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The rumor mill

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

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NFL Draft fact and fiction

Agent Eric Metz got wind of a rumor involving one of this year's NFL draft prospects and broke into a humorous rant.

"Welcome to the 10 days before the draft," said Metz, whose top client this year is quarterback JaMarcus Russell. "It's like last year when the rumor started that such and such was gay. Or the one this year that [Michigan defensive tackle] Alan Branch has two broken legs.

"My favorite is probably the year that Kevin Hardy came out," Metz said, the sarcasm in his voice hitting a crescendo. "It was about four days before the draft and the story starts to get around that Kevin Hardy has a broken neck."

A broken neck?

"Yeah, a broken neck," Metz said, laughing.

Hardy, the No. 2 overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996, had a nine-year career as a productive linebacker for three teams. He may not have had the superstar career that some had expected, but he certainly is a prime example of what happens in the days leading up to the draft, which will be this weekend in New York.

"It's non-stop rumors," agent Ben Dogra said. "This year has already been worse than any year I can remember. It's all about what agents are trying to ruin some kids because they're nervous that their kid is slipping."

The latest example came last week when news surfaced that three top prospects – Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye and Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams – reportedly admitted during interviews at the NFL scouting combine to having tried marijuana.

Although none of the three has knowingly tested positive for banned substances, there's a widespread belief for the leak: Somehow, some way, someone was trying to hurt the value of those players. The obvious thought in this situation is that making such information public would scare some teams from taking those players.

In this case, the situation seems to have backfired. Not only is the NFL upset with the leak of the information, but all three players have gotten high marks for their honesty.

"Especially the Johnson kid," a general manager said. "He's a great kid. Almost too good to be true. This is a guy who can be the face of your franchise because he's a great player and a great person. He's willing to be honest, even at the risk of embarrassing himself a little."

Still, rumors, innuendo and patently untrue stories are part of the draft process.

"It's just the way it is this time of year," said agent Peter Schaffer, who represents offensive tackle prospect Joe Thomas. "The key is to be on top of the information, to have enough sources within the teams to find out about something and then have resources in the media to put it out."

Schaffer faced that situation in 2005 with running back Eric Shelton. The NFL had a company called Infomart USA do background checks on players. In researching Shelton, who played at Louisville, the company searched his name. The search uncovered an aggravated assault charge and a marijuana possession charge.

The problem was that it was a different Eric Shelton from Louisville who was approximately 10 years older.

The 1999 draft had a couple of interesting stories as well. Prior to the draft, rumors circulated that running back Ricky Williams, who was eventually taken by the New Orleans Saints with the No. 5 overall pick, was gay. Much of that had to do with the fact that Williams, who has four children, was perceived as an odd character.

"I don't know where that one came from," Williams said several years ago. "But there have obviously been a lot of stories out there about me."

Some, of course, are accurate. Williams was first diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. He has since been suspended by the NFL for repeated violations of the league's substance-abuse policy.

"I don't even get why it matters that someone is gay in this day and age," agent David Canter said. Canter doesn't represent Williams, but has heard rumors like that one for years. "The stuff that gets out there is so absurd. Yeah, there's a lot of true stuff that gets around, but when it gets out in the public you know there's only one reason for it. It's to hurt the kid."

Canter dealt with another false story in 1999. He represented Florida safety Tony George, who was taken in the third round by New England. George has diabetes and was insulin-dependent, but the ailment never bothered him in sports.

"He never had a game or a practice where he went into shock. Never. But you start to deal with people in the NFL and they don't understand it. I even had one trainer – a trainer – ask me, 'Is that contagious?' Anyway, we deal with the situation and then that weekend before the draft I get a call," Canter said.

"It's a general manager with one of the teams and he says, 'I'm so sorry to hear about Tony.' I say, 'What do you mean?' He said he heard that Tony went into diabetic shock during a pickup basketball game over the weekend … It never happened. But that's just the way things go this time of the year."

Earlier this spring, Dogra received a call from someone who asked him if his client, running back prospect Adrian Peterson, had been in a car accident.

"I said, 'No, I'm with him right now,'" Dogra said.

At the scouting combine in 2002, there was a rumor that Texas guard Mike Williams had blown out his knee. Williams completed all of the physical tests, but the rumor persisted.

"So, we get him back to Austin [Texas] and have him see a doctor who writes a letter saying that all of Mike's ligaments are fine and everything is OK and we send it out to all the teams," agent Joby Branion said. "It's the process. Everybody is looking for an edge, be it the agent or the team or the players."

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