Raiders owner makes all the wrong picks again

David Denenberg

The clock was ticking down on the 2009 NFL draft.’ Fans, coaches, owners, players and even scouts were anxiously waiting for the action to begin.’ As the picks started coming in, everything seemed to be going as expected.’ The New York Jets made a deal with the Cleveland Browns to get their franchise quarterback, Marc Sanchez, with the fifth pick overall. Then, the Cincinnati Bengals went ahead and drafted Andre Smith out of Alabama despite his, as quoted by some NFL analysts, ‘character issues.’

Then, it was time for pick No. 7. The owners were the Oakland Raiders.

The Raiders were officially on the clock. And by the Raiders, we mean Al Davis.’ There was already speculation going around that Oakland was looking to draft a wide receiver with the pick to give starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell a viable threat to throw to.This is where the Raiders went wrong and came out with the worst draft class of 2009.

The Raiders finished off last season ranked as the second-worst team against the rush, allowing 159.7 yards per game. Seeing as how it’s become quite clear in the history of the NFL that defense wins championships, it would have been a better move to pick up one of the many talented defensive linemen that were still on the board such as Boston Colleges’ B.J. Raji, Penn State’s Aaron Maybin, or Texas’ Brian Orakpo. Any of these guys would have been better than Darrius Heyward-Bey, a wideout from Maryland whom Davis chose because of his speed and vertical leap.

For argument’s sake, even if taking a wide receiver with the first-round pick was a smart idea for Davis’ Raiders, they blew it by taking a guy that caught only 42 balls for 609 yards and five touchdowns in his final collegiate year. Overlooked by the Raiders was Michael Crabtree out of Texas Tech, who had 97 receptions for 1,165 yards and 19 touchdowns ‘- one of which was the game-winning score against the then-No. 1 Texas Longhorns. Another guy the Raiders ignored was Jeremy Maclin out of Missouri, who caught 102 balls for 1,260 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The word ‘reach’ doesn’t even begin to explain what the Raiders demonstrated with this pick. It was as if Stretch Armstrong himself had reached into the dark heavens and returned with a player that had ‘bust’ written all over him.

How many times does this need to happen before Davis gets a clue? Being the fastest guy in the draft ‘- which Heyward-Bey is, doing the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds ‘- doesn’t mean that you will be successful at the next level. In fact, Davis has a history of drafting guys based on athletic ability alone. Just look at some of his past draft picks like cornerback Fabian Washington, a speedster, and Russell, who had the strongest arm of the 2007 draft class.

When looking at the different receivers the Raiders had to choose from, some might argue that ‘- had Heyward-Bey been in a spread offense ‘- he would have done significantly better. Spread offense or not, Crabtree ‘- drafted by the Raiders’ crosstown rivals, the 49ers ‘- and Maclin caught the balls that were thrown at them and didn’t disappear during games, something Heyward-Bey did in his final game against Florida State ‘- a loss ‘- in which he only caught three passes for 22 yards and no scores. In comparison, the worst game Crabtree had all season came in a win against Massachusetts in which he caught five passes for 62 yards and a touchdown.

What the Heyward-Bey pick really highlighted is Davis’ persistence in making shocking picks that deliberately go against what experts believe to make sense. Davis has never been the savviest owner, but his picks in the last decade have solidified the Raiders as the worst team in the NFL.

Things only got worse in the second round for Oakland as it traded down the 40th pick for the 47th with New England for a fourth and a sixth-round selection.’ In doing this, the Raiders once again passed on some quality defensive players, such as Ron Brace, also from Boston College, and Seminole Everette Brown. The player they did draft with the 47th pick was Michael Mitchell, a safety out of Ohio, who was not projected to go off the board for a few more rounds.

The buzz on Mitchell is that he’s a speedy, hard-hitting player. Hold the phones. The Raiders took another athletic guy, adding to a roster already containing a plethora of players that seem to make a few dazzling plays every season before fizzling out?’ Heyward-Bey will fit in perfectly.

If Raiders fans are lucky, Davis will personally pay for his 2009 draft class to take break-dancing lessons, so they can demonstrate their shining athleticism in a pre-game dance-off. I can already picture Heyward-Bey transitioning from a windmill kick to a handstand only to lunge back to his feet and catch a bullet pass from Russell and immediately strike the Heisman pose.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald will keep helping his team to the Super Bowl after being wisely selected third overall in 2004 by Arizona, despite his 4.6-second 40 time.

It’s never easy to judge a draft class because you don’t know for sure what kind of abilities these players possess until about their third or fourth year as professionals. But the one thing that is known to be accurate is that the Raiders have used this athleticism-friendly draft method for some time now and also that they haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1984.

Good luck, Raiders fans. After that dismal draft, you’ll need it.