ASHBURN, Va. -- This will be a milestone year for the Washington Redskins in the college draft -- the first time they've taken a quarterback on the first round since 1961 and the first time they've had the third pick since 1964.
The Redskins just can hope their choice of Heath Shuler of Tennessee or Trent Dilfer of Fresno State Sunday will be as productive as those two selections. The 1961 pick, Norm Snead, was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1964 for Sonny Jurgensen, who made the Hall of Fame. Their 1964 choice, Charley Taylor, also is in the Hall of Fame.
Now, the question is how good the quarterback they select will turn out to be.
As general manager Charley Casserly and new coach Norv Turner discussed the draft yesterday, they conceded that neither Shuler nor Dilfer is rated in a class with Drew Bledsoe, the top pick last year by the New England Patriots, or Troy Aikman, the 1989 No. 1 pick who has guided the Dallas Cowboys to back-to-back Super Bowl victories.
"I think Bledsoe's in Aikman's class, and there's only one guy in Aikman's class," Casserly said.
But Casserly said the Redskins will be happy with Shuler or Dilfer.
"We feel both are good. Both of them are good enough to win with," Casserly said.
With the Cincinnati Bengals expected to take Ohio State defensive lineman Dan Wilkinson with the first pick and the Indianapolis Colts likely to take running back Marshall Faulk of San Diego State with the second selection, the Redskins may have their pick of the two quarterbacks in the No. 3 slot.
The conventional wisdom around the league is that Shuler is rated slightly above Dilfer and will be the Redskins' pick.
But Casserly said they've got the players rated so close that the Redskins spent a week debating which one to take.
"Dilfer's taller [6 feet 3 to Shuler's 6-2], more of a prototype, drop-back passer who can operate in the pocket," Casserly said. "The first thing you mention with Dilfer is accuracy. With Shuler, the first thing you mention is athletic ability, the ability to make plays out of the pocket. Both have good arms. Dilfer may be a little more accurate, and Shuler may have a little better arm and more mobility."
But the Redskins' thinking is that either Shuler or Dilfer could step in and be their quarterback of the future.
"I think they both fit extremely well. We'll be a little different
depending on which one we get," Turner said. "Dilfer's very quick with the ball, very, very accurate. But he's not as mobile as Heath."
Once the Redskins decided both were quality quarterbacks, they decided they didn't have to trade up to make sure they would have their choice of the two.
If there's a surprise and one of the quarterbacks is taken in the first two picks, the Redskins will be happy to take the other one.
NOTES: The Redskins lost their first free agent yesterday, when wide receiver Ricky Sanders agreed to a two-year, $2 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons that is contingent on his passing a physical today . . . John Friesz, who will be the quarterback until the rookie is ready take over, arrived at Redskin Park yesterday and impressed Turner in his workout as he started learning the Redskins offense.
NFL DRAFT FACTS
What: 59th NFL draft
ere: New York
When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m. (rounds 1-2); Monday, 10 a.m. (rounds 3-7).
Total rounds: Seven
Time limits: 15 minutes per team in first round, 10 minutes in second round, five minutes for rounds 3-7.
TV: ESPN (Sunday, 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. EDT); ESPN2 (Sunday, 9 p.m. EDT to conclusion; Monday, 10 a.m. EDT to conclusion).
Top five picks: Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Washington, New England, Los Angeles Rams.