With their second-round choice yesterday, you half expected the Baltimore thinkers to draft Pete Rose. Or Rita Lavelle. Or Deputed Testamony, on the theory that he's already a colt. Going in, there seemed no way that the Colts could avoid being the biggest winner on Draft Day. Coming out, they seem to have crabcake smeared all over their faces.

This could change, of course, but unless owner Robert Irsay convinces John Elway that playing in Baltimore ain't life without parole, the Colts have fumbled about as badly as is humanly possible. There was a chance, reliable reports insist, to upgrade themselves at four positions by trading the top pick in the draft, the rights to the most gifted quarterback prospect in memory.

Elway already had nixed playing for them.

They didn't believe him.

That's a nice bluff each has going. And Elway still seems to have the upper hand. He either plays for the NFL team of his choice, or his backup sport, baseball. Or both. What he could do, if the Yankees let him, is try baseball for two years. If he becomes the next Mickey Mantle, fine, he plays right on to Cooperstown. If he becomes the next Danny Ainge, he can take the NFL off hold and name his team--and his price.

The lad goes helmet in hand to nobody.

For the Colts, there are three options--and two of them are bad. They could lose him completely to the Yankees. If they trade him, it surely will be for less than what was being offered 30 seconds before they chose him. Or they actually could sign Elway, pull off a wonderful coup and rise to glory with John Unitas sans crew cut and high tops.

Is Elway good enough to take such a gamble?

"Yes," said Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs, without hesitation.

He added: "I'm sure they know more about the situation than we do."

Everyone in the NFL dearly hopes so.

Should Elway choose baseball--and why wouldn't a rational youngster give the safer sport a whack?--the NFL would be getting its second straight embarrassing blindside. Elway jilting it merely for the national pastime a few weeks after Herschel Walker opted for the U. S. Football League would be serious.

The NFL is likely to survive both. But Elway following Walker following six other first-rounders away from the NFL creates a credibility hole large enough for a back whose leg was broken twice in consecutive years to dash through. Speaking of which, the Redskins were tickled pink such a fellow was available for them in the second round yesterday.

They are aglow over getting Richard Williams, though not overwhelmed. Being honest, they expect him to relieve John Riggins rather than replace him. Ominous as they seem, the Redskins add, the breaks Williams suffered in the same leg were not in the same place. And just because Memphis State was awful last season, Williams should not be assumed guilty by association.

In truth, every decision every team made yesterday, from Elway through the final selection on round 12, was rife with risk. And while many coaches and general managers around the league were snickering at the Colts, few did it in public.

That is because every team has several draft-day skeletons in its closet.

Taking a stroll through the NFL Record Manual, we find: John Matuszak (by Houston in 1973), Walt Patulski (by Buffalo in 1972), Randy Duncan (by Green Bay in 1959) and Gary Glick (by Pittsburgh in 1956) the first players chosen in their respective draft classes.

In 1957, the Eagles gambled that Clarence Peaks was going to be a better running back than Jim Brown; the trickle-down from choosing quarterback Steve Pisarkiewicz in the first round (with a choice from the Redskins for Dave Butz) probably cost two Cardinal coaches their jobs; who remembers that Ricky Bell was taken ahead of Tony Dorsett in 1977?

Their mamas did not raise Dennis Homan, Tody Smith, Bill Thomas and Larry Bethea to be Cowboys; they all were first-round draftees by dratted Dallas, which still has managed the best record in the NFL since 1970. The Cowboys once took an obscure lineman from a small school because of his time in the 40. Later, it was discovered the course they used actually measured 38 yards.

Our own Super Bowl champs were not always wise. The Redskins once drafted the same player twice, in the first round even. And still lost him. They took a runner named Cal Rossi in 1946, then realized he was a junior and eligible for one more season at UCLA. In 1947, Rossi was the Redskins' No. 1 choice again.

He never played an official down.

Some other high-rounders the Redskins have been red-faced about include: Larry Isbell (QB, Baylor, '52), Don Allard (QB, Boston College, '59), Richie Lucas (QB, Penn State, '60) and Bob Breitenstein (T, Tulsa, '65). George Allen never had a Cal Rossi, but he did draft the quickly forgotten Cotton Speyrer No. 2 in 1971.

One of the whispers about the Colts and Elway yesterday concerned Al Davis. Because he would do such a thing if he thought about it and could use it to his advantage, Davis was said to have coaxed Elway into holding his it's-baseball-instead-of-Baltimore press conference late yesterday.

The idea would be to scare the Colts into trading Elway to the Raiders even cheaper. Davis reportedly offered Baltimore three first-round choices, one next year, a second-round choice and backup quarterback Marc Wilson before the draft. That would be four players coming to the Colts who very likely would be better than 25 already there.

But they might have tripped over their bonus checks and been sidelined forever. One never knows.