The Detroit Lions, trying to become more than a cat's meow in the National Football League, picked a real tiger in Billy Sims during this year's college draft.
With one of the NFL's weakest running attacks, Detroit had indicated its intentions to draft the electrifying Oklahoma halfback long ago. The real problem now is to get Sims into one of Detroit's blue and silver uniforms.
His agent, ex-dentist Jerry Argovitz, and the Lions are poles apart in what they think Billy should be paid. If the two parties can't resolve their differences, Argovitz, who represents several other top collegians, might file a suit contesting the legality of the draft. Beyond that, about all he can do is advise Sims to sit out next season and wait to be drafted by another team, or consider an offer to play in Canada. (Tom Cousineau, the Ohio State linebacker who was the top selection in the 1979 NFL draft, availed himself of this latter option and signed with the Montreal Alouettes.)
Although some people question whether Sims will ever grace the Pontiac Silverdome's artificial playing field, Billy sounded highly optimistic during a draft day press conference in Detroit.
"I'm counting 100 percent on being here," he said after Coach Monte Clark had finished displaying his "We've Got Sims" sign. "I want to come here. Maybe for the fans, maybe to show the sports writers I wouldn't shy away from Detroit.
"I can promise you one thing, and that's more than a 2-14 season. I'm a team player who is use to winning."
At Oklahoma, when the wind came sweeping down the plain, Sims often was gone with it. He scored 50 touchdowns during his Sooner career and averaged a gaudy 7.6 yards a carry in 1978, when he became only the sixth junior to win the Heisman Trophy.
southern California's Charles White beat him out for the Heisman last season. White, headed for Cleveland, was only the 27th and next-to-last player selected on the first round.
The general public, no doubt, wondered why the most prolific Trojan tailback ever was picked so long after Sims, and behind three otherrunning backs: Texas A&M's Curtis Dickey (Baltimore), Rice's Earl Cooper (San Francisco), and Notre Dame's Vagas Ferguson (New England). A lack of size was what made most teams hesitant to select the 5 ft. 9 in., 182-pound White. The Browns, though, saw no reason to shy away since Greg Pruitt (5-10, 190) has already convicted them than the "little man" can run well in the NFL.
After making a two-for-one swap of first-rounders, the New York Jets used what had been San Francisco's pick to produce perhaps the draft's biggest surprise, the selection of Texas wide receiver Johnny (Lam) Jones right after Sims.
Although Jones never had a chance to showcase his talents in a pro-style offense, the Jets were impressed with his speed and the fact that he caught 36 passes for the run-oriented Longhorns last year. A member of a goldmedal-winning relay team at the 1976 Olympics, Jones was given his nickname by former Texas coach, Darrell Royal, who wanted to distinguish him from Johnny (Ham) Jones.
The Jets plan to pair Jones with deep-ball threat Wesley Walker in a game-breaking receiver tandem that could equal the Lynn Swann-John Stallworth duo the Pittsburgh Steelers boast.
Rule changes made in recent years allow receivers to run their routes with less harassment by defenders, thus fleet pass catchers like Jones can make a team much more dangerous.
Because a premium is placed on stopping these speedsters, NFL teams went after defensive backs and pass rushers in a big way. Defensive linemen taken on the first round were Penn State's Bruce Clark by Green Bay, Michigan's Curtis greer by St. Louis, Washington's Doug Martin by Minnesota, Texas A&M's Jacob Green by Seattle, and Clemson's Jim Stuckey by San Francisco.
Defensive backs tabbed on the first go-round were Colorado's Mark Haynes by the New York Giants, Tennessee's Roland James by New England, Texas' Johnnie Johnson by Los Angeles, alabama's Don McNeal by Miami, Alcorn State's Roynell Young by Philadelphia, and Texas' Derrick Hatchett by Baltimore.
The first quarterback selected was Brigham Young All-America Marc Wilson, who was taken by Oakland in the 16th spot. Most observers didn't think the Raiders were in the market for a passer, since they just acquired Dan Pastorini in a trade that sent Ken Stabler to Houston.
The Super Bowl champion Steelers also threw people a curve when they used the last pick of the first round to take Arizona State quarterback Mark Malone, the 6-4, 212-pound field general of a run-oriented Sun Devil offense. The Steelers already have two little-used backups for Terry Bradshaw, so there's speculation that Malone will be converted into a wide receiver, running back, or defensive back.
Picking on the opening round for the first tim since 1968, the Washington Redskins took wide receiver Art Monk of Syracuse. Dallas, a team that has traditionally built through the draft, had traded away its first-round pick to Baltimore last season for defensive lineman John Dutton.
Other first-round selections were: Southern Cal tackle Anthony Munoz to Cincinnati and Trojan guard Brad Budde to Kansas City, Nebraska tight end Junior Miller to Atlanta, Colorado tackle Stan Brock to New Orleans, North Carolina State center Jim Ritcher to Buffalo, Louisville linebacker Otis Wilson to Chicago, Wisconsin guard Ray Snell to Tampa Bay, and Oklahoma linebacker George Cumby to Green Bay.