Coach Jack Pardee said yesterday "there might be some real surprises" when the Washington Redskins use their first NFL first-round draft choice in 12 years today, to most likely select a defensive lineman or a running back.
"We certainly are considering players whose names aren't that well known," Pardee said. "If you follow the crowd, you can get hurt. You have to rely on your own experience and judgment.
"The player we take might not be that well regarded in press releases, but we'll think he is the kind we need to upgrade our team."
Even as late as yesterday, Pardee, General Manager Bobby Beathard and their assoicates still were mulling over strategy. They realize that trades and early-round surprise selections could enable them to pick even a well-regarded wide receiver such as Lam Jones or Art Monk over their first two priorities.
"We are going into the draft with defensive linemen as our first priority and running backs as our second," said Beathard. "We won't be unhappy if we get either in the first round. But you never know what will happen in the first round."
Unless Beathard is convinced he still can land a quality defensive lineman late in the second round -- an iffy proposition in this year's draft -- it seems likely the Redskins will get back into the drafting business by taking a lineman in the first round over a running back. Yesterday, he still was trying to deal for a better second-round position.
"It's 50-50 we will get a defensive lineman we want in the first round," taken up quickly and I just don't know who will be left.
"But I'm confident we will get a good running back out of this draft. Someone who will improve the position.
"We have a dilemma. Do you take a running back, for example, on round one, and hope to get a defensive lineman late? Or do you make sure with the lineman and go for a lesser runner later in the draft?"
Beathard has remained close-mouthed about his favorite players. But like Pardee, he admits to having a number of athletes rated much differently than most of the conventonal scouting systems.
"We could wind up taking two players from the same position in the first two rounds," Pardee warned. "That wouldn't be ideal but we aren't going to fill our needs by taking lesser players than might be available at other spots."
Beathard's choice as a running back (the Redskins want a speedster with quickness) could be one of these three players, as long as folks like Curtis Dickey and Billy Sims are not around come the 18th pick:
Joe Cribbs, a 5-foot-9, 190-pounder from Auburn who led the SEC in rushing two years ago before moving to fullback last season. He is explosive, but Washington could shy away from him because of his lack of size. e
Vagas Ferguson, a 6-0, 195-pounder who is Notre Dame's all-time leading rusher. A quick, slashing runner, he is bigger than Cribbs and improved considerably his senior year.
Perry Harrington, a 5-11, 210-pounder from Jackson State who also could play fullback. Once compared to former Jackson State star Walter Payton, he is a explosive but prefers to run over people instead of around them. He has a lot of potential.
Despite reports to the contrary, the Redskins will not pick Heisman Trophy winner Charles White if the Southern California back is available, team sources reiterated yesterday.
"We like runners like Ferguson and Cribbs and Harrington and Charles White," Beathard said. "But there might be some people out there we like better. There is a lot of speculation going on. We'll just have to see how things develop."
In defensive linemen (the Redskins want a big, mobile fellow who can rush passers) Beathard's selection could be from among these players.
Curtis Greer, a 6-4, 255-pounder from Michigan who is rated among the top four or five defensive linemen in this draft. If a trend toward secondary backs or running backs develops in the early part of the first round, he could be left and Washington would have to consider him.
Matt Millen, a 6-1, 260-pounder from Penn State who has been plagued by back troubles. But he is a fierce competitor.
Doug Martin, a 6-3, 253-pounder from Washington whose brother, George, plays for the New York Giants. Martin has not lived up to his potential.
Rulon Jones, a 6-6, 250-pounder from Utah state who is coming off a lackluster senior season. He has a hot temper, even for a football player, and the Redskins may not want to take a chance on someone with a questionable attitude.
Ideally, the Redskins would like their first two picks to be players who, as Beathard put it, "could step in and be potential starters right away."
As far as his remaining seven choices (Washington does not have picks in the third, fifth or ninth rounds), Beathard said, "they would have to be players who would help us on the special teams, and you also hope a few would give good backup at some positions."
Added Pardee: "If we could get six players (who could make the team) out of the draft, it would be fine."
The Redskins lost their No. 3 choice when George Allen traded for guard Dan Nugent in 1976. They also used a No. 2 selection in that deal but got one back from the Rams in the Eddie Brown deal last season.
Their No. 5 choice went to the threeway trade with Buffalo and Miami that brought Benny Malone to Washington in 1979. The Redskin got a No. 5 in the Eddie Brown trade but used it to acquire tight end Gregg McCrary from Atlanta in 1968. McCray later was cut.
Their No. 9 selection was sent to Miami for tight end Jim Mandich in 1978.
Only San Francisco, with eight, has fewer choices in this draft than Washington. But considering the Redskins haven't had a first, second or third pick since 1972, there are no complaints coming from Redskin Park.
Once beyond the opening rounds, the Reskins will be seeking offensive tackles (both Terry Hermeling and Goerge Starke are over 30) and defensive backs (cornerbacks Lemar Parrish and Joe Lavender and safety Ken Houston are over 30). And they are always searching for wide receivers. "You always go into the draft with some anticipation and excitement," Pardee said. "When I was with Chicago, we had to sweat out three choices before Walter Payton came up. Here you have to wait longer. But I'm sure we are going to come out of this with some good players."
Even if few fans have ever heard of them before.