“Raider fans were disappointed again this year when their team failed to draft a new owner.”
— David Letterman —
For about 15 years now Oakland Raider fans have been suffering from a form of post traumatic stress disorder when it comes to their team and owner Al Davis’ infuriating behavior at the NFL draft. Raider fans just sort of prepare for Crazy Al to pull a player out of his ass (see, Heyward-Bay, Darrius and Mitchell, Mike) with marginal football talent at best being wasted on a high-value draft pick, which leads them to simultaneous banging of their heads on the wall.
Well, not this year.
I don’t know if somebody finally forced the old man to take his meds hours before, but the Raiders draft picks, while not overwhelming, actually filled pressing needs and, well, made sense.
For the last five seasons the Raiders have been at or near the bottom of the league in run defense. With their first pick (#8 overall), most of us had our helmets and flak jackets on and were waiting for that typical Crazy Al moment when we expected him to take either offensive tackle Bruce Campbell — the workout warrior of this year’s combine but whose play at Maryland was underwhelming at best — or wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Ford, the fastest player in the draft this year (so enamored of speed is Al that he has taken the fastest player in the draft two of the last three years, regardless of ability). But Al was anything but crazy when inside linebacker Rolando McClain was selected. Now that was actually a little high to be drafting an ILB, but McClain is undoubtedly the best ILB in this year’s draft who covers a lot of ground, has great instincts, has a nose for the ball and is a ferocious pursuer and tackler, the type of elite linebacker the Raiders have lacked in the middle of their defense for years.
On the second day of the draft, with their second round pick (#44 overall) defensive tackle Lamarr Houston was selected to take up space, collapse the pocket, penetrate the line of scrimmage, and occupy blockers so that the Raiders’ new ILB, McClain, has the space for pursuit. In the week leading up to the draft Houston was rising up a lot of team’s draft board; so good is his size, strength, quickness and pursuit in pass rushing. So in just two picks, the Raiders greatly improved their run defense. Not exactly the sign of an owner dealing with senility.
Later that same day, with their third round pick (#69 overall), the Raiders selected an offensive tackle, Edwin Veldheer, from a tiny Division-III school. This would seem to be the pick where we would have thought that Crazy Al was beginning to lose it. But scratch the surface and you begin to see that, while a project, Veldheer was the best OT at the level he was playing, and against the elite talent at post-season All-Star games and at the combine, he stood out. He is going to need time to develop and get used to the speed of the NFL, but considering how awful the left tackle position has been for the Raiders for the last five seasons, it certainly was a pick made out of need — and at 6’8″ he has the length and reach to take on edge rushers and add more muscle. It isn’t hard to like this pick.
Day three is what made the draft for the Raiders. The two players most mentioned in connection with the Raiders during the draft process, Bruce Campbell and Jacoby Ford, were plucked by Anything-but-Crazy Al with two fourth-round picks. Both were the workout warriors at the scouting combine, but in Campbell’s case his workout didn’t match his productivity in college, which explains why he went into free fall after teams had a chance to look at tape of him. But in the fourth round, he is priced to go, so the OT with the most natural talent was available at pick #106 — and Campbell fills a glaring need on the offensive line. In Ford, Davis chose the fastest player for the third time in four years, but Ford was more than productive returning kicks at Clemson, and the Raiders definitely have a decided need for wideouts. Although small, Ford is fast, cat-quick, runs good routes and is explosive coming out of his cuts. Once again, two very good picks.
But the catch of the day was the trade that brought Redskins starting quarterback Jason Campbell to the East Bay — and for only a fourth round pick two years hence. Campbell wasn’t going to play in Washington since the ‘Skins traded for Donovan McNabb, so when he became available, the Raiders bided their time until the third day of the draft, when it became imperative for the ‘Skins to move — and that’s when they pounced. By bringing in a serviceable starting QB the Raiders correct the mistake they made three years earlier in drafting JaWalrus Russell and rid themselves of a major problem that could have affected them for five years — and they got Campbell for peanuts. This was the Al Davis most of us remember from the Sixties and Seventies. This was Al at his most conniving best.
The rest of the Raiders draft was not nearly as notable, but they at least used their late-round picks for need (defensive backfield and another inside linebacker), and nothing to leave you scratching your head.
The Raiders’ draft this year may not have wowed anybody, but it was clear-headed and made sense — something you haven’t been able to say about their recent drafts. It was so clear-headed that it made you wonder if, for the first time in over 45 years, there was somebody else drafting for the Raiders other than Al Davis. You would think so, but let’s be clear here; as long as Al Davis is running the show there is NEVER anybody making the personnel decisions other than Al Davis. There never has been and there never will be, no matter how old he gets or how senile we think he is…
…With that in mind, you can expect that Raider fans will be bracing themselves for the worst next year. Just because he had a moment of clarity this year doesn’t mean that we think Crazy Al is gone forever.