Raiders draft woes helped team land the No. 1 pick
ALAMEDA, Calif. — Getting the No. 1. selection in the NFL draft usually means a team hasn't picked well in previous years. That's half true with the Oakland Raiders.
While owner Al Davis' team has done fairly well selecting defensive players in recent years, it's been nearly two decades since the Raiders have drafted a player who turned into an offensive star.
"I don't think Al Davis has forgotten what a good football player is," draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "They have drafted very well on the defensive side of the ball. The bottom line is that some of their offensive picks have not panned out. They need to get better in a hurry on the offensive side."
With two talented quarterbacks in LSU's JaMarcus Russell and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn and one of the top-rated receivers ever to come out of college in Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson available, the Raiders hope to remedy that situation later this month.
Assuming Oakland keeps the top pick and uses it on one of those players, it would mark the first time since taking tight end Ricky Dudley in 1996 that the Raiders used a first-round pick on a skill position player.
Of Oakland's 13 first-round picks since then, there have been six defensive backs, three offensive lineman, two defensive lineman, a linebacker and even a kicker.
"It's no secret what Al Davis likes. He likes big guys who can run fast on either side of the football," Mayock said. "Last year, they had the opportunity to draft a quarterback with Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler and went with Michael Huff instead."
While Leinart and Cutler were starting by the end of the season and appeared to be far ahead of Oakland's second-year quarterback Andrew Walter, Huff had problems making the transition to the NFL.
Davis said the decision to take Huff instead of a quarterback was made by former coach Art Shell. But few who follow the Raiders closely believe any pick is made without Davis' approval.
Billed as a playmaker in the secondary, Huff had no sacks, no interceptions and no fumble recoveries as a rookie. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has said he thinks Huff could have a breakthrough year in 2007 similar to the way 2003 first-round pick, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, did last season.
Asomugha and Huff were among the eight starters on the NFL's third-ranked defense that came from the draft. Oakland's entire back seven is homegrown, and the team has done well in getting middle linebacker Kirk Morrison in the third round in 2005, outside linebacker Thomas Howard in the second round last season, and using first-round picks on starting cornerbacks Asomugha and Fabian Washington.
The Raiders have also had some success picking receivers in later rounds, getting Jerry Porter in the second round in 2001, Doug Gabriel in the fifth round in 2003, and Ronald Curry in the seventh round that year.
Oakland also got a starter on the offensive line in the sixth round last season, picking Kevin Boothe out of Cornell.
"I still think the Raiders are above average if you stack up their players against other people in the league in terms of how many players have made it and how many are still playing," said Gil Brandt, the former personnel director for the Dallas Cowboys who is now the NFL's draft adviser. "I'm very familiar with the Raiders' people and I do think they do a very thorough job evaluating players."
But since taking receiver Tim Brown in the first round in 1988, the Raiders have drafted only one player — running back Napoleon Kaufman in 1995 — who has gained either 1,000 yards in a season rushing or receiving, or had a 2,000-yard passing season.
Since picking eight-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Steve Wisniewski in the second round in 1989, the Raiders have drafted only one Pro Bowl player on offense: center Barret Robbins in 1995.
What appears to have been the biggest bust came three years ago when Oakland used the No. 2 overall pick on what seemed to be a can't-miss offensive tackle, Robert Gallery of Iowa.
In three seasons, Gallery has shuttled back and forth between left and right tackle, and has often looked overmatched. His poor play was a big reason the offense struggled so much last season, allowing a league-worst 72 sacks.
"I thought Robert Gallery was going to be a Pro Bowl player for 10 years," Brandt said. "He's a wonderful person, a salt of the earth guy. He looks like they almost put a different guy in his uniform. I think with a new offensive line coach that could be the big difference this year."
The Raiders certainly could use it.