Despite the instant analysis on Ward and King, NFL executives say that the real worth of a draft is not known for three years, the grace time collegians are allowed to learn the flex defense and other mysteries of the pro game. Nevertheless, immediately following each draft those same executives hotly debate which team benefited the most. Many favored San Francisco after this year's lottery. That should come as no surprise to anyone who has studied 49er GM Joe Thomas' drafting record when he was with Minnesota, Miami and Baltimore—Fran Tarkenton, Larry Csonka, Bob Griese, Bert Jones, John Dutton, etc.
Thomas is not only a superior judge of talent, but he also utilizes his draft choices brilliantly. He gave this year's second and third picks to Buffalo as part payment in the O. J. Simpson trade, but had choices in both those rounds as a result of other deals. With these he took Guard Walt Downing of Michigan and Guard Ernie Hughes of Notre Dame to help the Juice flow. Thomas acquired an additional first-round choice by trading the 49ers' top rusher, Delvin Williams, to Miami. In that deal he also picked up a safety, Vern Roberson, and a wide receiver, Freddie Solomon, both of whom will probably start in San Francisco. With the Miami draft pick, Thomas chose a Cal State-Long Beach linebacker named Dan Bunz. With his own first-round selection, the seventh, Thomas picked Notre Dame Tight End Ken MacAfee, a superior blocker and necessary complement for Simpson's sweeps.
Houston struck it rich with Texas Running Back Earl Campbell, the Heisman Trophy winner, who was the unanimous choice of pro personnel men as the best collegian this year and perhaps in several years. The Oilers made Campbell the first pick of the draft after acquiring Tampa Bay's top drafting position by trading away Tight End Jimmy Giles, their 1978 first- and second-round picks and their 1979 third- and fifth-round picks.
Before the draft even started, Campbell had agreed to become the richest rookie in NFL history. His estimated $1.4 million contract was negotiated by Mike Trope, who for the second straight year represented four of the top six picks. Trope's other clients included Ward, Florida Wide Receiver Wes Chandler, whom New Orleans made the third player selected, and Stanford Wide Receiver James Lofton, chosen sixth by Green Bay.
With Houston's first-round pick, the 17th in the draft, Tampa Bay took Grambling's Doug Williams, the first quarterback chosen. In explaining his choice, Buc Coach John McKay hinted that racial prejudice might have kept Williams from going higher. "We are in the third year of a five-year plan, and there is no quarterback coming up next year," said McKay. "We wanted to have one going into our fifth year. All things being equal, Williams would have gone higher in the draft."
Williams' college coach, Eddie Robinson, addressed the racial issue more directly. " Williams' selection is a super step for me," he said. "I've asked myself for many years, 'When will professional football let a black quarterback develop?' Let's face it, pro football has been awfully good to Grambling. It has been a way out for some guys. But deep inside, before I am gone, I want to see a boy leave here and grow to be widely accepted as a great quarterback. One who just happens to be black. Heck, I've been around as long as Bear Bryant. I go to the same clinics, read the same material all coaches use. What is wrong with me? If I can't turn out one great pro quarterback, then I have been a failure in a way."
Annually there is great interest in the selections of the Dallas Cowboys, who seem to be able to discover All-Pros in libraries and on basketball courts. This year, however, Coach Tom Landry offered a seldom-heard discouraging word. "We went in looking for a cornerback or an offensive lineman," he said, "but the field was so depleted by the time we got around to picking that we had to draft for the best available athlete. There just wasn't anything there." The Cowboys drafted into their strong suit, using the last choice of the first round for Michigan State Defensive End Larry Bethea.
Landry's comments underscored the feeling of most pro football personnel men that as a whole this year's crop of collegians was a poor one. The Cowboys can always count on turning up a blue chip in a penny ante game, however, because they annually lead the league in the number of prospects scouted and the volume of information compiled. In 1973, picking 20th, Dallas desperately wanted Purdue Wide Receiver Darryl Stingley, but expected him to be taken very early. Stingley, however, was still available when it came time for the choice of the New England Patriots, who were selecting 19th. When the Patriots chose Stingley, the Cowboys were crushed. Dallas settled for Michigan State Tight End Billy Joe DuPree, who has since become All-NFC. After the 1973 draft, the Cowboys went scramblng for the free agents their massive scouting reports indicated were prospects. In this unlikely group Dallas found the wide receiver it wanted, free agent Drew Pearson, who turned out to be everybody's All-Pro.
That tale of diligence rewarded is proof that it takes several years to evaluate a draft. Unhappily, it is also confirmation of the sad truth about this and every other draft—the rich keep getting richer.