The Redskins, who promised possible surprises in the opening rounds of the NFL draft, shocked even themselves yesterday by choosing two players they thought they'd never get: wide receiver Art Monk of Syracuse in the first round and defensive end Mat Mendenhall of Brigham Young in the second.
And just to make the day of unexpected twists and turns complete, Washington later traded its fourth-round selection and No. 1 wide receiver Danny Buggs to Tampa Bay for cornerback Jeris White, the Bucs' best defensive back.
The Redskins picked a linebacker, Farley Bell of Cincinnati, in the sixth round. Bell is projected to eventually become a defensive end if he can grow from 235 to 245 pounds.
Just as important, the Redskins feel Monk could become the game-breaking player that their offense lacked last season. He is especially vital to their attack since he has the size to catch passes over the middle, a problem for the club last season.
Bell, the sixth-round pick, has exceptional quickness and agility, according to Beathard. "He could be a great defensive end if he can get 10 pounds heavier," he said. "Until then, he can be a fine special teams player as a linebacker. He's a good one, too. But many teams couldn't place him in one spot."
Although they came away from the first session of the draft, which ends today, without a running back to fill one of their glaring weaknesses, General Manager Bobby Beathard and Coach Jack Pardee were ecstatic over what had transpired.
"I'm really comfortable with everyone we've picked up today," Pardee said. Added Beathard: "We've really strengthened our team. I couldn't be more pleased."
Pardee and Beathard agreed that Monk and Mendenhall, who ranks as a true "sleeper" in this draft, have the ability to solve two of the team's biggest needs: a big, strong, fast wide receiver and a young, pass-rushing defensive lineman who can push 36-year-old Coy Bacon for a starting spot.
The club's faith in Monk, a 6-foot-2, 209-pound speedster who made some all-America teams last season, was illustrated by the trade involving Buggs, who led the Redskins in receptions the last two years. Beathard said that by drafting Monk, Washington felt if could deal off Buggs for a quality cornerback like White, who brings youth to one of the oldest positions on the team.
"I feel White can step in and play for us if one of our cornerbacks gets hurt," said Beathard, who originally selected White for Miami in the second round of the 1974 draft. "He's certainly better than anyone we could have picked up in the fourth round today."
Washington already was without third- and fifth-round selections in this draft before giving up its fourth-round pick, which it probably would have used to take a cornerback anyway. In the final session today, the Redskins have a choice in every round except the ninth.
"I hope we can solve our running back need with one of our last picks," said Pardee, although no one at Redskin Park was ruling out future trades in lieu of drafting to acquire a running back who could beat out Benny Malone.
According to Beathard, the Redskins began the opening day expecting to use their initial first-round draft choice in 12 years to select Auburn running back Joe Cribbs.
But when Monk, who also is a topnotch kick returner, was still available when Washington's turn came 18 picks into the round, the Redskins didn't hesitate to take him.
"He was the 12th-rated guy on our draft board," said Beathard. "He was way above anyone else left, including Cribbs. We'd thought he would be gone. When our choice came up, it took us maybe 10 seconds to take him."
In taking Monk, Washington passed up Heisman Trophy-winner Charles White and Notre Dame's Vegas Ferguson, both all-America running backs. The Washington Post reported two weeks ago that the Redskins would not pick White on the first round.
"Charles is a great back and he'd be a starter here," Beathard said. "But he was below our fifth-rated back. We liked Cribbs better. But Monk was just too good to pass up."
Mendenhall, who had a ruptured appendix last summer, was considered a fourth- to sixth-round selection by most draft experts after a lackluster senior season at BYU. But Beathard and his associates thought so highly of him that they almost drafted him in the first round.
"We were tempted," Beathard said after the first day of draft action ended. "But we took a gamble. We called around and asked enough questions and we thought he'd be available. But until it was our turn (27 choices into the second round), we held our breath. I felt for sure Pittsburgh might grab him and we'd never get him.
"To me, we got two first-round draft choices, two guys you could never expect to get, considering our draft position."
While Monk is rated a certain future star in the league -- "He's a young Bobby Mitchell or Charley Taylor," Beathard said -- Mendenhall has to be considered a gamble by the Redskins.
Defensive coordinator Doc Urich said Mendenhall could have a couple of years to develop because he didn't have to step in and start immediately. Like many Washington linemen, he could be used in spot situations until becoming a full-time player.
"We almost missed him but he was on our spring workout list and (personnel director) Mike Allman saw him and got excited," Beathard said. "I worked him out and I loved him. He's big, strong, quick, agile. He's got everything you want in a defensive end. I can't believe how super he is."
Mendenhall is just glad to be alive, much less playing for Washington. His appendix ruptured six weeks before it was diagnosed by doctors and he spent another six weeks in the hospital recovering.
"The doctors were worried," he said. "I only missed three games but I really never regained full strength until a month ago."
Since the season ended, Mendenhall has lifted weights and has increased his strength appreciably. After playing as low as 215 pounds during the year, he now weighs 254.
"If he hadn't got sick, he would have been a first-rounder," said Beathard.
"But then we would never have been able to draft him. He is 100 percent healthy now."
Mendenhall said he had expected to be drafted in the fourth round or later. But Monk knew he would go in either the first or second round -- and he was hoping it would be to Washington.
"My agent (Richard Bennett) is from Washington and I like the situation there," he said. "I knew they had interest in me."
Monk wanted to attend the University of Maryland, but his mother preferred Syracuse. "I followed her advice," he said.
Monk was a wide receiver as a freshman but was a starting running back as a sophomore and junior, gaining 1,140 yards in all. But after the opening game of his senior year, he was moved permanently to wide receiver, where he hauled in 40 passes for a 17.9-yard average.
"My favorite position is receiver," he said. "That's where I've always wanted to play. I never even dreamed of playing pro until my sophomore year in college. Until then, I was just playing because I love the game."
The Redskins raved yesterday about Monk's athletic ability -- a high school track star, he runs a 9.6 100, high-jumps 6-2 and triple-jumps almost 50 feet -- and Syracuse Coach Frank Maloney said the club was getting "much, much more."
"He's just a naturally gifted, God-created specimen," Maloney said. "He runs like a deer. He can run a 4.4 40 and he can get open deep. He could have been an Olympic candidate if he wanted to be."
"He's quiet and humble, probably the most modest guy chosen in the first round. But he never got hurt and he never missed a practice. He has those big, soft hands and he runs so effortlessly. But he blows by people."
The Redskins last year didn't have a receiver who could fulfill a breakaway role. They are convinced Monk can be such a threat.
"He can go wide or out and he can go deep," Pardee said. "He's the bigplay man we need." Offensive Coordinator Joe Walton said. "Last year, you can count on one hand the number of long gainers we had on passes. Hopefully, he can solve that."
Navy can testify on Monk's abilities. He caught 14 passes in a game against the Midshipmen, who did everything but cover him with their mascot, a goat.
"You've got to have a receiver who can catch the ball and then run with it, like a Lynn Swann," said Walton. "Art Monk can do that for us."