THE DAY before the 1986 NFL draft, Eagles coach Buddy Ryan told a radio interviewer that Ohio State tailback Keith Byars was a "medical reject" because he had suffered a broken foot. That should have been Byars's cue to start apartment hunting in Philadelphia: If the first rule of the draft is never let Master P do your contract, the second is don't believe anything a coach or G.M. says before the big event. Naturally the Eagles made Byars the 10th pick, and Ryan toasted his new running back as a "franchise player."
Whether it's to disguise their plans from other teams, build leverage for contract talks or simply because they're paranoid, NFL executives make deception a staple of their game plans every spring. So there's reason to be skeptical of reports that the Texans might take defensive end Mario Williams with the top pick instead of running back Reggie Bush; that the Saints, at No. 2, are considering a quarterback even though they recently signed free agent Drew Brees; that Titans G.M. Floyd Reese, at No. 3, is targeting Vince Young even though his staff wants Matt Leinart. "I think we ought to declare April as National Liars Month," said Gil Brandt, the former Cowboys personnel chief who's now an analyst for NFL.com. "Eleven months a year, we have a lot of honest people."
Many around the league snickered last week when the Cowboys, who will pick 18th, flew in USC tailback LenDale White for a visit even though they already have two young talents-- Julius Jones, 24, and Marion Barber, 22--in their backfield. White should consider the case of wideout Mike Williams. Last year the Buccaneers sent their entire front office to watch him work out, and on the eve of the draft G.M. Bruce Allen took him out to dinner. The next day Allen drafted another Williams--running back Carnell, a choice that shocked Bucs fans. "I don't know if it's lying, but it's bluffing," says Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. "It's like playing a high-stakes card game."
But why bother, especially if you're picking near the top of the draft? In the Texans' case, they may be feigning lack of interest in Bush to lower his price in predraft contract talks. The Saints may be trying to bait a team in need of a quarterback into a trade. The truth will come out in New York City on Saturday (page 40). Or will it? "There's gamesmanship even after the draft," says agent Roosevelt Barnes. "You'll never hear a G.M. say, 'We really wanted someone else.' They all say, 'We had him Number 1 on our draft board.'"