions at the NFL Scouting Combine – was the Buffalo Bills. Of course, it would be the Bills that drafted Wiley – selecting a player they coveted, but avoiding him like he had leprosy before the draft. More times than not, those are the kinds of stories we will be reporting to Vikings fans on draft weekend.
The stories of secret flights and checking into hotels under assumed names to work out Tarvaris Jackson are part of Vikings draft lore. The personal recruitment of Percy Harvin by Brad Childress added another interesting chapter – letting the “don’t be the guy” head coach bond with a 20-year old who was referred to by a Twin Cities scribe merely as “Marijuana Guy” on draft weekend. As teams line up visits and private workouts for players, they may be expressing a legitimate interest in that player. But don’t be surprised when the Vikings draft picks are interviewed following their selection and about half say they had little to no contact with the Vikings brass.
A simple piece of advice? Over the next three weeks when it comes to teams talking about their draft, put everything you hear and read through a filter. Some visits and workouts make a lot of sense. There could be legitimate interest and the team is just trying to get one final piece of information about a player, whether it’s a medical issue or clearing up an incident from his past. Other visits and workouts might just be a smokescreen. Lying, diversion and subterfuge is as much on display between now and draft weekend as the new talent coming into the league.