Monday, April 27, 2009

Raider's Draft Went Heyward or Haywire?

By Rick Richardson

I have to admit, by the time the Raiders had made their second round pick, I was shaking my head in disbelief. The salt the pundits were rubbing in my black and silver bleeding wounds didn’t make it any easier.

I could not for the life of me understand why they would choose Darrius Heyward-Bey so early in the 2009 NFL draft just to be different or rebellious.

In fact, I couldn’t see why Al fell in love with DHB even though he possessed the speed Al Davis has always maniacally pursued.

And then it hit me.

I don’t know if it was the Kool-Aid that everyone will swear I am drinking, but I finally got it.

Al Davis could care less what spot he got his man. He didn’t care if he could pick up extra value by trading down. He probably despises the glitzy spectacle it has become, right down to the mouthpieces that clairvoyantly declare winners and losers of the draft.

After all, we all know how many of these "extra" picks actually make the final roster.

Al Davis wanted a vertical threat to go with his cannon armed quarterback, and he wasn’t about to risk it by trying to get cute and slide down.

This is the guy he coveted all along, so what sense would it make to trade down and risk losing the player he desired for two players he didn’t want?

I then reexamined Heyward-Beys football resume.

There it was staring back at me.

DHB ran a scorching 4.23 forty at 6-2 and 212 pounds in 2006. To put it in perspective—Deon Sanders ran a mythical 4.19 back in the day.

Get a stop watch out and time yourself clapping your hands together if you want to know the difference between 4.19 and 4.23.

It is mind numbingly negligible. In a race it is Deon by a nose.

This isn’t a comparison of athleticism, but just pure straight line speed.

The Raiders didn’t draft DHB to be the go to guy; they drafted him to be Cliff Branch. Branch never caught more than 60 balls, but averaged 17.3 yds per reception. The Raiders of old would pound the ball with the running game and line up Branch on the outside as if to say, “I dare you to put eight men in the box."

Some might say that is living in the past, but the same wouldn’t say boo about the 49ers trying to recreate Jerry Rice, especially if they were trying to fit a player in the West Coast offense.

The knock on DHB is his inconsistent hands, but ball catching skills can be improved. Route running can be tightened up, but straight line speed can’t be coached.

Therein lies the rub. Al does have a philosophy.

The Raiders have a scheme, and that scheme requires speed and explosion. It isn’t as simple as coach Cable describes in his “pound the ball and then throw it over their heads” explanation, but that is the gist.

Like any scheme, it does still work as long as you have the right personnel.

And on draft day 2009, the Raiders did what most of us have loved about them for years—they went their own way by thumbing their noses at the Mel Kipers and Mike Mayocks of the world, and picked who they wanted.

Someone who fit the scheme.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Crystal Ball Sees Raiders Picking…?

By Rick Richardson

It is always anyone’s guess who the Raiders will pick in the annual NFL draft, including Mr. Davis.

He covets a player occasionally and puts the “I’d rather be right than consistent” theory to test. Nevertheless, mostly he is like the rest of us and waits until draft day to see how the cards fall.

That includes a couple of years ago, when the Raiders owned what I like to call the No. 1 overall curse, due to the fact that accompanying the player is a huge cap-killing nightmare of a contract that by nature is doomed to haunt the “chosen one” for their entire career.

I’ve been right only four times that I can remember, with Napoleon Kaufman in 1995 and last year's pick, Darren McFadden, my only correct calls that weren’t no-brainers.

Sadly, Al wouldn’t listen to my telepathic pleas to take Ben Roethlisberger, Shaun Alexander, Luis Castillo, or Nick Mangold. In their stead, the Raiders received Robert Gallery, Sebastian Janikowski, Fabian Washington, and Michael Huff.

This year looks to be different; lucky at No. 7 instead of cursed at No. 1. There are a lot of good players and scenarios that could take place. While there is no one deserving of the No. 1 slot, there are a bounty of picks in the first that could be instant contributors.

The Raiders find themselves in a sweet spot. With no players on Oakland's radar worth the price of a trade up, and many teams wanting to get into the top 10 as soon as a player they covet slides, the Raiders are well positioned for a draft day haul.

So, which player am I mentally searing into Al’s brain this year? No one. No, not one. The vein on my forehead will be popping out because I will be mentally screaming for Mr. Davis to pick “the best player available.” In addition, if that best player available can be had a few spots down, by all means trade down.

Those squiggly waves that will be emanating from my house this weekend will be carrying this message to Al:

"If any team offers the house and the outhouse, take it, pick the best available player later in round one, and enjoy building with the extra picks."

This player most likely will be a shock slider. However, the fallback safe pick could be Rey Maualuga from USC. After watching game tape on him, he looks like a steal middle to late in the first round.

So, what do I see in the tea leaves come draft day? Don't believe the smokescreen by Tom Cable. He is an offensive line coach and talks wistfully of bringing home one of the Cadillac linemen, but there is no way he would talk that openly if that was what Al truly intended to do.

So Al, if you insist on staying at seven and taking a wideout, please take Mr. Instant Offense in Jeremy Maclin, and avoid the next incarnation of Phillip Buchanon AKA Michael Crabtree.

And remember, Phil Loadholt or Max Unger will be there waiting on you in the second.