PHOENIX, Ariz. -- The Arizona Outlaws, seeking to rebuild a defense that led the USFL last season but was decimated by consolidation proceedings, took defensive players with their first five picks in the league's open draft Thursday.
The club, then known as the Wranglers, led the league in total defense and sacks in 1984, but lost many key people in a merger between the Wranglers and the Oklahoma Outlaws during the off-season.
Looking to shore up holes created by the consolidation, the Outlaws tabbed two cornerbacks and a linebacker in the first round, another linebacker in the second and another cornerback with their first pick in the fourth round before taking two offensive players later in the round.
Defense was also stressed in the territorial phase of the draft, as 13 defenders were selected. Heading the territorial list was an offensive player -- kicker Luis Zendejas of Arizona State, the NCAA career points leader.
Taken first in the open phase was cornerback Tory Nixon of San Diego State, who would be returning to the Phoenix area, where he played football at Shadow Mountain High School and Phoenix College before joining the Aztecs.
'Nixon is an exceptionally good athlete,' said Arizona coach Frank Kush after the Outlaws made Nixon the second player taken. 'There are a lot of good things about him. He has good catch-up speed, and I was impressed with his ability to come out of a turn and accelerate.'
Nixon led the Aztecs in interceptions the last two years, picking off four passes in 1983 and five last year. He returned his five intercepts in 1984 for a total of 223 yards, including touchdowns of 97 yards against Air Force and 89 yards against Utah.
Also in the first round, the Outlaws took Northeast Louisiana linebacker Sam Washington with the 13th pick overall and Texas Christian cornerback Sean Thomas with the 15th selection.
Washington was named to the all-Southland Conference first team last season, as he led the Indians with 150 tackles.
Thomas picked off eight passes for the Horned Frogs in 1984, leading the Southwest Conference in that category and placing him second in the nation. He was named to the all-Southwest Conference first team last season.
In the second round, the Outlaws took middle linebacker Darrell Warden of Stephen F. Austin. Arizona had no pick in the third round, but took cornerback Mike Smith of Texas-El Paso with their first of three fourth-round picks. Later in the fourth round, the Outlaws tabbed running back Steve Morgan of Toledo and offensive tackle Richard Moran of San Diego State.
The University of Arizona led the Outlaws' territorial selections with 10 players taken, with Arizona State supplying six, Nevada-Las Vegas four, New Mexico and New Mexico State two each and Northern Arizona one.