An NFL personnel man was asked last week about a player expected to be among the first 10 chosen in Sunday's draft.
"We've got a mixed review on him," was the reply. "On the other hand, we have a mixed review on just about everybody."It's that kind of draft, coming as it does a year after the first one in which underclassmen were allowed for the first time. Eight were chosen in the first round and one more in the supplemental, leaving the pickings in this year's draft a lot like the offerings in most households the day after Thanksgiving.Only in a season when most blue-chip seniors are already in the NFL would everyone's first choice be a kick returner-wide receiver, Notre Dame's Raghib "Rocket" Ismail.
Only in a league crying for pass rushers would one of the best defensive line prospects be a guy named Eric Swann, who played last year for the minor-league Bay State Titans. He'll be the first player without college experience drafted since the Rams took Emil Sitko in 1946. (Sitko, nicknamed "Six-Yard" for his average per carry, chose Notre Dame instead.)
Ismail will probably be the first choice overall, either by the Dallas Cowboys, who obtained his rights from New England for one of their No. 1s, or by someone to whom the Cowboys trade, like Atlanta. Who can pass up a man who averaged 14.4 yards every time he touched the ball at the top level of college football?
But what is he besides a return man? Is his 175-pound body big enough to stand up to the pounding he would take as a running back? Are his hands reliable enough to make him another Jerry Rice? Is he anything more than a faster, more glamorous version of Dave Meggett, whom the New York Giants got on the fifth round two years ago?
"Some people say it's Ismail and then 10 other guys," says George Young, general manager of the Giants. "I'm not sure it's not 10 other guys and Ismail."
"He's a dilemma to me," says Tony Razzano, San Francisco's personnel director. "He's the greatest return man I've ever seen, but if you don't kick him the ball you're not going to hurt yourself. The question is how is he as a receiver and what he can do for you out of the backfield. At those positions, he's a project."
But so is everyone else in this 1991 version of the NFL lottery. Maybe there are, as Young says, 10 other guys beyond Ismail, but ask 10 scouts, coaches or personnel directors for their list and you get 10 different names.
The deepest position seems to be wide receiver.
There are Ismail and Herman Moore of Virginia, the two pre-eminent underclassmen this year; Alvin Harper of Tennesee; Randal Hill and Wesley Carroll of Miami; Mike Pritchard of Colorado; Reggie Barrett of Texas-El Paso, and, coming up fast on the outside, David Daniels of Penn State.
Then you hear about the flaws - Hill is a hot dog, Moore isn't quick enough off the line, Harper doesn't run good routes, Barrett and Daniels aren't fast enough.
In addition to Ismail, the draft has two other pivots - Swann and the Cowboys, who sat in the middle with the 11th, 12th and 14th picks, their own and the ones they got from Minnesota for Herschel Walker and New Orleans for Steve Walsh. They traded the 11th to New England to grab Ismail, but they still have the other two.
"Anything is possible with the Cowboys," says coach Jimmy Johnson.
Swann is 6-foot-4, 311 pounds of rare defensive talent who was a high school All-American in North Carolina, signed a letter of intent to play at North Carolina State, but failed half-a-dozen times to total 700 on his SAT exams. So he played semi-pro ball in Massachusetts and decided to enter the draft this year.
In this era when dominating defensive linemen are a rarity, everyone raves at his natural ability. They also question how much experience he needs.
"A lot of teams are scared to death of him," acknowledges his agent, Dick Bell, who doubles as the Titans' general manager. "I can understand that. But I also know his talent."
So do the teams, making Swann a temptation, even to Denver (No. 4 overall) at the very top of the draft.
"If you polled all 28 teams, I think they all would say they have the same pressing need - a pass rusher," says Steinberg. "Probably more mistakes are made on defensive linemen because teams are so desperate for them and they will take a chance to fill a glaring need."
So who are the players people want?
Brett Favre of Southern Mississippi has passed San Diego State's Dan McGwire as the top quarterback, with Louisville's Browning Nagle a longshot first-round pick.
Nick Bell of Iowa is the only running back rated in the top 10, with Fresno State's Aaron Craver and LSU's Harvey Williams other first-round possibilities.
There's that flock of wide receivers, although no first-round tight ends.
The offensive linemen include tackles Antone Davis and Charles McRae of Tennessee, Pat Harlow of Southern Cal, Stan Thomas of Texas, Ed King of Auburn and John Flannery of Syracuse.
Miami's Russell Maryland will probably be the top defensive lineman taken, followed by Swann, Ted Washington of Louisville, Bobby Wilson of Michigan State and Kelvin Pritchett of Mississippi.
Nebraska's Mike Croel is rated the top linebacker along with Alfred Williams of Colorado, Huey Richardson of Florida and Keith Traylor of Central State in Oklahoma.
And defensive backs are relatively deep. Todd Lyght of Notre Dame may be the second pick overall by Cleveland, which would make he and Ismail the third 1-2 combination in history from the same college. Eric Turner of UCLA, Bruce Pickens of Nebraska, Stanley Richard of Texas, Jesse Campbell of North Carolina State and Henry Jones of Illinois are also considered of first-round quality.