General Manager Bobby Beathard suggested yesterday that the Redskins are leaning more strongly toward picking a first-round player in today's NFL draft who will not necessarily fill their major needs at cornerback, defensive end or running back.

"We have a couple of players in mind who we think we can get," Beathard said. "But they certainly wouldn't fill what we need the most. However, if a highly rated guy is up there, we are going to take him, no matter what position he plays."

Characteristically, Beathard would not specify the players he has in mind. But even though the Redskins won Super Bowl XVII, they have obvious depth problems at almost every position, including quarterback, linebacker and even wide receiver.

However, the Redskins still feel that before the draft ends they will be able to help fill their major needs. With Joe Lavender near the end of his career, Washington must develop one or two young cornerbacks immediately. They also need a young, pass rushing defensive end opposite Dexter Manley. And with age and injury problems at running back, they'd like a swift young prospect for the future.

This is an unusual draft for the Redskins, who have picks in the first three rounds for the first time in 15 years. They also have only eight in the 12 rounds, fewest in the league, in part because Beathard has traded away his selections in the fourth and fifth rounds. He spent most of yesterday trying to regain them through a trade.

"I've called and called to almost every team and nothing has worked out so far," he said. "I don't think anything will happen but I'm not ruling it out completely. I'd like to get those picks back very badly. There are a lot of good players out there."

Since Beathard became general manager, he has rarely wavered from his draft rating system. He and his scouting staff rate the top few hundred players available in descending order of ability. When it is the Redskins' turn to pick, Beathard normally will select the highest rated player still left on the team's list.

"It's very hard to even predict what players will be available to us when it comes time for us to pick," said Beathard, who will select 28th. "You have to hope for a mistake from someone below you. It usually happens, where there is a player available on your turn that you expected to be taken already."

Beathard is a maverick among NFL personnel executives. He is willing to gamble on his instincts, and often has players rated high above the grades handed out by the various league scouting combines. He is coming off a couple of successful drafts, though last year's No. 3 pick, receiver Carl Powell from Jackson State, was cut at the end of training camp.

Based on his past actions, it is likely that Beathard will work some kind of trade during today's marathon draft session, scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Usually, he becomes anxious early in the draft, when he sees a number of players he regards highly still left on the board but lacks the choices needed to select them. So he makes a deal, in which he probably will give up a high 1984 pick for the needed 1983 selections.

"It could work that way again," he said with a laugh. "You really have a good feeling about some people and it just kills you to see them there, and you can't touch them.

"I'm confident that with our first three picks, we can get people who can do more for us immediately than just play special teams. Maybe not start, but they can help right away."

The Redskins signed two free agents yesterday: defensive lineman Charles Riggins, a 6-foot-3, 245-pounder from Bethune Cookman who was cut by Green Bay last year, and tight end George Thompson, a 6-2, 220-pounder from Albany State cut last season by Dallas.