NFL Draft : USC’s Bickett, Ruettgers Taken Early as Teams Put Their Picks on the Line

Times Staff Writer

Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are known as skill-position players to National Football League coaches and scouts.

The implication is that blockers and pass rushers don’t have many skills.

But in the pros’ 50th annual draft of college players Tuesday, NFL teams went for the unskilled in a big way. They selected nine consecutive linemen or linebackers--among them linebacker Duane Bickett and tackle Ken Ruettgers, both of USC--before Wisconsin receiver Al Toon went to the New York Jets as the 10th pick of the day. Not since 1968 had the draft gone so long without the inclusion of a quarterback, running back or receiver.

Bickett and Ruettgers went to Indianapolis and Green Bay, respectively, as the No. 5 and No. 7 picks.


The first two players drafted were defensive lineman Bruce Smith of Virginia Tech, who had already been signed by the Buffalo Bills, and offensive tackle Bill Fralic of Pitt, who declined to play in Minnesota and whose rights were then traded to the Atlanta Falcons.

The first running back chosen was Ethan Horton of North Carolina, picked by the Kansas City Chiefs, who had the 15th choice in the first round.

The first quarterback drafted was Randall Cunningham of Nevada Las Vegas, and he didn’t go until the second round, when the Philadelphia Eagles took him.

Toon, one of four first-round wide receivers, was also one of three Wisconsin players picked in the first round. The others were cornerback Richard Johnson, 11th, by the Houston Oilers, and defensive end Darryl Sims, 20th, by the Pittsburgh Steelers.


The other receivers picked in the first round were Miami of Florida’s Eddie Brown, 13th, by the Cincinnati Bengals; Mississippi Valley State’s Jerry Rice, 16th, by the San Francisco 49ers, and Florida State’s Jessie Hester, 23rd, by the Raiders.

The Rams chose Texas safety Jerry Gray in the first round.

Perhaps the most surprising pick of the first round was made by the Chicago Bears, who chose William (The Refrigerator) Perry, a nose tackle who stands 6 feet 1 1/2 inches and weighed as much as 390 at Clemson. Most scouts list him at 360.

“I was big when I was little,” Perry said.

Chicago Coach Mike Ditka said: “You can look at this positively or negatively, but he’s a fine football player.”

Citing family tradition, Perry said he weighed 15 pounds at birth.

“I’ll play at any weight they want,” he added. “I can control my weight. I was 380 to 390 in my freshman year. Right now I’m down to 318 or 319.”

Said Ditka: “I say he’ll look good in a Bear uniform--or two uniforms. Whatever it takes.”


Chip Banks, the Cleveland linebacker from USC, decided he did not want to play in Buffalo, even though he was involved in the trade that enabled the Browns to line up quarterback Bernie Kosar in this summer’s supplemental draft.

Cleveland apparently is better than Buffalo in Banks’ reckoning.

So Banks hid out. His agent, among others, swore he couldn’t find him. And at 5 a.m. Tuesday, the Bills quit looking. Exercising a clause in the deal, they accepted the Browns’ first-round pick (No. 7) instead of Banks, allowing the former Trojan to stay in Cleveland.

Then the Bills traded that pick to Green Bay. And that’s how Green Bay got Ruettgers.

With their first-round choices, Dallas and San Diego clearly illustrated the draft’s competing philosophies--best man vs. greatest need.

The Cowboys, who need wide receivers and linebackers, chose a defensive lineman instead--Kevin Brooks of Michigan. At the time, they had Brooks ranked as the best available athlete. That policy has helped the Cowboys reach five Super Bowls.

The Chargers, who need offensive linemen, doggedly drafted one with the 12th pick in the first round, although four offensive linemen had already been chosen. The Chargers’ choice, Jim Lachey of Ohio State, is a guard. Most pro teams draft college tackles and build them into guards. Lachey’s experience has been gained with a college team that doesn’t require much pass blocking by its linemen.

The new San Diego personnel chief, Ron Nay, said of Lachey: “He was the best offensive lineman left on the board. We took the best player for the Chargers at the time.”


Bill Walsh, the San Francisco coach whose pass catchers were good enough to win the Super Bowl, swung a key trade to get still another receiver, Rice, in the first round.

As coach of the champions, Walsh went in with the 28th pick but traded it to New England--along with other choices in the second and third rounds--for No. 16.

“We felt we should put it all into one player,” Walsh said. "(Rice has) great instincts running with the ball, going to the ball and catching it in a crowd.”

Playing for a Division I-AA school, Mississippi Valley State, Rice caught 24 passes in a game against Southern University.

The San Francisco trade was also a big one for the Patriots, giving them eight selections in the first four rounds.

Said New England personnel chief Dick Steinberg: “The kind of draft this is, this is a good year to have extra choices high. There are a lot of players who grade out with about the same ability.”

Running back Herschel Walker, the Georgia star who might have been the top choice Tuesday if he had passed up the USFL’s millions two years ago to stay in school, was drafted in the fifth round by Dallas.

But for the surprising show of strength by the USFL at its league meeting Monday night, Walker probably would have gone higher.

“We couldn’t let him go lower,” said Gil Brandt, Dallas vice president.

Most scouts and coaches had expressed a low opinion of the running backs available, but such is the importance of the position that before the first round was history, four had been chosen.

They were, in order, North Carolina’s Ethan Horton, No. 15, Chiefs; Kentucky’s George Adams, No. 19, Giants; Oklahoma’s Steve Sewell, No. 26, Broncos, and Florida’s Lorenzo Hampton, No. 27, Dolphins.

Said Miami Coach Don Shula: “Everyone who saw the Super Bowl knows we need to improve our running game.”


TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE 1. Buffalo Bruce Smith, de Virginia Tech 2. Atlanta Bill Fralic, ot Pittsburgh (From Houston) Through Minn. 3. Houston Ray Childress, de Texas A & M (From Minnesota 4. Minnesota Chris Doleman, lb Pittsburgh (From Atlanta) 5. Indianapolis Duane Bickett, lb Southern California 6. Detroit Lomas Brown, ot Florida 7. Green Bay Ken Ruettgers, ot Southern (From Cleveland) California Through Buffalo 8. Tampa Bay Ron Holmes, de Washington 9. Philadelphia Kevin Allen, ot Indiana 10. New York Jets Al Toon, wr Wisconsin 11. Houston Richard Johnson, cb Wisconsin (From New Orleans) 12. San Diego Jim Lachey, og Ohio St. 13. Cincinnati Ed Brown, wr Miami (Fla.) 14. Buffalo Derrick Burroughs, db Memphis St. (From Green Bay) 15. Kansas City Ethan Horton, rb North Carolina 16. San Francisco Jerry Rice, wr Mississippi (From New England) Valley St. 17. Dallas Kevin Brooks, dl Michigan 18. St. Louis Freddie Joe Nunn, lb Mississippi 19. New York Giants George Adams, rb Kentucky 20. Pittsburgh Darryl Sims, de Wisconsin 21. Los Angeles Rams Jerry Gray, db Texas 22. Chicago William Perry, dt Clemson 23. Los Angeles Raiders Jessie Hester, wr Florida St. 24. New Orleans Alvin Toles, lb Tennessee (From Washington) 25. Cincinnati Emanuel King, lb Alabama (From Seattle) 26. Denver Steve Sewell, rb Oklahoma 27. Miami Lorenzo Hampton, rb Florida 28. New England Trevor Matich, c Brigham Young (From San Francisco)