For scouts, draft is hit or miss or miss or miss

PRO FOOTBALL

April 24, 1994|By VITO STELLINO

There are no .406 hitters among pro football scouts.

There aren't even any .300 hitters.

"I've read about so many people who are geniuses at selecting talent, but, in my opinion, if you're a .250 hitter in this game, you're a Hall of Famer. If you're a .200 hitter, you're pretty good. One out of four is legitimate," said Ron Wolf, general manager of the Green Bay Packers.

No matter how good a scout is, he has skeletons in his closet. Despite all the time they spend scouting the players, it's an inexact science.

San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard built Super Bowl teams in Washington, but still drafted five players in the second round (Richard Williams, Tory Nixon, Walter Murray, Bob Slater and Wally Kleine) who never played in a regular-season game for the Redskins.

Dick Steinberg, general manager of the New York Jets, is rated one of the best, but he traded away the pick that Bill Walsh turned into Jerry Rice, and picked Blair Thomas over Emmitt Smith.

Figuring out which players can make the jump from college to pro football is even more tricky now that the draft has such a high profile -- especially on the first round.

"The second round may be a truer round because maybe we're more realistic," said George Young, general manager of the New York Giants. "We're not affected by the politics. Sometimes, if you don't take a guy, they make you out like a dummy. If there's a chalk pick and you don't make the chalk pick, you're subject to more criticism. I'm not saying it happens much [that teams make the expected selection to avoid criticism], but it happens."

In New York, the fans in the balcony even boo if the Giants or Jets take a pick that they don't approve of.

Jobs are even at stake when teams make selections. Poor drafts -- even one awful pick -- can make owners decide to make a change.

For example, when the Packers selected Tony Mandarich with the second choice in 1989, nobody complained at the time. But when he was a bust and one of the players they passed up, Barry Sanders, became a star, the Packers never lived it down.

"If they had taken Sanders instead of Mandarich, I'd still be in New York," said Wolf.

Wolf was with the Jets when he was hired to replace Tom Braatz as Green Bay's general manager.

"Any simple schoolboy is smarter 20 years after the fact than any great diplomat," said Young. "I used to say that in school all the time. It's the same thing with the draft."

But the scouts still like the challenge. Today is their Super Bowl, although it can take years to determine which teams won and lost.

"To me, what makes our game so exciting is that everyone thinks they have the answer, and in the end result, no one has the answer," Wolf said. "It's the test of time that counts."

On the job

Fifteen years ago, Young made an obscure quarterback named Phil Simms his first selection in his new position as Giants general manager.

Selecting Simms with the seventh pick wasn't a popular move because Simms was rated no better than a late first-round

selection.

"I needed a quarterback and I didn't have a late first-round pick," Young explained.

Nobody, of course, second-guesses that pick now. It started Young on a run that won him selection as executive of the year four times and a pair of Super Bowl victories.

Now Young's biggest battle is with his health. He has been hospitalized two years in a row and there has been speculation he might be on the verge of retiring.

"The [New York] Times has had me retiring two years in a row," Young said. "Maybe they'll be right one of these years."

But not this year. Young is still on the job, will preside over the draft today and has no plans to quit any time soon. His job is his life.

"I don't do a lot of things but read books and holler at the press," the former Baltimore high school teacher and coach said.

But he's watching his weight -- he has lost 40 pounds -- and is trying to take care of himself more.

"It has more to do with exhaustion than anything else," he said of his illnesses. "I've been on the merry-go-round a long time. I've never taken enough time off. I'm always too busy. I've got to structure my life a little better."

Now that Young is co-chairman of the competition committee, he should use his influence to get the draft moved up two months from late April to late February. The extra two months just leads to more paralysis by analysis and extra work studying the players that ultimately becomes counterproductive.

On the screen

There's a certain logic in Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones trying to peddle wide receiver Alvin Harper for a high draft pick. Harper is likely to leave when he becomes a free agent next year and the Cowboys won't get anything for him. Harper wants a big contract and wants to play in the AFC. He figures he can make the Pro Bowl there because he won't be competing with Jerry Rice, Sterling Sharpe, Michael Irvin and Andre Rison.

It could be, though, that Jones' real reason for wanting to make a deal is to get more air time on the ESPN draft show.

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