The Redskins slashed deeply into their once-promising 1980 draft crop yesterday by cutting three choices and placing another on injured reserve.

In reducing the squad to the required 60 members. Washington released receiver Lawrence McCullough, No. 9 pick from Illinois; defensive end Mike Matocha, No. 11 pick from Texas-Arlington, and cornerback Marcene Emmett, No. 12 pick from North Alabama.

The redskins also put guard Melvin Jones, No. 7 pick from Houston, on injured reserve. Jones has phlebitis. Joining him on the injured reserve roster are Pat Ogrin, a free agent defensive tackle from Wyoming; Ken Harrison, ex-San Francisco wide receiver; and Jack Shrawder, free agent defensive tackle from East Stroudsburg.

Of the eight players drafted by Washington in May, only two -- No. 1 choice Art Monk and No. 2 selection Mat Mendenhall -- are left on the squad, which still must be reduced to 45 by Sept. 1.

Otherwise, the high hopes held by the club for its first nearly complete draft in a decade have been shattered in this training camp by a combination of subpar performances by the choices and unexpected showings by free agent rookies.

Another draft choice, No. 6 Farley Bell, a linebacker from Cincinnati, walked out of camp three weeks ago. He was placed in a special league category yesterday, as were holdouts Jeris White and John Riggins. Halfback Lewis Walker, No. 10 pick from Utah, hurt himself early in training camp and was put on injured reserve.

"You've got to remember that we didn't have a third, fourth or fifth round pick," Coach Jack Pardee said. "After the fifth round, everything else is a long shot anyway.

"We've been fortunate to have a good free agent crop. We've got some good players yet who are free agents."

The Redskins used their fourth round choice in the Tampa Bay trade that brought them White, who has yet to report to camp because of a contract dispute.

At least two rookie free agents still left on the roster figured prominently in yesterday's cuts.

Wide receiver Zion McKinney, from South Carolina, drew raves from Pardee for his play against Cleveland in the Monday night exhibition game. "He was knocking down secondary people on every play," Pardee said. "The films will get around. He'll have the cornerbacks in Dallas looking around for him."

That was a pretty strong endorsement for McKinney, who is vying for a roster spot with veterans Morris Owens and Ricky Thompson. McKinney's surprising play in camp eliminated any hope that McCullough, a quarterback in college trying to make the difficult transition to receiver, had in making the squad.

Chris Godfrey, a free agent defensive tackle who had mononucleosis his senior year at Michigan, also has been so consistent that the Redskins found themselves with too many defensive linemen. They finally decided to develop Mendenhall and Godfrey and release Matocha, who was considered a true sleeper when selected by General Manager Bobby Beathard in the May draft.

Although the Redskins lack cornerback depth, Emmett just didn't have the ability to play in the league. Pardee said safety Tony Peters now would begin receiving more time at cornerback during practice.

Those players now on injured reserve, including Jones and Walker, can't be added to the roster this season unless they clear waivers. But after the season, they can be placed directly on the active roster.

Jones, who played tackle in college is an especially promising talent who will profit by a year's development. He is strong and has good physical ability, but he had trouble making the move to guard, where there is spirited competition in camp.

Beathard still hopes he can talk Bell, who is projected as an eventual defensive end, into returning to the team sometime in the future. Bell left camp after becoming discouraged about playing linebacker. In his absence, free agent Kevin Turner has been so impressive that he is almost assured of a roster spot.

As many as five free agent rookies could survive the final cut: Turner, Godfrey, McKinney, fullback Ricky Claitt and tackle Jerry Scanlan. Pardee said Claitt had another good game against Cleveland and is really pushing to make it at fullback. "He just needs more playing time."

Yesterday's developments came after Pardee had spent an uncomfortable few hours in the film room, watching his club's stumbling peformance against the Browns Monday night.

Although the Redskins won, 12-3, Pardee was the first to admit he was unsatisfied with what he saw, calling the game, "amateur night."

"You don't play winning football doing what we did," he said. "We get eight turnovers and we can't score a touchdown. It was very poor coaching to have all those penalties and mistakes and lack of organization that was going on out there."

Pardee said he made a mistake "by deciding to go out and work on our passing game. Every time you do that, something happens and it is usually bad. Everything else falls apart. You have passers and runners and receivers and no one seems to be playing together.

"It was one of those nights. We decided to use a lot of people and mistakes are going to result. But we won't be bringing in four people like we did on every offensive play from now on."

One player who survived was safety Mike Nelms, who has emerged as a legitimate contender for Mark Murphy's free safety position.

"If Mike keeps doing what he's doing, we'll have to get him on the field more," Pardee said. "We'll have to give real serious consideration to him (as a starter). We can use him for nickle and maybe for first down run or play action situations. He covers a lot of ground."

Murphy took over last year from Jake Scott at free safety. He led the club in tackles and fills the role as secondary quarterback. But the Redskins are looking for more big plays from that position and Nelms, who had an interception and caused a fumble against Cleveland, has what Pardee calls a knack of being where he should be all the time.

Nelms also is the No. 1 punt returner and showed some impressive moves Monday night. It is probable that the Redskins will stay with Murphy, at least early in the season, while trying to give Nelms more and more playing time.

Linebackers Monte Coleman and Rich Milot also had good performances against the Browns. Pardee is hesitant about starting Coleman, and Milot remains a backup to middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz. But Pardee said," "Monte and Rich will be used a lot. They'll be on the field."