"I feel like a first-round draft choice," said the man of the hour at the Detroit Lions' news conference yesterday. "They've got a jersey for me and everything."

"I, too, feel like we've just acquired another No. 1 draft choice," said Coach Monte Clark. "But this one has experience. And leadership. We missed him last year."

Doug English, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound tackle named the Lions' defensive MVP of 1979, was back, reclaiming jersey No. 78, after giving up football in 1980 to establish himself in the oil business. English agreed to a two-year contract extension, sans option clause, at an estimated $150,000 annually -- a fair price, in the club's estimation, to shore up the weakness against rushing that belied Detroit's No. 2 NFC defensive standing in 1980, statistically.

English, a five-year pro from Texas, said "the year off has been extremely beneficial to me" (he's four years younger than John Riggins). And he made a special plea for the Lion front office to sign veteran linebacker Stan White, the ex-Colt, to the extension he seeks. "You win," said English, "with veteran players. . . But I'm not one to stir the pot."

Muhammad Ali, never one not to stir a pot, whispers from a bed in Chicago's Provident Hospital: "I'm coming back." The old heavyweight champ, 39, is talking about "getting my weight down" and fighting several exhibitions in September with an eye toward a ring comeback. Most folks will be happy just for Ali to bound back quickly from his bout with a case of "walking pneumonia" -- lung congestion, a weak and tired feeling, with which he checked into the hospital Friday night. "Too much traveling from city to city, country to country, not refusing to talk to anyone," said Ali, whom doctors, having run extensive tests, hope to keep in tow "another few days". . .

Free agent comp, NHL style: For Hartford's recent signing of ex-Pittsburgh goalie Gred Millen, the Whalers proffered goalie John Garrett and winger Jordy Douglas; the Penguins asked for wingers Pat Boutette, a 28-goal, 52-assist Whaler last season, and Kevin McClelland, a 1980 Hartford draftee who turns 19 Saturday after a good season in Ontario juniors. The arbitrator, under league rules, has to pick one package or the other, no compromise -- and the winner is, Judge Joseph Kane ot Toronto decided yesterday: . . .Pittsburgh. It gets Boutette and McClelland. . .

Ernest Graham signed with the Philadelphia 76ers yesterday, terms undisclosed, with Coach Billy Cunningham hoping the third-round draftee from Maryland can swing it in the NBA; between forward and guard, that is. . . The New Jersey Nets haven't signed Graham's Terp pals Buck Williams and Al King yet, but got their other first-rounder, Indiana's dunkin' Ray Tolbert, contracted multiyear and off to work with their new Southern California Pro League summer club. . .

The Maury Fitzgerald Cup: nice tribute to the retired golf writer of The Washington Post. Don Saylor of River Bend C.C., president of the middle Atlantic PGA, and cohorts will be dropping in on the ailing Fitz along about today to tell him its two-man-team match-play championship July 28-30 at Piney Branch, Hampstead, Md., will be named in his honor. . .

Maybe there was more to the trip than met the eye when Russ Meyer, the 1950s pitcher lately coaching an Illinois community college, was robbed of World Series rings and money as he and Sandy Amoros strolled in Manhattan during a recent Brooklyn Dodger reunion: the Yankees have just appointed Meyer minor league pitching instructor. . .

The Virginia tourist who won harness racing's biggest $2 straight payoff, $1,365.80 at Maine's Scarborough Downs has been identified: Robert Partridge, 45, an accountant in Charlottesville who had been winding up a 21-day New England sojourne. Partridge, who lives in Earlysville, said it was his first night ever at the standardbreds, and "it paid for the vacation."