The Redskins walked away from last spring's National Football League draft believing, as Coach Jack Pardee said then, "we've got a better team now than we did before we started picking."

Now, the club is not so sure that the draft, Washington's first in 11 years that included a first- and second-round pick, warranted such optimism.

Of the eight players selected, only one -- wide receiver Art Monk -- remains on the active roster.

Three others -- defensive end Mat Mendenhall, running back Lewis Walker and guard Melvin Jones -- will spend the season on the injured reserve list. Another defensive end Farley Bell, walked out of training camp but could be given another tryout next year.

The Redskins cut everyone else: wide receiver Lawrence McCullough, defensive end Mike Matocha and cornerback Marcene Emmett.

Washington had hoped that four or five of these rookies would suit up in the season opener against Dallas. They would be the vanguard of a new era for the Redskins. Instead of trades to rejuvenate the roster, the draft would become their principal method of finding new talent.

It didn't work out that way. Besides Monk, there are nine other new players on this year's roster. Three came in trade (Wilbur Jackson, Mike Kruczek, Jeris White) and six are free agents (Mike Nelms, Dan Peiffer, Zion McKinney, Mike Connell, Rickey Claitt and Zion McKinney).

"We'd would have liked to see a few more draft choices make the roster," General Manager Bobby Beathard said. "But I always judge any draft after three years, and not immediately. The same goes for this one. You have to give it time, to see how the players on injured reserve work out."

If both Mendenhall, the No. 2 selection from Brigham Young, and Jones, the No. 7 pick from Houston, wind up playing for the Redskins next season, the draft probably will be judged mildly successful. If they don't, it would have to be viewed as a major disappointment, especially considering the importance placed on the event by the club.

"I'm really not that disappointed in what has happened," Pardee said. "Remember, we didn't have a third, fourth or fifth. After those rounds, it's all potluck anyway."

The Redskins did have a fourth choice, but they traded it to Tampa Bay, along with Danny Buggs, for cornerback Jeris White. If White turns into the player Washington believes he will, Beathard says, the team will have no regrets about giving up that selection.

Yet both Beathard and Pardee also thought Jones and Bell talented enough to be chosen in the first three or four rounds. Bethard had Jones rated as the second-best guard in the draft, for example.

But Jones, a tackle in college, had trouble converting to guard in the pros. He is very strong and is an effective blocker on running plays. His problem was learning how to pass block, and until he masters that art, he will have difficulty sticking.

"Melvin is a player," Beathard said. "The transition was very hard for him, but I think a lot of work he can do it. We all recognize his athletic talents."

Bell, taken on the sixth round, was one of those in-between players. He was too small for his natural position, defensive end, so the Redskins had him at linebacker during camp. But he was having difficulty adapting to the spot, grew discouraged and walked out. He is now on the "left camp -- retired list," the one that is provoking all the controversy in the John Riggins retirement issue.

"I think Farley will try again next year. I sure hope so," Beathard said. "He will come in as a defensive end if he does. He needs to be bigger. If he bulks up and keeps his quickness, he could help us. We've talked and he says he wants to play end. That't the position we had projected for him anyway."

Even if Bell and Jones never pan out, the final rating of the draft still will revolve around the success of Mendenhall, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound quiet man from Utah.

Bethard toyed seriously with drafting Mendenhall on the first round, before deciding he still would be available on the second. The club realized it was taking an unproven talent, since Mendenhall's senior season had been all but destroyed by emergency appendix surgery during the previous summer. But Mendenhall had worked very hard during the offseason to build himself up and he had tested well when scouted by Beathard.

"We just underestimated how much the surgery took out of Mat," Beathard said. "We knew he wasn't ready to step in and start for us right away. But we just hadn't realized how much his stamina had been affected.

"Remember, he walked around with a ruptured appendix for weeks and almost died. It took a toll on his system. He really lost a full year of his life.

"I am convinced he will be a fine player in this league. He now has a long time to recover from his ordeal and get himself ready for camp."

Mendenhall never had lifted weights before last year. In his struggle to regain lost strength (he had fallen to 215 pounds), he worked diligently on his upper body but not his legs. As a result, his legs aren't strong enough to handle his increased size. He isn't as quick as he once was, and he tires easily.

"Mat's main goal now has to be increasing his leg strength," Pardee said. "He hasn't really learned how to handle his bigger size. But you can't be a good pass rusher without strong legs. And his stamina has to come around."

Mendenhall's development is crucial to the Redskins' future draft strategy.

If he can play, then they won't have to select another defensive end in the early rounds. If he fails, then that spot becomes a major priority again, although they would much rather use their high picks to tab offensive tackles, running backs and wide receivers.

Monk, the much-publicized No. 1 pick out of Syracuse, has had no problems.

He caught five passes in the opening game and makes weekly progress, but he admits his concentration on the Redskins' precise pass routes has hindered his fluid movements and cut into his speed.

"I'm still thinking too much and not just reacting naturally," he said. "But it's coming along. I was glad to get that first game behind me. The more I play, the more I'll feel at home."

Until he feels completely at ease, Monk probably won't display the kind of game-breaking ability that attracted the Redskins to him in the first place. There is some question about how fast he really is, although Beathard says he is a legitimate sprinter. "He can fly," the general manager said.

Bethard does get high marks on his choices of free agents. McKinney, at wide receiver, and Claitt, at fullback, were given little chance of making the team prior to camp. And tackle Jerry Scanlan, now on the four-week injured reserve list, eventually could become a starter.

Ironically, Beathard had better success with fewer newcomers last year. Of the five players taken in the 1979 draft, three currently are starting -- linebackers Monte Coleman and Rich Milot and tight end Don Warren. Another, receiver Kris Haines, is playing for Chicago. Warren was a fourth-round selection, Milot a seventh and Coleman an 11th.

No late-round pick made it this season.

"You always hope to have one sleeper come through," Beathard said. "It just didn't pan out that way. We thought both Matocha and McCullough had a shot. But we had a good group of free agents.

I'm not discouraged by what happened. If Mendenhall and Jones do okay and White helps us, it was a good draft. We just have to wait and see." o