NEW YORK (AP) _ They've been poked, prodded, tested and analyzed to death. Now the members of the NFL draft class of 1988, all 15 of them, are ready to be plucked.

Fifteen?

That's right.

According to the gray eminences of the NFL scouting fraternity, only 15 of the 27 players picked in the first round Sunday have the overall grades of true first-rounders. Moreover, only a few more than 100 have the potential to make it in the NFL compared to the 250 or so rookies who normally make opening-day rosters.

That's led to confusion, even among the people who do the picking.

''If anyone says the Giants have decided to do something, they're in confusion,'' says George Young, New York's general manager.

''It's the strangest draft to predict that I've ever seen,'' says agent Leigh Steinberg, who represents potential first-rounders Dave Cadigan of Southern California and Gaston Green of UCLA but stands to make more from the man he calls his prime No. 1 this year - Olympic figure-skating gold medalist Brian Boitano.

On the other hand, there are those who think it's underrated.

''I think a lot of scouts have deliberately given lower grades than they have in the past because most teams are fairly set,'' says New Orleans General Manager Jim Finks.

''There's no other league competing with us for talent and we've had an influx of players from the USFL who have taken spots we might have for rookies. Overall, I don't think tt's as bad as everyone says.''

The draft, such as it is, begins at noon, EDT Sunday at the Marriott Marquis Hotel.

It's the first Sunday draft in history, scheduled for the benefit of the NFL's eternal benefactor - television, in this case ESPN. It's also the first two-day draft since 1982 - no round will begin after 9 p.m. Sunday and the rest will be finished on Monday.

And as with most drafts in the last two years, the suspense begins with No. 2. Atlanta, which has the first pick, has already drafted and signed Auburn's Aundray Bruce, a pass-rushing linebacker the Falcons hope will become a Lawrence Taylor-Andre Tippett type.

Then comes Kansas City, which moved up from third to second in an exchange with Detroit, presumably so it could take defensive end Neil Smith of Nebraska, whom the Los Angeles Raiders had hope to get in a trade with the Lions.

Detroit, which got the Chiefs' second-round pick in exchange, still has available to it the players it wants - Miami safety Benny Blades; Wisconsin tackle Paul Gruber; cornerback Ricky Dixon of Oklahoma and two wide receivers, Sterling Sharpe of South Carolina and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown of Notre Dame.

That group represents the cream of the draft, which is heavy in running backs and wide receivers, fairly deep in offensive linemen and threadbare on defense - outside of Smith and Blades, the rest of the projected defensive first-rounders are gambles of one sort or another.

And there are no quarterbacks worthy of the first round - Cris Chandler of Washington is rated the best but had a poor senior year. Given that, it's no surprise that something of a boomlet is developing for Stan Humphries of Northeast Louisiana, the school that provided the NFL with Bubby Brister, Pittsburgh's third-stringer.

The best of the running backs may turn out to be Craig ''Ironhead'' Heyward, who could have played another year at Pitt had he not been tossed off the team for misconduct and dealings with an agent. He is coveted by several teams, including the Los Angeles Rams, who pick 14th and 20th and may trade up to get him.

Other potential first-rounders include Lorenzo White of Michigan State; Gaston Green of UCLA; Brad Muster of Stanford; John Stephens of Northwest Louisiana and perhaps Thurman Thomas of Oklahoma State and Tony Jeffrey of TCU.

In addition to Brown and Sharpe, first-round wide receivers include Michael Irvin of Miami; Anthony Miller of Tennessee; Aaron Cox of Arizona State and, perhaps, Wendell Davis of LSU. Irvin is something of a gamble - with a year of eligibility left, he must graduate from Miami before he can play.

The two sure-shot offensive linemen are Gruber and Cadigan, followed by a group that includes Eric Moore of Indiana, John Elliott of Michigan, Randall McDaniel of Arizona State and Gerald Perry of Southern.

But basically, that second-line talent could go anywhere, particularly on defense, where there are an inordinate number of question marks.

For example, is Michael King, an awesome linebacking talent from Mississippi Valley State, too raw? Is Miami defensive end Dan Stubbs too weak against the run? Is Scott Davis, a defensive end from Illinois, too inconsistent? Is Michael Dean Perry of Clemson, the Fridge's brother, too short and weight-prone?

''It's a draft where the 15th, 25th and 35th player are all pretty much the same,'' says Gil Brandt, Dallas' principal picker for the past two decades. ''So you take the player who best fits your needs and your style of play.''

All that could mean last-minute trades, the kind that provide a boon to the various phone companies every draft day and keep the 15-minute clock running down to the last second on many first-round picks.

The Rams have five picks in the first two rounds and might trade up to get Heyward. Buffalo, which gave up its first-rounder in the Eric Dickerson- Cornelius Bennett blockbuster that got the Rams their picks, also wants Heyward and could offer a team in the top ten a couple of players.

San Diego is said to be offering its pick to the Raiders for quarterback Marc Wilson, a strange offer if true; the Giants, could trade down for an extra pick and still get an offensive lineman like Moore or Elliott; Green Bay and Houston could drop down, and Minnesota could trade up for someone like Cadigan.

Moreover, San Francisco and Washington almost always trade up and down - it's almost a principle with them. Washington has already given away its first-rounder, the 27th pick overall, for signing All-Pro linebacker Wilber Marshall of the Bears, who is worth far more than anyone they could have drafted.

The Redskins and Bills are two of the four teams without a first-rounder. The others are Indianapolis, which also gave theirs away in the Dickerson deal, and Seattle, which forfeited its pick when it took Brian Bosworth in the supplemental draft last year.

In addition to the Rams, who have the picks of the Colts and Bills, the Oilers and Bears each have two picks. Houston, which picks 21st, also has the Rams' (No. 9 overall) from the Jim Everett deal two years ago. Chicago has Washington's for Marshall and its own, which is No. 23.

END ADV Weekend Editions April 23-24