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

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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.

He loves the spotlight and was the first owner to let cameras into the team's draft room. He likes to give the impression that he's making the decisions, as if he had spent hundreds of hours studying films of dozens of prospects. He's obsessed with getting credit for the team's success.

That's why he's happy Jimmy Johnson is gone. He can claim more of the credit if things go well.

The controversy

It's hard to determine what the NFL policy is on any one issue because it changes all the time.

For example, there's the new policy of giving out compensatory picks for teams that lost free agents. It decided 12 teams deserved compensatory picks this year, but never really gave an explanation for the way they were determined. Several of the teams left out weren't happy.

The Redskins, for example, didn't get any picks, even though they didn't fare well in free agency. They weren't the only team in that category.

"I don't think Einstein could figure this system out, but don't quote me," one general manager said. "There's no rhyme or reason to it. Most of it was done to placate the power guys."

On top of that, it was decided that several of the picks would be plugged into the 15th spot of the second and third rounds -- halfway through the rounds -- instead of at the end of the rounds. Suddenly, the team with the 14th pick was several spots ahead of the team in the 15th slot.

New Orleans, which had the 15th pick on the second round and suddenly found itself dropped to the 20th spot, started screaming.

Saints owner Tom Benson is one of the power guys. He is chairman of the finance committee and helped ramrod the league's expansion recommendations past the owners.

So last week, the league quietly moved New Orleans back from 20th to 15th on the second round on the grounds that the Saints had the same 8-8 record as the team in 14th slot -- San Diego. On the third round, it moved the Jets back up to the 15th slot after they had been dropped on the same grounds.

So why were the 8-8 teams split in the first place?

L "I guess somebody made a mistake," one general manager said.

It seems like a lot of mistakes are made by the empty suits in the NFL office these days.

They're even having trouble putting together a 1994 schedule. It usually is finished in early April. This year, it won't be done until early May.

The league says it's all baseball's fault because the extra set of playoffs created more stadium conflicts.

It's never the NFL's fault.

The name game

Four Johnsons -- Joe, LeShon, Tre and Charles -- may all go on the first round of today's draft.

If Henry Ford is still available, Detroit should take him. And New England should draft Sam Adams.

Coming back?

When Jimmy Johnson was in Baltimore filming a commercial a week ago, he said he'd be back coaching next year. When he was in New York last week to sign a two-year deal with the Fox Network that allows him to coach in 1995, he only said it was a "possibility" he'd be back next year.

He apparently has forgotten the commercial includes a contest in which a fan can win $10,000 and two trips to the Super Bowl for picking which team he's going to coach next year.

It's going to be difficult to give the prize away if he's not named the coach of a team before the Super Bowl. Aren't you supposed to make sure you can give the prize away if you run a contest?

Johnson probably didn't want to say in New York that he's taking the Fox deal only for a year.

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