Ricky's Wild Ride
The days leading up to the draft are a time to spread rumors and misinformation, but the football world knows Saints coach Mike Ditka's true feelings about Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. "We'll trade our whole draft for Ricky Williams," Ditka declared last month. When it became obvious that trading their six picks, including the 12th choice in the first round, to get Williams wouldn't be enough, the Saints sweetened the pot. Last Saturday, New Orleans president Bill Kuharich called the Browns, the Eagles and the Bengals, offering more high picks, from the 2000 draft and beyond.
Why's Ditka so high on Williams? "I think he's a special player who comes once in a while, like Earl Campbell was, like Walter Payton was," he says. "I don't believe you can pass up this running back." Williams is a mass of muscle who can run the 40 faster than your average wideout. Problem is, the teams that have the first three picks need passers badly. That figures to put the Saints in line to deal with president Bill Polian, whose Colts choose fourth. "If Polian turns down two ones, two threes and a slew of lower picks, he's nuts," says one general manager who will draft in the top 10. If Polian waves off the Saints (and doesn't take Williams), Ditka can take solace in knowing that the Redskins won't say no to the Saints' blandishments.
Funny thing about Williams. In February, when his weight ballooned about 20 pounds and he hired Master P as his agent, his stock dropped so far that some around the league questioned whether he was the best back in the draft. It just goes to show how far off the mark predraft rumblings can be. At his workout last week Williams was back at his playing weight of last season, bench-pressing 225 pounds a linemanlike 22 times and running the 40 in 4.48, about a 10th of a second off his best.
Bill Walsh is in control of the 49ers' draft fortunes for the first time in a decade, meaning there are only two certainties: There's no telling what the Niners will do between now and the time the picking ends, and the media will be filled with misinformation. Long before Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones transformed the Cowboys' war room into a televised traders' paradise in the early 1990s, Walsh and his front-office lieutenant, John McVay, turned draft day dealing, mixed with a healthy dose of public deception, into an art form.
With a typically low drafting position and no second-round pick, the 49ers won't be wheeling and dealing from strength. They need loads of defensive help, most glaringly at cornerback and on the defensive line, and there's still no clear-cut successor to quarterback Steve Young, who'll turn 38 in October.
Two years ago Walsh, as a consultant, lobbied hard for San Francisco to take Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer with the 26th pick. But instead San Francisco's front office selected Virginia Tech's Jim Druckenmiller, a strong-armed passer ill-suited to the West Coast offense that Walsh, as the Niners' coach from 1979 to '88, had developed and his successors had embraced. Plummer was taken 16 picks later by the Cardinals and has started their last 25 games; Druckenmiller most likely will be dumped by the 49ers soon after June 1.
This year UCLA's Cade McNown would seem to fit perfectly with the Niners, but he figures to be gone long before they pick. The Niners are also intrigued by Tulane's Shaun King, but the heir apparent to Young may turn out to be mobile 6'1", 195-pound Jeff Garcia, a free-agent signee formerly of San Jose State and the Calgary Stampeders, for whom he was a three-time CFL All-Star and last year's Grey Cup MVP.