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Hey, did you hear the rumor about TCU quarterback Andy Dalton?

By now most casual NFL fans have heard the stories about Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and his questionable character. Hardcore fans, i.e., those who treat next weekend’s NFL Draft as something akin to Christmas in spring, are further familiar with the stories about Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett’s drug use, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley‘s questionable decision to skip a dinner with the Miami Dolphins, and TCU quarterback Andy Dalton‘s habit of biting the heads off bats. What, you’re unfamiliar with that last one? Well that’s because I completely made it up, so maybe we should quash that rumor right now before it gets re-tweeted to NFL officials who don’t like the idea of possibly drafting a Satan-worshipper.

But Adam Hochberg of the Poynter Institute notes in his column today that many sports reporters willingly traffic in rumor and innuendo, particularly in the lead-up to the NFL Draft. And most of the time they use anonymous sources with hidden agendas. Teams might privately covet a player, and bad-mouthing that player in the press might give other teams pause, allowing the player to fall in the draft to the team that planted the disparaging comments.

Hochberg spoke with several columnists to discuss the dynamic.

“The fans love juicy rumors,” said Wes Bunting, who writes about scouting for the National Football Post website. “A lot of times, when (a website) puts out rumor pieces, it’s not because they think it’s true, but it’s for them to get hits.”

Bunting – who admits he’s been used and deceived by sources – said his industry is almost devoid of accountability. So many rumors fly around cyberspace and get repeated and re-tweeted that it’s difficult for fans even to figure out where a false report originated, let alone hold a writer or website responsible for it.

“Everyone’s willing to throw their hat in the ring whether they have credible sources or not, because even if they’re wrong they still get a ton of hits,” Bunting said.

Oh, and another story floating around about Andy Dalton? An NFL team official told Sports Illustrated they had reservations about drafting him because – wait for it – he has red hair, and the team couldn’t think of any successful red-headed quarterback in history. Apparently they’ve never heard of Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen.

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