Originally created 04/18/99

Williams' fall to No. 5 a surprise

NEW YORK -- The rap against Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams might have been Master P. Or, it might have been that the Indianapolis Colts really liked Edgerrin James better.

Whatever the reason, the leading rusher in NCAA Division I history was at the center of the biggest surprise in Saturday's NFL draft.

Williams knew he wouldn't be the No. 1 pick, but never expected to be the second running back chosen.

That's what happened, though, when the Colts went for James with the fourth pick, allowing the New Orleans Saints to trade away all their draft choices -- and a few in 2000 -- to Washington in order to move up and select Williams with the No. 5 pick.

"It was kind of a shock to be the second running back, but I'm glad to go to the New Orleans Saints," said a subdued Williams, clearly stunned the Colts passed on him. "It's flattering to know the Saints made a deal like they did. Now, I hope I can justify that."

Colts president Bill Polian said he went with James because of his receiving ability, adding that possible contract problems with Williams' negotiator, Leland Hardy of No Limit Sports, had nothing to do with the selection process.

After Williams signed with Master P earlier this year, the rapper gave up control of the company, and Hardy became the chief financial officer. No Limit Sports has no major football players as clients, according to Hardy.

"It basically was a tie with James and Ricky Williams, but Edgerrin's ability in the passing game was (the difference)," Polian said. "Signability had absolutely nothing to do with it."

But quarterback Akili Smith, a longtime friend of Williams who went to Cincinnati with the third overall pick, had a different take.

"I was sitting next to (former coach) Marty Schottenheimer, and heard him say something about the owner of the Colts thought signing Ricky might be tough to do because of his agent Master P," Smith said.

Williams, the 5-foot-10 3-4, 236-pounder who ran for a record 6,279 yards at Texas, wasn't buying the agent rap.

"I don't think it had anything to do with it at all," Williams said. "I was prepared to go fourth because of the deal that the Colts had made. I was kind of set back a little bit, kind of thrown off when they took Edgerrin."

Earlier this week, the Colts traded Marshall Faulk, a three-time Pro Bowl running back, to the St. Louis Rams.

Williams also endured weeks of questioning about his weight -- up over 245 at one point -- and his appearance -- he wears dreadlocks, has several tattoos and a pierced tongue. He said he's relieved now that he knows where he'll be playing.

"I think there's even more relief knowing I'm going to play where they don't care about the way I look," Williams said. "I can be myself and be very comfortable in New Orleans, hopefully thrive there, also."

Hardy, who spent a good deal of time talking to Master P and the Saints via cellphone, said he believes contract negotiations will go smoothly. Asked about Williams being a tough sign, he said: "I'm not buying that at all.

"I entered a pact with Terry O'Neil of the Saints on April 7 or 8 that all negotiations must take place on the golf course. So I would say the contract situation will work out."

A few minutes later, Hardy had Williams on the cellphone talking with Saints coach Mike Ditka, and they were off to the airport for a trip to New Orleans.


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