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All three players were still available as the Minnesota Vikings prepared to make the 14th pick of the first round; it seemed likely that Walsh would get at least one of them. Minnesota took Robinson. The next team up, the Seattle Sea-hawks, chose Williams. The Buffalo Bills made it a clean sweep, taking Harmon with the 16th pick.
"We were like an NBA team late in a game, up by 15, confident we'd win," says Lombardi. "Then they get 10 unanswered points in a minute and it's a game again."
Several minutes passed. During the first round, a team must make its selection within 15 minutes of the previous pick (a team gets only five minutes in the following rounds). The phone on McVay's desk rang. It was Gil Brandt of the Dallas Cowboys. Brandt wanted to use the 49ers' pick to take UCLA wide receiver Mike Sherrard. Dallas was choosing 20th, and Brandt feared that the New York Giants, 19th, would take Sherrard. Brandt offered McVay the Cowboys' first-and fifth-round picks. "Take it," Walsh said to McVay. He was buying time. The next available player the 49ers wanted was Roberts, but Walsh did not want to waste a first-round pick on a part-time starter.
Dallas grabbed Sherrard. The 49ers had had Dallas's No. 1 pick for about 27 minutes when McVay answered the phone again. Buffalo was calling. The Bills desperately wanted Vanderbilt tackle Will Wolford, so Buffalo general manager Bill Polian and McVay, after consulting with Walsh, struck another deal. The 49ers traded the pick they had just received from Dallas to Buffalo, along with a 10th-round pick in 1987, for Buffalo's second-and third-round picks.
Now San Francisco had two selections in each of the next two rounds—including, from Buffalo, the second pick in the second round, No. 29 overall. Still too high for Roberts, Walsh thought. He wanted to keep dealing. Near the end of the first round, three desirable running backs remained unclaimed: Reggie Dupard of SMU, Neal Anderson of Florida and Garry James of LSU. With the 26th pick of the draft, the New England Patriots took Dupard. With the 27th and final choice of the opening round (there was no 28th pick because the Browns had forfeited a first-round selection by taking quarterback Bernie Kosar in a supplementary draft), the Chicago Bears picked Anderson.
It was 9 a.m. in Redwood City, and the phones began ringing off the hook. Five teams wanted James. The best offer: the Detroit Lions' second-and third-round picks for the 49ers' first second-round pick—the one they had just received from the Bills. "Take it," Walsh told McVay.
DeBartolo was on the phone.
"Hey," said the owner to his coach, "when are you going to pick somebody? Give me a name! My phone bills are going to be bigger than our signing bonuses!"
Walsh chuckled and told DeBartolo that the 49ers were about to get a bargain. The guy they might have picked in the middle of the first round, Roberts, was the guy they were going to pick in the second round. DeBartolo liked that; the difference between first-and second-round signing-bonus money is about $350,000. The 49ers landed Roberts with the 12th pick of the second round—No. 39 overall—which was the selection they had received from Detroit.
San Francisco's scouts grade college prospects on a 1-to-10 scale—1 being a clear reject, and 10 being a perfect player—with pluses and minuses added for more precise grading. Not a single college prospect of the '80s earned a 10. A grade of +5 means the player has the ability to make the team. A -5 means he could challenge for a roster spot but would probably fail. There is no grade of 5; that's the border.