Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick may no longer be a viable Heisman Trophy candidate after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor petty theft charge. Still, as far as the NFL is concerned, he is hardly considered damaged goods.

Warrick was suspended for two games for the top-ranked Seminoles because he purchased about $400 worth of clothes for about $20. He was ordered to make restitution and perform community service.

Interviews with four NFL general managers and personnel directors this week indicated that the speedy wideout, who also is among the most dangerous kick returners in the country, will not drop in the first round of the draft.

In an era of free agency, the salary cap and huge signing bonuses, character has become an issue for many teams in selecting players, one reason college standouts such as Lawrence Phillips and Randy Moss slipped considerably on draft day in recent years.

"But on this kid, I think most people will look at it as a mistake," one NFC general manager said yesterday. "This was not a drug thing or anything even close to it. And this guy is a great talent who can do so many things for you, I would be surprised if anyone backed off the kid."

Warrick also was cited for disorderly conduct in the summer before his junior year when he failed to heed a police warning to disperse, along with a number of teenagers hanging out at a fast-food restaurant, his only other brush with the law.

"What happened in the store, you really can't publicly say it's minor, but in the scheme of things, it's pretty minor," said another personnel man. "He's already apologized, and by the time the draft comes around, he'll have a good agent who will help him, and he'll be fine. I've met the kid. He's got a nice personality, he's not a thug by any means. He's not going to drop a little bit. And he's the full package, a player who will really help you in a lot of areas."

The consensus was that Warrick will almost certainly be the top wide receiver taken, and likely among the first five picks of the draft. Most also were in agreement that Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown, Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington (if he comes out as a junior), Louisville quarterback Chris Redman and Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington likely will be in the first five.

It's Tiki Time

New York Giants Coach Jim Fassel has done a fabulous job keeping his team afloat despite numerous injuries, especially at running back. The Giants, tied for first with the Redskins in the NFC East, will host the 6-2 Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, and if they win, it will set up a huge game against the Redskins on Nov. 21 at Redskins Stadium, most likely for first place.

Fassel lost his top running back, Gary Brown, for the season with a serious knee injury and promising rookie Joe Montgomery is out at least until the Redskins game with a broken bone in his foot.

Starter LeShon Johnson has been mostly ordinary, and during the Giants' bye week last week, Fassel decided to give a lot more work to former Virginia star Tiki Barber. He'll likely play a lot on first and second downs against the Colts to provide more speed and big-play capability.

Competition by Committee

Charley Casserly is still considered among the candidates to be the director of football operations for the new Houston expansion franchise, but other names have emerged in the month since owner Bob McNair was awarded the league's 32nd franchise, which will begin play in 2002.

They include Seattle's Randy Mueller, the team's vice president of football operations; Seahawks senior vice president Mike Reinfeldt, who once played for the old Houston Oilers; and Jerry Angelo, Tampa Bay's director of player personnel.

Seems Rather Pointless

New Orleans rookie running back Ricky Williams is on pace for a 1,300-yard rushing season after a slow, injury-plagued start. Saints fans, however, are starting to wonder why a player who was such a productive scorer in college hasn't recorded his first point as a pro.

At the University of Texas, Williams had 75 touchdowns, and scored in 33 of the 46 games he played, hitting the end zone once every 14.2 carries. As a pro, he hasn't scored with any of his 167 carries and 15 receptions. He did have a short run called back for a holding penalty against the Giants.

Saints General Manager Bill Kuharich says it's a little unusual, but nothing the coaching staff is worried about.

"It's mostly circumstances," he said. "We've hit on a couple of big scoring passes this year, but when we get in the red zone, we haven't been in a situation where we've been able to pound Ricky in there, for whatever reason.

"We haven't helped him much in the red zone, either. We're not satisfied that he hasn't scored, and we're not satisfied that he's had two red-zone fumbles, but we like everything about the guy. He's an extremely hard worker in practice, he's played hurt and, knock on wood, we think he can be a durable back and have a career like Walter Payton or Barry Sanders. He's everything he was billed, and we're very happy we've got him."

Why Not The Danny?

There's a new nickname going around the league for Redskins owner Dan Snyder: Boy George--as in the football equivalent of hands-on George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees.