The surprise at Redskin Park during the early rounds of the National Football League draft was that nothing startling happened. What was close to bedlam in prior years was close to boredom yesterday. Usually freewheeling, Bobby Beathard was laid-back and predictable, so understated that he only said, "We didn't expect him to be there" as a joke.
The Redskins were serious when they chose a killer corner and the cheapest jet receiver available. They also were more honest than usual about who they got. And less creative than on any draft day in 14 years, or since they chose a player (Yazoo Smith) who later would sue them.
Most years, Redskin Park is a swap shop on draft day. If a gang of Rams isn't coming east to make Washington's defense suddenly wonderful for George Allen, Beathard is gambling that a college running back (Art Monk) will be a great pro wideout or drooling over a first-round pick (Mark May) who will lose his job to a rookie free agent.
Yesterday, through the first four rounds, the Redskins were watching the bartering instead of being in the thick of it. The Pats seemed to be losing their patsy image; the Colts got some kick; the Super Bowl champion 49ers seemed to defy draft gravity and get a whole lot better than the other 27 teams.
Everybody, and every body, who started the day a Redskin went into the early evening that way. And then Lemar Parrish succeeded in dealing his way out of town, to the Buffalo Bills. Beathard admitted that two unheralded prospects the Redskins coveted were snapped up before his turn came. Both were at positions he later tried to fill.
"The Cowboys got a good one," he said of cornerback Rod Hill. He added the obligatory "Darn it."
"There goes another sleeper," he said after Miami chose receiver Mark Duper.
Beathard was publicly thrilled over his choices: cornerback Vernon Dean, receiver Carl Powell and defensive end Todd Liebenstein. Realistically, Dean and Powell might become starters. But to keep matters in perspective, as something of a service to all of them by way of keeping fan expectations from being unrealistic, we'll offer the league-wide whispers that resulted in them being available to the Redskins.
Dean generally was seen as third best at an exceedingly weak position. You can get corners at K Mart, everyone said.
One scouting service gushed over Dean and questioned his ability in back-to-back sentences: "very advanced technique for college CB. . . short legs and small turning radius we like . . . lacks sustained speed and athletic ability to excel at pro level . . . controlled (first-round receiver) Anthony Hancock (but) Mike Quick (also chosen in the first round) easily blew past him on a fly pattern.
"Dean read the inside move, but didn't accelerate quickly enough."
Since Washington's defense was equally capable of being beaten on the ground and through the air, Beathard opted for a tough tackler. And unless some pass rushers suddenly develop, Parrish at his youthful best would be beaten.
No untarnished gems after the first several picks of this draft.
Still, Dean has impeccable NFL breeding. He's out of San Diego State, which has sent Willie Buchanon, Herm Edwards, Nate Wright and several others in addition to the Redskins' Joe Lavender to the NFL.
The Parrish maneuver is the essence of the NFL, the player believing he has at least one more productive season, and the Redskins equally convinced he does not.
Powell is the fellow the Redskins hope will make their fans forget Skeets Nehemiah. After playing four years at Jackson State, Powell has caught 29 more passes than the untested world-class hurdler the Redskins lost to the 49ers in a bidding match.
Fast, although hardly Skeets-swift, and smart is the consensus. But one seemingly elaborate scouting system speculates: "seems reluctant to expose his ribs by stretching for passes over the middle and doesn't run disciplined patterns (because he played in a run-oriented system)." It admits he has "long-range potential to start in the NFL."
Possibly not as much as Nehemiah.
Coach Joe Gibbs was asked in what round Nehemiah might have been taken if he had been draftable instead of being that rare breed of prospect: the free agent. Gibbs admitted Nehemiah has unlimited potential, all the speed anyone could imagine and better hands than he had thought possible in a prospect who had never played the position.
"But he's never been hit," Gibbs said, "never been tested." He looked at the draft board, which was filled through three rounds, and said: "He still might be there (available)."
If they will not match dollar offers for players such as Nehemiah and Bruce Clark--the game-turning defensive lineman returning shortly from Canada--the Redskins are confident they can win a war of wits in a lean draft. With only Kenneth Sims projected to be a certain star, Gibbs and Beathard hoped their eye for talent would keep them at a level with teams that had first-round picks.
In theory, the Redskins should have moved forward yesterday, but not as quickly as everybody else in the NFC East. The Cowboys, Eagles, Cardinals and Giants each had a first-round selection--and seemed to use it wisely.
"I'm against those socialistic workouts," Beathard said of the scouting combines gathering their top players and testing them at a common site. "Teams that didn't know about (cornerback) Bobby Watkins found out then."
The Lions beat the Redskins to him.
Beathard's toss-the-dice instincts were on display when he announced Liebenstein in the fourth round. He had knee surgery during the season, Beathard announced, and fans immediately shuddered. Another Mat Mendenhall. But the fourth round in even a great year is a drafting fourth down.