As National Football League clubs wind down their offseason-long efforts to determine the best college talent available for its draft on April 30, they have been weighing an unusual factor: just how important is "What have you done lately?"
It is accepted that the draft will have an abundance of wide receivers and defensive linemen, but few quality quarterbacks, linebackers and tight ends. But what about those players who had outstanding junior seasons and disappointing senior years? Even some of the league's most respected judges of talent are split on their evaluations.
Offensive tackle Bill Fralic of Pittsburgh and safety Jerry Gray of Texas are two of the enigmas. General managers and chief scouts say Fralic and Gray still might be among the draft's top 10, but they might have blown their chances of being the first or second pick and getting really big contracts.
"I don't think Fralic had his best season in 1984, and I think Pittsburgh's record (3-7-1) reflected that," said Bill Tobin, the Chicago Bears' chief scout. "He was their captain, but when things turned sour, what was he doing?"
Les Miller of the Kansas City Chiefs is willing to write off Fralic's disappointing season.
"I hope everybody does get off him because Pittsburgh was 3-7-1, and leave him for us," Miller said. "But we pick 15th, and that's just not going to happen."
Gray's final year also has led to some hesitancy, although few doubt he will be drafted in the first round.
"He will probably be an excellent pro," said Larry Wilson, a six-time all-pro safety who now is director of personnel for the St. Louis Cardinals. "But some people think about the fact that he had a real good junior year and just a good senior year."
Trying to analyze a player's senior year in accordance with his physical abilities is becoming more of a concern. Everybody remembers that two years ago, Dan Marino was the sixth quarterback drafted, primarily because of his disappointing senior year at Pitt. He made it big as a 1983 rookie and, in '84 with the Miami Dolphins, he broke most of the NFL's single-season passing records.
Doug Flutie's signing with the New Jersey Generals of the U.S. Football League took some of the public excitement away from the draft. Fellow quarterback Bernie Kosar stepped into the breach by announcing his intention to forgo further college eligibility at Miami, but there is no big-name star in the draft pool at the other glamor position of running back.
Defensive tackle Bruce Smith of Virginia Tech already has been signed by Buffalo, making him No. 1 overall in the draft, and defensive end Ray Childress of Texas A&M is seen as a cinch to be among the first five choices. Offensive guard Lomas Brown of Florida also is sure to go high.
Without Flutie, the best of the quarterbacks are those with regional rather than national followings. Paul Berner of the University of the Pacific, Randall Cunningham of Nevada-Las Vegas, Steve Bono of UCLA and Steve Calabria of Colgate rate high. With his late-season, bowl and all-star play, Maryland's Frank Reich joined that group.
"Reich has done nothing but help himself since near the end of the season," said the Chiefs' Miller. "He may have been lower on the list, but that Miami game (where he directed Maryland from a 31-0 deficit to a 42-40 victory) and his performances in the all-star games have moved him up."
Reich is as good as any quarterback in the draft, said Charles Casserly, assistant general manager of the Redskins, before Kosar's announcement. But Casserly said Washington likely will not draft a quarterback this year, nor is it looking for tight ends or defensive linemen.
Ethan Horton of North Carolina, George Adams of Kentucky and Ricky Moore of Alabama are the top-rated running backs. None is seen as having the potential to revamp a team's offensive design.
"Horton, Adams and Moore are all good, but there's obviously not an Eric Dickerson, or even a Kelvin Bryant, in that group," said Casserly.
Much more interesting are the wide receivers.
Al Toon of Wisconsin, Jerry Rice of Mississippi Valley State and Eddie Brown of Miami have established themselves as game-breakers. Danny Greene of Washington is another player whose senior year belied his superior junior statistics. And Stacy Robinson of North Dakota State is one player in the draft who, while virtually anonymous to the national public, is of surpassing interest to many an NFL club.
Robinson, with 4.3 speed in the 40, drew few headlines because his team led NCAA Division II in rushing. He caught only 44 passes in 13 games, but 10 went for touchdowns.
"He's certainly not a secret around NFL circles," said Miller.
Late in January in Tempe, Ariz., the 28 NFL clubs brought in most of the top 300 prospects for a series of tests and drills. Casserly said the player who proved most surprising was another receiver, Oklahoma's George (Buster) Rhymes.
Tight end is another weak position this year. Oddly, one school, Colorado State, has two good ones in Keli McGregor and Harper LeBel. LeBel, however, might be too slow for most NFL teams.
Besides Fralic, the most sought-after tackles are Kevin Allen of Indiana, Kevin Belcher of Wisconsin and Mark Behning of Nebraska. Gary Naron of North Carolina, Rob Monaco of Vanderbilt and Mark Krerowicz of Ohio State are the top-rated guards after Brown.
Center Kevin Glover is another Maryland player whose stock soared after last midseason. He is seen as one of the top five centers in the draft, along with Mark Traynowicz of Nebraska, Kirk Lowdermilk of Ohio State, Trevor Matich of Brigham Young and Michael Kelly of Notre Dame (who some think will end up at guard).
The Bills' Smith, at 6 feet 4, 276 pounds; Childress, at 6-6, 271, and in some opinions, Gray, are the only upcoming defensive players felt to have "Lawrence Taylor-type impact" potential in the NFL.
"Smith can play inside or outside on the defensive line," said Tony Razzano, director of scouting for Super Bowl champion San Francisco. "In fact, he can play anywhere he wants."
Other highly regarded defensive linemen are Garin Veris of Stanford, Mike Gann of Notre Dame, Richard Byrd of Southern Mississippi and Virginia's Ron Mattes.
Alvin Toles of Tennessee and Emanuel King of Alabama stand out among linebackers, but in the pros King might end up on the defensive line. Toles' teammate, Carl Zander, and Duane Bickett and Jack Del Rio, both of Southern California, should be the other linebackers drafted early.
Bret Clark of Nebraska and Dave King of Auburn rank behind Gray as the best safeties available. Wisconsin's Richard Johnson and Purdue's Don Anderson are highly regarded cornerbacks, as is Tyrone Davis of Clemson.
Possibly the defensive player who has confounded draft analysts most is Clemson nose tackle William (The Refrigerator) Perry.
Perry is 6-3, but his weight has been known to vary from 305 to about 350. He is admired for his mobility, considering his size, but stamina is a major question.
"People say he will play one down and lie down for three or four, but I like him," Bruce Nicholas, director of scouting for the Bills, said before they signed Smith. "If he was just heavy, instead of real heavy . . . "
Miller called Perry "risky," but still a possible first-round pick.
"Trouble is, you never know if you'll get someone who is 325 or closer to 425," Miller said. "And there is no sense weighing him, because it's changing week to week."