Despite their disappointment after failing to select a quality running back, the Redskins have come away from their first competitive draft in more than a decade convinced they have solved at least one critical problem: their lack of a dominating, big-play athlete on either offense or defense.
Last year, the Redskins had to nickel-and-dime their way into the end zone with short passes and power runs, and depended on their secondary to produce turnovers. Now, Washington may have some versatile weapons at its disposal.
Wide receiver Art Monk, the No. 1 choice, is a breakaway threat who could be to the Redskins what John Stallworth, for example, is to the Steelers; an end who can turn a 10-yard square-in into a 60-yard touchdown with his size, speed and running ability.
Defensive end Mat Mendenhall, the No. 2 selection, is a quick, strong, agile pass rusher who could give Washington a consistent quarterback-sacker who can take some of the pressure off the secondary.
Considering that the Redskins can count their big offensive plays from last year on one hand, coupled with the knowledge that 36-year-old Coy Bacon led them in sacks, it seems remarkable the Redskins finished with a 10-6 record in 1979.
But Coach Jack Pardee's multiple substitution strategy can cover up weaknesses for only so long. Pardee and General Manager Bobby Beathard feel they have added a much-needed new look to the roster.
"People talk about running back, and it was a need," Pardee said. "But if we can get some big plays out of our wide receiver, then it takes the pressure off our running game. It will help open it up. Defenses won't be able to line up against us the same way."
Monk's potential as a breakaway at end furnished one reason they the Redskins passed up Charles White and other running backs in the first round. rBeathard is convinced that the available backs lacked the quickness to dominate from the backfield as effectively as Monk could from wide receiver.
There were raised eyebrows by some fans at Monk's selection, but Mendenhall represents even more of a gamble by Beathard. The 6-foot-6, 254-pound Brigham Young end has impressed in agility drills and other scouting workouts, but his senior season was marred by illness and he is not as developed as Monk.
If Mendenhall emerges as a star, then Beathard will look like a prophet. If he doesn't there always will be questions as to why Beathard didn't grab up a highly regarded player, like end Jim Stuckey from Clemson, when he could have in the first round.
"I don't think it was a gamble," Beathard said of the Mendenhall selection."When he was healthy as a junior, he was a dominating player and he was only maybe 230 pounds.
Now he is 25 pounds heavier and much stronger. He just started lifting weights.He's going to be a player."
Pardee and Doc Urich, defensive coordinator, agree with Beathard's assessment. There was no debate about Mendenhall's potential among the Redskin hierarchy. Nor was there any hesitation in drafting him.
The full impact of this draft may not be known until the role of cornerback Jeris White, who was picked up from Tampa Bay Tuesday for Danny Buggs and a fourth-round selection, is full realized.
If White is as good as the Redskins think -- "We haven't penciled in any starters at that spot yet," warned Pardee -- then he could free either Joe Lavender or Lemar Parrish as bait for a running back trade.
The acquistion of a back would solve the club's most glaring weakness. And with White starting at cornerback and Monk replacing Buggs, the new halfback might cost the Redskins only a fourth-round selection.
"We've got some backs in mind but for now I don't see a trade taking place, not before training camp," Pardee said.
"Once you get to camp, then some players become available, teams have a better idea of what they need and who they can let go. We just aren't t going to deal for anyone."
If the Redskins don't find a running back -- while it seems certain they will -- then the starting job probably would go to Buddy Hardeman over incumbent Benny Malone.
Although Pardee didn't hand Hardemen the job yesterday, he did indicate that if "we could free Buddy from his return duties by using Monk or some other people we have picked up, then Buddy could be an effective first or second-down player. He'll get a shot at showing us what he can do."
Beyond Monk, and Mendenhall, the rest of the Redskin draft is a muddle. None of the remaining six players are well known.
Farley Bell, a sixth-round pick, and Lawrence McCullough, a ninth-round selection, could become, in the Redskins' opinion, excellent players. But because they are men without definite positions -- Bell could be a linebacker or an end, while McCullough could be a receiver or a halfback -- neither may ever find a niche in pro football.
But one of them must develop, along with seventh-round choice Melvin Jones, a guard from Houston, for this draft to be a real success.
Getting just three players (Monk, Mendenhall and White) is not enough for a team with both depth and quality-of-talent problems. The Redskins need at least five roster players to turn the past two days into a memorable occasion.
"We think we have a chance at really thinking this is a good draft," Pardee said. "Except for running back, we got someone for a spot where we needed some help and that's important to us.
"We weren't as desperate at guard, but if Jones is as good as the scouts think, then we will find room for him. Farley Bell is really quick and so is McCullough and we'd like to improve our team quickness. We didn't want to get old at cornerback and now we have some young players there.
"It's important for us to have both young and old at all positions so there is an orderly transition when the veterans leave. This draft will go a long way toward fulfilling that aim."
Prior to the draft, the Redskins already had signed Bill Nelms, a highly regarded safety from the Canadian Football League, and traded with Tampa Bay for receiver Morris Owens.They regard both as bonus picks, especially if Nelms is the return man they think he is and if Owens holds onto the football better than he did with the Bucs last year.
"All in all, we have a better team now than we did before the draft," said Pardee. "Now we have to see how everyone does in training camp."