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On Good Friday, a cool and cloudy day in Austin, Kenneth Sims ran two 40-yard dashes on the University of Texas baseball field. With him was Dick Steinberg, director of player personnel for the New England Patriots, who held a stopwatch and his breath, not necessarily in that order. Meanwhile, inside the Texas locker room, representatives from several other NFL teams cooled their heels, would-be suitors all. In the NFL, good things come to those who go 2-14, as the Patriots did in 1981.
Because NFL teams protect 40-yard-dash times with the zeal of the CIA, Sims's were not made public. But they were both in the neighborhood of 5.0 (one reportedly a 4.9), only a little slower than his best (4.8) clocking, even though at 279 he was about 15 pounds over his playing weight. Good enough, in short, to assure that "Kenneth Sims, Defensive Tackle, University of Texas" will be the pick of the Pats, who have the first choice in next Tuesday's NFL draft.
Whether Sims had recovered from the injury he suffered in Texas' ninth game last year—a fracture of the right fibula and ligament damage to the right ankle—was the only question mark about his supremacy in a rather thin draft. Over the past few months Sims has been probed, pinched and poked more times than an astronaut, and he's passed the physicals given by the NFL scouting combines.
"If we were playing on Sunday you could put him on the field," says Steinberg. "He's physically ahead of where we expected him to be."
Sims's physical condition prompted more than the usual interest from NFL teams that tailed him even when it became all but certain that he was going to New England. There was always the chance that the Patriots would somehow blow the pick. The Pats have already rejected a cash offer from Washington to trade drafting places, an offer the Redskins reportedly made to Baltimore back when it appeared the Colts would be picking first. The Colts lost their chance at Sims when they beat the Patriots in last year's season-ending Stupor Bowl. Steinberg said the Redskin offer was the only one they've gotten for Sims, but New England was never interested in making a deal. The Patriots need muscle for the defensive line and spirit for the locker room. The 6'5" Sims can supply both in immense quantities.
He is already a better player than anyone on New England's Red Sea (you know, it parted) defensive front. He probably was during the five weeks he spent on crutches, too. Sugar Bear Hamilton, always too small and now slowed by injuries, may be finished at nose tackle. Richard Bishop can play that spot, but at 32 he's a year older than Hamilton. Tony McGee, a solid pass-rusher, is ill equipped to play four downs as he did last year. The most consistent Patriot defensive lineman is still Julius Adams, and he turns 34 the day before the draft. From Day 1 of training camp, Sims should be a starting defensive end. And the precedent of Texas defensive linemen failing in the pros—Scott Apple-ton, Steve McMichael, Brad Shearer, Bill Acker, to name four—is being discounted. Sims is better, a lot better.
In short, he's everybody's No. 1. "He's not going to be around by the time we get to pick, but he's the top-rated player on our board," says Tony Razzano, chief scout for the Super Bowl champion 49ers, who pick 28th.
"He's one of the most talented defensive linemen since I've been scouting," says Bobby Beathard, general manager of the Redskins. "He has the highest grade of any player this year, a grade similar to that of an O.J. Simpson."
"He's a pillar of strength on the run and he has that initial quickness and lateral movement you need for pass rushing," says Mike Hickey, director of player personnel for the Jets. "I don't know, but I think a player of this magnitude doesn't come out that often."
Green Bay's chief scout, Dick Corrick, puts it more bluntly: "It's a one-man draft."