Best non- Randy Moss story on draft weekend? Easy: the Lions' warning to disappointing $5 million-a-year quarterback Scott Mitchell that 1998 will be a produce-or-you're-gone season. Detroit sent third-, fifth- and sixth-round selections to Miami for a late-second-round pick that it used to take unheralded Charlie Batch of Eastern Michigan. Batch, a 6'2", 217-pounder, completed 247 of 434 passes for 3,280 yards and 23 touchdowns last year for a team that finished 4-7. "I'd never heard of Charlie Batch when the off-season began," says new Lions quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn. "But I evaluated all the quarterbacks coming out, and Charlie came out as one of the top two or three."
Mitchell, who signed a four-year, $21 million deal in 1997, has played erratically during his four seasons in Detroit He looked lost during a wild-card playoff defeat by the Buccaneers in December, completing just 10 of 25 passes for 78 yards. Yet Mitchell, who has never been good at taking blame for his shortcomings, still sees himself as a victim. "It doesn't matter what I do or don't do," he said before the draft. "I guarantee this: If we won the Super Bowl, there'd still be people who'd be critical."
Skins Roll Dice, Come Up Big
In 48 hours last week, the mood in the Redskins' war room went from hope to disappointment to euphoria. The compensation for signing another team's franchise player is two first-rounders (unless another deal can be struck), and when the Panthers agreed to terms last month with Washington's franchise player, defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, the Skins hoped to get Carolina's first selection (No. 14) and a lower pick.
But the Panthers refused to fork over their 1998 No. 1. They gave the Redskins a choice: Carolina's second-rounder this year and its first-rounder in '99, or its first-round picks in '99 and 2000. Either way, Washington would be without a first-rounder in '98. That was because the Skins had already sent first- and third-round selections to the Bengals as compensation for signing Cincinnati's franchise player, defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson.
Last Thursday, Washington general manager Charley Casserly opted for the pair of first-round choices. "This franchise will be here for a long time," Casserly said, "and two ones give us a chance to control each of the next two drafts."
Much to their surprise, the Redskins found their top-rated player at a need position, Oklahoma tight end Stephen Alexander, available when their turn came midway through the second round. In the third round Washington took productive UCLA tailback Skip Hicks, who ran for 39 touchdowns in tire past two seasons. Look for Hicks to challenge injury-plagued Terry Allen for playing time. "Looking back," coach Norv Turner said after round 3 ended, "we wouldn't change a thing."
Trades That Weren't Made
Jaguars, Saints, Coulda, Shoulda
The Jaguar under the most pressure in training camp could be rookie safety Donovin Darius of Syracuse. Why? Jacksonville went into the draft looking for a running back and had the ammunition—the ninth and 25th picks—to get the premier prospect, Penn State's Curtis Enis. By giving up their two first-rounders, the Jaguars could have moved into the Bears' spot, at No. 5, and taken Enis.
Instead they stood pat, choosing Florida running back Fred Taylor with the ninth pick and Darius with the 25th. Taylor had fallen out of favor with, among others, the running-back-starved Rams (who drafted sixth) because of his inability to hold on to the ball. He fumbled 24 times in 38 games as a Gator. Darius was the Big East defensive player of the year in 1997, but effectively giving up the 25th selection for a chance to get Enis instead of Taylor seemed like a no-brainer.