Last weekend was a long and unsettled one for Bobby Beathard, the Redskins' general manager. He was fighting a bad cold and a bad dream. Between sneezes, he kept fretting that his prime find in the upcoming NFL draft, defensive end Mat Mendenhall, would be picked by another team before the Redskins had a chance to select him.
"We've got to take Mendenhall on the first round," Beathard told Mike Allman, Washington's player personnel director, during a telephone conversation Sunday morning, 48 hours before the start of Tuesday's draft. "He's got everything we want. I'm convinced more than ever we are right."
But even as Beathard talked, he still was not entirely convinced that Mendenhall, a 6-foot-6, 255-pound tackle from Brigham Young, should become Washington's first No. 1 choice in 12 years.
None of the league's scouting combines had rated Mendenhall much higher than a fourth-round choice because his senior season had been marred by illness. And only eight clubs other than Washington had worked him out this spring. If no one else ranked him as highly as Beathard, then Mendenhall surely would be available when the Redskins picked late in the second round. If so, the team could use its first-round selection for a running back or a wide receiver.
"If there is any possibility we would lose him, then take him No. 1," Allman said, although both men knew such a first-round selection would certainly stir controversy in Washington.
Beathard hung up. The decision had been made. Washington would use its first pick to take Mat Mendenhall, the only athlete in the whole draft, who, as Beathard said later, "excited me with his skills during a workout."
The NFL draft really is a chess game among the league's top personnel men. Each tries to peer into the others' minds. If each could guess which player another team would take on an early round, then each could plan his strategy without much problem.
That's why Bobby Beathard spent all of last Monday on the phone. The Mendenhall decision still gnawed at him.
"I look at it like this," Beathard kept explaining to his associate at Redskin Park. "If we take Mendenhall in the first round, then the running backs we want (Joe Cribbs of Auburn or Jewerl Thomas of San Jose State) won't be there when we pick in the second and we'll have to take James Jones (Mississippi State), But if we take a runner in the first, Mendenhall probably will be there in the second."
So Beathard talked to almost every club in the league the final hours before the draft. Without tipping his hand, he asked the scouts about the best defensive linemen. Beathard held his breath, hoping his BYU phenom would not be mentioned. He wasn't.
Another interesting fact came out of the conversations. Some of Beathard's top sources in the league kept telling him wide receiver Art Monk of Syracuse would be available when the Redskins picked in the first round.
"Unbelievable," Beathard told Allman. "Art Monk should be gone long before we pick. But maybe we can get him." Monk was rated by the Redskins as the 12th-best player in the draft and far above any running back on their list except Billy Sims. To have a shot at Monk, a breakaway threat and a player Beathard thought "would be a star before long," was an unexpected bonus.
By Monday night, the Redskin brain trust had reconsidered. It seemed apparent Mendenhall would be left by the 27th pick in the second round. If Monk was on the draft board in the first round, the Redskins would nab him. Otherwise, Cribbs would be their pick. And if Cribbs was gone, Thomas would be the selection.
Cribbs, a standout at tailback as a junior in the same backfield with Atlanta's William Andrews, moved to fullback as a senior and his statistics tailed off. Still, he had gone hands and quick feet and he probably was better than Benny Malone, the Redskins' starting halfback. Beathard also liked Thomas, a burly 219-pounder who had played at 243 in one all-star game. Thomas had size and strength over the 198-pound Cribbs but wasn't quite as fast.
Weeks before, Washington had ruled out selecting Heisman Trophy winner Charles White on the first round. Beathard respected White's courage but he kept looking at the quality of the USC offensive line and White's lack of exceptional acceleration. He knew practically every other club agreed with his assessment. He rated Notre Dame's Vagas Ferguson higher.
At 9:30 Monday night, less than 13 hours before the start of the draft, Coach Jack Pardee already had prepared Redskin fans for the probable surprise of the next day by telling a reporter that the team wasn't going to follow the crowd and select players on reputation alone.Beathard was left with one worry: a mystery man with a broken ankle. One final call to Mendenhall earlier in the evening had produced an unexpected tidbit: when Pittsburgh worked him out, the drill was observed by a Steeler representative with a cast on his ankle.
Beathard knew Pittsburgh would never use a first- or second-round pick on anyone that had not been inspected in person by Coach Chuck Noll or personnel man Dick Haley. Mendenhall had never talked to Noll but maybe Haley had a broken ankle and Berthard hadn't heard about it. If that was Haley at the workout, then the Steelers might be a threat.
"I'm going to make a few more calls," Beathard told Allman. "I have to find out who the guy with the broken ankle is. But I still think we can wait until the second round for Mendenhall."
When Beathard walked into Redskin Park Tuesday morning, he immediately called Tampa Bay. The two clubs had talked weeks before about a trade involving Danny Buggs and Tampa's Jeris White. The Bucs wanted a third-round pick tossed in, a pick the Redskins did not have.
But now that he thought he could get Monk, making Buggs expendable, Beathard wanted to know if Tampa was still interested in a deal involving a No. 4 selection. Tampa said it would call back. While the Redskins waited, Pardee and his assistants watched film of White taken last season.
"If you can get him, take him," Pardee finally told Beathard.
The draft began. The Redskins had nine picks in 12 rounds. Allman and Beathard thought the club had an excellent chance going in to select Monk or Cribbs on the first round, Mendenhall on the second, Syracuse guard Greg Wolfley or Houston guard Melvin Jones on the fourth, Cincinnati linebacker Farley Bell or Vanderbilt receiver Preston Brown on the sixth, Virginia Union receiver Malcolm Barnwell on the seventh, Illinois receiver Lawrence McCullough on the ninth. Texas A&I linebacker Andy Hawkins on the 10th, Texas Arlington defensive end Andy Matocha on the 11th and Hawaii tight end Jerry Scanlan on the 12th.
They particularly were excited about McCullough, Hawkins and Pat Ogren, a defensive lineman from Wyoming. Beathard considered all three fine talents who were under-rated by most scouts.
But first came the matter of Monk and Mendenhall. When the Jets and San Francisco pulled off an opening-round trade as the draft began, the proceedings were thrown out of kilter. Clubs wer scrambling but, one by one, they passed by Monk. Cleveland, selected 15th, gave up its turn while working on a deal with Los Angeles. Oakland quickly made its pick, then Buffalo, Beathard, not wanting to give Cleveland a chance to get back into the round, almost called out Monk's name before the Bills had finished making their announcement.
After the cheering in the Redskins' draft room ended, Beathard hurried out to announce the choice to the press while the first round wound down. No one took Mendenhall.
There had been a moment minutes earlier when Beathard and Pardee had mulled over selecting BYU quarterback Marc Wilson and using him as trade bait. It would mean losing Monk but the Redskins thought they could secure possibly a second- or third-round choice plus a later pick in the first round to take Cribbs. But Oakland grabbed Wilson two choices before Washington's turn.
When Beathard returned to the room, the second round had begun. Oakland, choosing 15th made its selection. Over the speaker phone came a voice: "We take Matt" . . . and Beathard's stomach turned over . . . "Millen." Chicago, choosing 18th, took "Matt" . . . and again Beathard started to feel sick . . . "Suhey." Pittsburgh already had picked linebacker Robert Kohrs from Arizona State. Los Angeles, selecting just before Washington, took Arizona's Cleveland Crosby.
Mendenhall had not been discovered. He was there for the plucking and, again, the Redskins never hesitated.
Later, a reporter asked if Washington had considered taking Mendenhall in the first round.
"We thought about it," Beathard said, trying his best to hide a quick smile.
Tampa Bay called back just before the start of the second round. The Bucs would take Buggs and a No. 4 for White.
Beathard made the announcement to the press when he had finished talking about Mendenhall's selection. "Oh yeah," he said casually. "We've made a trade."
As the rounds wound down, things worked out better than Washington could have hoped, considering the lack of a third-round pick. That was the round where Thomas and two other top prospects, Kansas safety Leroy Irvin and Norfolk State cornerback Earl Jones were taken. Wolfley and Melvin Jones still were around in the fourth, but now the Redskins had no choice and Wolfley went to Pittsburgh ("the rich get richer," said Beathard) in the fifth.
Bell, whom they thought would never last beyond the fourth, was still left in the sixth and they selected him, passing up Brown, who went later in that round to New England. And Jones, a player Beathard figured could be gone by the second round, remained on the board in the seventh for Washington to draft. That eased the pain of losing Barnwell earlier in that round to Oakland.
McCullough, a speedster who had played out of position at quarterback in college, also was left when the Redskins' turn in the ninth round came. In the 10th, Washington thought it had Hawkins wrapped up --. "He could be another Monte Coleman," Beathard said -- but Tampa Bay took him just before Washington's turn and the Redskins settled for running back Lewis Walker from Utah.
Matocha, a small but quick defensive lineman, became the 11th-round pick, as Washington had hoped, and Scanlan still was available on the 12th. But Beathard opted for cornerback Marcene Emmett from North Alabama and immediately began negotiating to sign Scanlan as a free agent.
Later, Beathard found out Detroit probably would have picked Mendenhall as the first player in the third round. But no one in the league was toying with taking him higher.So Beathard's 48 hours of worry had been for naught.
Still, the Redskins had drafted the two players they wanted the most, plus four who were on their predraft desirable list.It had been, they all thought in the draft room, a highly successful two days.
And Beathard found out who the man with the broken ankle was: another Pittsburgh scout, not Haley. For a chance, the Steelers apparently had overlooked a top prospect.