Johnny Rodgers: Heisman Trophy winner, consensus All-America from Nebraska, first-round pick of the San Diego chargers in 1972. Total NFL rushing yards: 49. Total NFL receptions: 17. Hurt knee in 1978. Now out of football. A draft miss.

Wilbert Montgomery: Lightly-regarded back from Abilene Christian, bothered by thigh problems his senior year, selected on the sixth round of the 1977 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Already has had back-to-back 1,000 yards rushing seasons and is a two-time Pro Bowl participant. A draft hit.

Walt Patulski: First player chosen in the 1972 draft, consensus All-America defensive prospect. Out of pro football, after four unimpressive seasons with Buffalo. A draft miss.

Mike Webster: A fifth-round pick in the 1974 draft by Pittsburgh out of Wisconsin, moved to center from natural guard spot, now considered the top player at his position in the league. A draft hit.

Despite thousands of man-hours and dollars invested by NFL teams in the annual college draft, major mistakes in personnel judgment are made every year.

Heisman Trophy winners are taken on the first round and flop. All-America linemen are grabbed immediately and never earn a starting spot. "Sleeper" candidates are chosen with glee, only to remain Rip Van Winkles when given a uniform.

And just as many players the football public has barely heard of make it big: Wilbert Montgomery, Walter Payton, Ottis Anderson, Mean Joe Greene, Too Tall Jones.

San Francisco tabbed a cornerback, Tim Anderson of Ohio State, on the first round of the 1971 draft. Anderson was going to solve the 49ers' secondary problems for the next decade. "Can't miss," said club officials.

He did miss. The 49ers had never timed him in a 40-yard dash. He couldn't run very fast. Certainly not fast enough to stay up with the league's wide receivers. Anderson soon was a spectator and the club's secondary weaknesses continued.

"It comes down to one thing," said Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' personnel man. "We are all human. We make mistakes. People say, 'How could that guy flop? How could you pick him?' Easy. We thought he would be good.

"You only hope that you profit by your mistakes. You look back at every draft, study it and try to figure out what you saw or didn't see in a player that made you like or not like him."

But there also are other reasons for the hit-and-miss nature of the draft:

Some teams have better men doing the picking. "There aren't that many good evaluators in the league," says Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard. Poor scouts, bad information and lousy judgments lead to mistakes.

Many players are rated by fans on the basis of publicity: all-America teams, Heisman voting, glowing feature stories in leading newspapers and magazines. But those aren't always the best players in the eyes of pro scouts.

"One guy may be the most talked about football player in the country," said Ram General Manager Don Klosterman, "but take him away from his line or from his coach and he can't function in the pros."

Some athletes, Brandt says, "never advance to the next level. They've been great in college, great in high school, great in pee-wee. But in pros, they aren't willing to do what's necessary to be good: work in the off-season, devote a lot of time to study, keep in excellent shape, things like that. They just stop maturing; they refuse to make the necessary sacrifices."

Injuries sometimes cut off a player's career before he has a chance to excel. In this season's draft, offensive tackle Anthony Munoz and defensive tackle Bruce Clark both have knee problems. They will be taken on the first round, but both could have limited pro futures.

Some failures in the draft are more puzzling than others. Rodgers, for example, was considered by many experts to be a quality blue-chipper despite limited size. He had great quickness, exciting moves and an uncanny ability to come up with big plays in pressure situations.

"The only problem," says one AFC general manager, "is that he got rich before he got good. He had all the cars and coats and fancy apartments before he had played a game in the pros. He didn't have to play that well to make the big bucks."

Rodgers decided to play in Canada -- a move duplicated last season by Ohio State's Tom Cousineau -- instead of the NFL. He had four good years, by Canadian standards, then signed with the Chargers. His first year, 1977, he caught 12 passes. He caught five his second before being sidelined with a knee injury that has ended his career.

Other failures are easier to explain. Patulski wasn't aggressive.Heismann winners Gary Beban and Terry Baker were fine college quarterbacks who didn't have the arm or the talent for the pros. Notre Dame tight end Ken MacAfee, the seventh player chosen in the 1978 draft, is on the 49er trading block after demonstrating he couldn't run or block up to pro standards. Ken Novak, a giant defensive tackle selected by Baltimore in the first round of the 1976 draft, had fine straight-ahead speed but no lateral movement.

"Two scouts can see the same guy work out and come away with two different opinions," Beathard said. "It's that simple. I may put more weight on quickness than the other guy, things like that. But a lot of it is instinct. You just have to hope your confidence holds up."

Brandt says drafting "is like a beauty contest. You can walk in and immediately pick out the prettiest ones and the ugliest ones. But the hard part is trying to pick from everyone else. What do you go for? Legs, face, personality? Everyone has different tastes, so you make different selections."

To fans, some of the first-round selections in recent drafts have been stunning, lightly publicized players like Payton, Anderson, Robert Brazile or Russ Francis.

But in the world of the sophisticated NFL draft, none of those picks were surprises. "They were blue chippers, every one," Klosterman said. "The fact Walter Payton made it surprises everyone out there only because he never got the publicity in college a guy from a big school would have received.

"You can't expect the fans to know who all the good players are. That's why everyone scouts so much. If Payton hadn't made it, then that would have been a surprise."

One myth about the draft is that every team comes into it equally prepared. There are horror stories scouts tell over a long dinner that would make some club loyalists cash in their season tickets: selections made on the basis of a friend's advice or a magazine article, picks executed because a head coach liked an assistant at a certain school, choices decided because of pressure from the owner to "take a big star."

"Let's face it," Brandt said. "This is like any business. You have people who work harder than others, who are more competent than others. Usually, this competence is reflected in how a team does season after season."

For one thing, stability in the organization helps. The Steelers have had one head coach, Chuck Noll, the last decade. He also directs their drafting. He knows the kind of players he wants and his scouts use this information to weed out unqualified prospects.

In contrast, New Orleans has had five head coaches in the past 10 years and just as many changes in its front office.

"If you have a head coach like we do, who has been here and has developed complete ideas on his system and the guys he wants to fit into it, it helps your job," Brandt said. "I don't know, for example, if a Paul Hornung could have played for us, but he fit into what Vince Lombardi wanted just fine.

"If you have a lot of changes in your front office, you wind up not being able to fit the players to the system the current coach wants to use."

Beathard agrees. "This is the third draft that Jack (Pardee) and I have worked together," he said, "and more and more we are on the righ page. I am more conscious of the type of linebacker he wants or what he is looking for in a halfback.

"Remember, some guys might be stars for one team and one coach, and not as good for the other team and other coach. A lot depends on how you use the guys you draft."

This "system approach" is carried through to scouting college teams. The successful talent hunters are the ones that can take a player like Archie Griffin, block out how well he was utilized in the Buckeye system and project him instead within a pro-style offense.

"A former Ohio State player like Bob Ferguson never was a good pro because in college he just had to run straight ahead. But in the pros, he had to do other things," said one NFL scout. "A lot of scouting departments in this league could never see that distinction."

If an owner was going to construct a team from scratch these days, he would have to do two things first: make an unswerving committment to build through the draft despite temptations to follow George Allen's trade 'em off approach, and hire one of the league's elite personnel men.

That group includes Pittsburgh's Dick Haley, Dallas' Brandt, Washington's Beathard, New England's Bucko Kilroy, Los Angeles' Dick Steinberg, Buffalo's Norm Pollom, Tampa Bay's Ken Herock and Chicago's Jim Finks.

But even those super scouts are having a more difficult time dominating their profession, thanks to the growing sophistication of the draft.

Teams have more scouts spending more time looking at more players than ever before. Even owners are getting involved, making trips to talk to prospects and courting agents.

Where once a timed 40-yard dash was the major test of a prospect's ability, now the athletes are run through a battery of drills. The fact the draft is now in late April or early May every year instead of February allows even the slow-poke clubs to compile thorough reports on the best college seniors.

"I still enjoy the draft, I still get butterflies on draft day, but it's not like the old days," Klosterman said. "Before, when the draft was in February, you could nurture a sleeper and pick him off and feel real good about it.

"I don't think there are any sleepers anymore, at least someone that no one but one team has heard of. Everyone is about even, I think. It's hard to get an edge strickly through the draft."

And Brandt thinks the draft will get even more sophisticated in upcoming years.

"They also can bring them in for six months or so on a trial basis.We really don't have that luxury. We've got a few weeks in training camp to make a decision on most of the rookies, although I guess most teams hold onto their No. 1 choices for a few years, even if they are bad, just to save face.

"We've got to find ways to take more of the guess work out of these systems, to make it more reliable."

For now, the clubs are stuck with their current system of part-scientific approach, part hunches. And that leaves a lot of room for error, especially when facing the kind of draft that is coming up on Tuesday.

The 1980 draft isn't deep in blue chip prospects. The bonafide future stars will be gone before the 10th pick of the opening round., After that, there will be frequent finger-crossing.

"Anyone can scout a Billy Sims and know he is a player," Beathard said. "And everyone should be able to get at least a good first-round pick out of this draft. After that, well, you just hope you don't pick up any guys that will embarrass you."