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The Raiders’ Draft: Making an argument

The word of the draft for the Raiders was “Reach.” Out of the team’s top five picks, only one player was not projected much lower in the draft. Some could not be found on most draft boards at all. We all know what the media and most everyone else thinks of the Raiders draft. Anyone watching ESPN could simply copy and paste what those guys were spewing and have plenty to cackle about. I think the only person sitting at that desk who was defending the Raiders was former Chiefs head coach, Herm Edwards, oddly enough.

Attending the Raider Draft Party at Ricky’s Sports Bar in San Leandro, it was clear that Raider fans were not at all pleased with the selections either. The excitement and anticipation leading up to the pick was palpable. Especially with several great players unexpectedly available at the #7 pick. But when the commissioner announced the Raiders’ first pick, the excitement was sucked out of the room and was replaced by anger and frustration.

At this point the draft grades are handed out and those fans of teams that received bad grades always respond with “You can’t grade a draft until at least a couple years have passed.” I have to disagree. Because the draft grade is not about how well a prospect plays, it is about how well the team worked the draft and if they filled the team’s needs. Afterall, the draft is about finding value and filling needs, is it not? That is why they always talk about picks as either a value pick or a need pick.

And what is Tom Cable’s response to all of this grading based on value and need? “When you find a player you want, you go get him,” as first said by the great Bill Walsh. There is certainly room for keeping it just that simple and it is hard to argue with that logic. If it was good enough for Bill Walsh, it is good enough for me. The only difference is that Walsh worked the draft like no one else. He rarely took a guy much higher than his value. And he did that by trading down to acquire more picks.

While the Raiders didn’t trade out of the #7 spot, they did trade down once in the draft and traded up once as well. So there were moves being made and in the end the Raiders had an extra fourth rounder and had also moved up from the seventh round to the sixth round.

Now let’s get to those picks and the arguments surrounding each one, good and bad.

1. (7) Darius Heyward-Bey

The Bad: He was ranked by most scouts as the third or fourth best receiver in this draft and projected in the mid to late first round. He was, as Chris Carter said numerous times, honorable mention all-ACC. The ACC is not exactly a powerhouse of college football. Was inconsistent in college, disappeared in games at times and at one point went five straight games without a touchdown catch. Was a typical Al Davis speed pick as he ran the fastest 40 time at the combine among receivers. Is raw and is not a reliable receiver. The consensus best receiver in the draft, Michael Crabtree, was still available when the Raiders made the pick. Also still on the board were some great players that would fill needs such as DT BJ Raji, DE Brian Orakpo, LB Aaron Maybin, and OT Eugene Monroe.

The Good: We need only look at those players ranked ahead of Heyward-Bey to see if there are reasons to take him instead of the alternatives. Michael Crabtree has some attitude issues and has an extremely bloated ego. He also played in a spread offense while DHB played in a pro-style offense, so the transition will be much more seamless for DHB. Crabtree has also been rather brazen about his distaste for the idea of joining the Raiders. Percy Harvin also has character concerns not to mention that he is not a pure receiver and the Raiders got their “tweener” last year in DMac. Jeremy Maclin is short, fragile, not as fast at the combine as advertised, and his game is a Jonnie Lee Higgins clone. Heyward-Bey has the best combination of size, speed, and experience of any receiver in this draft. Sure the Raiders could have traded down but doesn’t that require someone who is willing to trade with them? And how much farther down would be enough for DHB to be worth the pick? Who is to say that he wasn’t higher on the draft board of many other teams? I had him just below Crabtree personally and with Crabtree not wanting to don the Silver and Black, I guess DHB was the natural choice.

2. (47) Michael Mitchell, S, Ohio

The Bad: Who? (grabbing draft guide) From where? (flipping pages) in the SECOND ROUND?! This has to be a case of bad handwriting on the draft card they turned in. Every one of the consensus best strong safeties were still on that board at this pick and the Raiders take a guy who leaves us all simultaneously banging our heads on the table and searching for who this guy is (and that is extremely difficult to do — try it sometime). They traded out of the #40 spot where the Patriots chose the guy who many Raider fans were praying would fall to the team: DT Ron Brace. How does this guy slip through the cracks of every draft board, not get invited to the combine, and yet end up getting drafted in the middle of the second round? If the Raiders liked this guy so much and he is so unknown, couldn’t they have waited a few rounds to get him? Kiper had him going undrafted and McShay had him even further down the list. Mike Mayock had him going possibly in the seventh round. Leave it to the Raiders to add fuel to the media’s fire. Trey Wingo asked who had the worst draft about every five minutes just because it gave him a chubby to hear Kiper rail about the Raiders’ ineptitude.

The Good: The Raiders traded their #40 pick to the Patriots to move to the #47 pick. After the pick was made for Mitchell and everyone pounced on the Raiders with utter glee, it was revealed that the Chicago Bears had informed Mitchell that they were going to use their pick on him at #49. Just two picks later. In fact, the Bears liked Mitchell so much that once the Raiders nabbed him, they traded their pick. So not only did the Raiders get their guy but in the trade with the Patriots, they got an extra fourth rounder and a sixth rounder. That is working the draft. Kiper also said that in talking to teams, one of those teams had Mitchell ranked as a third rounder. So what did this guy do that impressed teams so much and yet he still flew well under the radar of so many scouting services? Ohio going 4-8 helped keep him out of the scouts’ eye. And after being snubbed by the combine, he was motivated to make his pro-day an eye opener. He ran a 4.45 40-yard dash which seems just above average but when you consider that he weighs 220 pounds, there is nothing average about that. To go along with that speed, he is a solid tackler. In fact he doesn’t just tackle guys, he de-cleats them. You need only watch his highlight reel to see that. He had 62 solo tackles his senior season to go along with two forced fumbles and three interceptions. And aside from his speed and hitting ability, the biggest surprise to scouts may have been his footwork and his leadership. Remind you of anyone? Nnamdi Asomugha perhaps? Consider that Aso was taken with the Raiders’ first round pick but had not been projected in the top three rounds by most scouting service mock drafts you could find. The Raiders were, of course, panned by the media for drafting Nnamdi so high. The only difference here is that Aso was invited to the combine and therefore was able to show off his skills to everyone, which improved his stock. Who’s laughing now?

3. (71) Matt Shaughnessy, DE, Wisconsin

The Bad: He was projected to go in the fifth round by most draft predictions so it is a bit of a reach. Is not quite strong enough to be a consistent run stopper and is not known to rush to the quarterback all that well either. Is often handled by the tight end and doesn’t close gaps well. Is described as not strong, not powerful, not explosive, and certainly not a playmaker. He ran a 4.95 40-yard dash which is not good at all for a defensive end.

The Good: Most of Shaughnessy’s detractors point to his need to add bulk. Adding weight is easy enough. What you can’t teach is heart and he has plenty of that. He has always been described as the hardest worker on the field – a quality which Cable has been trying to instill in his players and one which he demands from the players he adds to the team. A great work ethic seems to be the common theme among the picks in this draft so Shaughnessy makes sense in that regard. He is 6′6″ so once he has the bulk to go with his frame, he will be an imposing figure on the defensive line — so much so that he could move inside and play defensive tackle before all is said and done. And that could be what the Raiders have planned for him. He played his entire senior season with the lingering effects of a broken fibula. He also overcame the death of his brother and still played well, which should tell you a lot about his character and drive. His vertical jump of 30.5 inches and his bench press of 24 reps are quite impressive, especially for a guy who has room to add muscle. As a junior, Shaughnessy was team MVP and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. He totaled 18 stops for loss with five sacks and posted a career-high 60 tackles (41 solo) in 13 games.

4. (124) Louis Murphy, WR, Florida

The Bad: He is a Florida wide receiver for which the list of busts is a long one. He was overshadowed by Percy Harvin who is not even a pure receiver. His senior season was his only full season as a starter. His numbers last season were not that impressive. He started four more games than he did as a junior and yet only caught one more pass (38) and had an unimpressive 655 yards for the season. He does not accelerate very quickly. He drops a lot of balls, is not a great route runner, and goes down easily upon contact. Will most likely take a while to acclimate to the NFL. Is unpolished despite being a senior. The Raiders already got their receiver and still hadn’t chosen a strong side linebacker, defensive tackle, or offensive lineman of any kind, all of which are much more pressing needs.

The Good: He is tall (6′2″) and fast (4.39 40). He will catch balls in traffic and take the big hit. He fell mainly because he was overshadowed by Percy Harvin and because of the NFL failings of other Florida receivers of his ilk (ie Travis Taylor). The fourth round is a great place to take a flier on a guy who has Murphy’s physical tools and who has played against the elite talent of the SEC. Tom Cable said they chose Murphy simply because they couldn’t believe that he was still on the board, so this is clearly a value pick. In fact, this was the only Raiders pick the analysts actually liked all day. He was projected in the third round so he was the only guy who wasn’t considered a reach.

4a. (126) Slade Norris, DE/OLB, Oregon State

The Bad: Welcome to another edition of “WHO?!” (grabbing the draft guide and flipping pages) Here is another guy who is nowhere to be found on the draft boards. Again I am left scratching my head as to what the Raiders saw in this guy and why they didn’t think they could get him a couple of rounds later. That is saying a lot considering I am a Pac-10 guy. Slade was already on the negotiations list for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL which means that he did not expect to be drafted at all. In fact, of the 16 draft-eligible players that the Roughriders had on their list, Norris was the only one drafted. So he goes from a “Rider” to being a Raider — just like that. Clark Judge of NFLdraftscout.com tossed Norris in along with Michael Mitchell when mentioning the biggest gambles in the draft. Norris by all accounts looks like a Ricky Brown clone and that is not what this team needs. It needs a run-stopping strong side linebacker.

The Good: His name is frickin’ Slade Norris! It doesn’t get much more badass than that. He came to Oregon State as a walk-on and worked his way into the starting lineup, which just furthers the “hard worker” theme that Cable is going for in this draft. He began as a safety, moved to defensive end, and played strong side linebacker as a senior. It is a testament to his talent and abilities that he was able to go from just a walk-on to a guy who is so well-liked that the staff are determined to find a place for him on the team. The Beavers were no chump of a team either. They were one game away from winning the Pac-10 outright over USC. Norris would have received scholarship opportunities had he not broken his leg half way through his senior season of high school. He probably would have garnered more interest in the draft had he played more than one season at any one position. Oregon State officials insist that Norris is a First Team all-Pac 10 calibre defensive end but was never given the recognition he deserved. Beaver coach Mike Riley had this to say: “I appreciate the Raiders because they must have watched the film. Slade was one of the most productive defensive ends in the Pac-10 for two straight years so he deserves exactly what he got.”

6. (199) Stryker Sulak, DE/OLB, Missouri

The Bad: He doesn’t have great lateral moves. Sulak was another Raider draftee who was not expecting a phone call on Sunday. “I wasn’t really watching the draft, so yeah, I was surprised,” said Sulak. “They just gave me a call, but I hadn’t really been paying too much attention to it.” He is a pass rush specialist that the Raiders hope to make into a strong side linebacker, much like Slade Norris. The Raiders have never had any luck with trying to switch players from DE to LB and vice versa. Just look at Tyler Brayton and Sam Williams. Sulak is much more suited to just stay at DE. He is described as a pass rush specialist and all of his stats indicate that is where he should stay. Why they can’t just draft an actual outside linebacker is beyond me. Especially when the Raiders just took one in round four and still don’t have a defensive tackle or offensive lineman. So much for the trenches and the Raiders’ horrible run defense.

The Good: His name is frickin’ Stryker Sulak! Everyone should have a defensive player named Stryker Sulak. No other player in the 2009 NFL draft forces fumbles like Sulak does. He forced six fumbles last season and 14 in his career. He has forcing fumbles down to a science at this point. “You try for the sack with one hand and you try to bring the other hand down as hard as you can. He’s not in the best position and not holding the ball as tight as he can. So you try to can-opener it out, get the ball out and try to get your offense on the field. If you get the ball out, it’s a sack and forced fumble. That looks really good on paper,” says Sulak. He had 55 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and 10 sacks as a senior. He is extremely athletic and graded among the top DE in that category. He earned first team all Big 12 honors his junior season after recording 60 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 6 sacks. Has the athleticism to make the transition to OLB. He is also quite tall at 6′5″ and has the frame to add more weight if he is asked to do so.

6a. (202) Brandon Myers, TE, Iowa

The Bad: Myers is another guy who was nowhere to be found in the draft boards. This makes it even more surprising that the Raiders traded up out of the seventh round to grab Myers despite some fine tight ends still being available like Virginia’s John Phillips and Cal’s Cameron Morrah. Myers is described as primarily a blocking tight end.  Does a team really need to trade up to get a blocking tight end? The Raiders traded their seventh rounder and next year’s sixth rounder in the deal.

The Good: A two time all big ten selection. Despite his accolades, he was not invited to the NFL combine. Iowa runs a zone blocking scheme just like the Raiders do, so he will fit in perfectly and make a seamless transition. The Raiders have Zach Miller to catch passes and were in need of a blocking tight end like Myers. Iowa has a strong lineage of tight ends in the NFL. Dallas Clark immediately jumps to mind. “Iowa is known for (tight ends) and it starts with the head coach (Kirk Ferenz),” Myers said. “He definitely knows what he’s going. He told me Day 1 that if I wanted to see the field I would have to learn how to block and be physical. That’s Iowa football, Big Ten football.” Five other teams were reported as showing interest in drafting Myers. One of those teams was the Bengals who had two picks between the Raiders’ original seventh round pick and the pick the Raiders traded up to get Myers. The power at Myers’ family home went out due to a bolt of lightning just prior to the Raiders drafting him in the sixth round. So I guess his new nickname will be “The Natural.” No word yet whether he fashioned a piece of sports equipment from a fallen tree caused by the lightning strike.

Overall draft

The Bad: Coming into the draft, it seemed everyone could agree that this team desperately needed help in the trenches. And that was the one area in which not a single player was chosen. The offseason and free agency were spent on the offensive tackle position – but what about guard? And what happened to building through the draft? I am not sure free agency is the answer to the offensive line concerns. The greater concern is the defensive tackle position. Ryan Boschetti was the lone DT signed in the offseason and he is only expected to add depth. On a team with one of the worst run defenses in the league for the past few years, one would think that defensive tackle would finally be a priority. But no. Taking three LB/DE hybrids is a bit excessive. There were a lot of players on the board who would have been great at other positions of need.

The Good: While the more obvious term to describe this draft may be “Reach,” I think there are more themes to this draft, themes like “Hard work,” “Heart,” and “Character.” Sure, there are sprinklings of speed picks but you can’t teach speed and every team needs it. And while some critics of the Raiders’ draft think that Al Davis and Tom Cable were using a dart board instead of a draft board, further examination proves quite to the contrary. It is quite clear that the Raiders got precisely what they wanted. Whether what they wanted was the right choice remains to be seen, but that is always the case.

I have decided that I am going to abstain from giving this draft a grade. Instead, I would like to hear how you, the reader, would grade this draft. You can even break it down to each individual pick grades. I have laid out some of the good and the bad and I would like to hear what your opinion is.

In the end, most of the scrutiny comes because the Raiders have had double digit losses in each of the last six seasons. The Raiders were not the only team to reach for players or take players who were not on anyone’s board. The Patriots did it at least once but the Pats are given the benefit of the doubt and rightfully so. The Raiders have to earn the benefit of the doubt. Until that time, unless they keep to the straight and narrow, they will be criticized for it. And following the flock is not what the Raiders and/or Al Davis will ever do and they will never give a rat’s ass what the rest of the league or the media think of their picks. That is what we signed up for when we became Raider fans. It can be a bitter pill to swallow, but one that the Raider Nation should be well used to at this point.

Like many fans, when the team I love does something I may not agree with, I have to try and talk myself into it. Sometimes that task is an impossible one. But I don’t think it will be all that difficult in regards to this draft. , WR, Maryland , SS, Ohio