OFF THE PLATE: APRIL 2009
After a weekend of hearing one criticism after another about the Oakland Raiders picks, here’s my take: Hold on Raider Nation. I'm not quite ready to pass harsh judgment on the Raiders draft picks. I was one who threw my hands up in disgust as Roger Goodell announced wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey from the University of Maryland as the 7th overall pick. The Raiders passed up three wide receivers that were more highly rated by NFL experts, including Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree, widely regarded as the best receiver in the draft, and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin. They also passed up quality offensive tackles and B.J. Raji, a huge run-stopper at nose tackle. Both of these were critical needs for the Raiders. In the second round the Raiders pulled off another shocker, drafting University of Ohio's (not THE Ohio State University) safety Michael Mitchell. Even draft guru Mike Mayock of NFL network admitted not even having heard of Mitchell until three weeks ago.
Even if Heyward-Bey is the best option for the Raiders (more on that later), he was expected to go much later in the first round, which means that they could have traded down and got more quality picks. Similarly, Mitchell was a totally unknown quantity to most draft experts and was projected to go as late as the 7th round. Drafting him in the 2nd seemed like a real stretch. With the 40th overall pick the team could still have addressed other critical needs. Instead they traded their second round pick to New England for 2nd, 4th and 6th round picks from the Pats and got Mitchell.
All of this aside, let's take a look at these first two picks. Video of Darrius Heyward-Bey is very impressive. His most striking quality is the speed. This... guy... can... run! There are two things that the pundits knock him for: questionable hands and low production in his college career. But video shows him making impressive grabs with good concentration catching the ball. There are a couple of plays showing him catching poorly thrown passes and catches. He can also go up high and catch jump balls. Raider Head Coach Tom Cable said that comparisons with the careers of Crabtree and Maclin were unwarranted. Texas Tech and Missouri run spread offenses that emphasize the pass, whereas Maryland runs a pro-style offense. Cable argues that Bey's numbers might have been even better than Crabtree and Maclin if he were in a spread offense system.
In the press conference call after being drafted, Bey definitely projects a good attitude. He didn't complain about his low college production. For him it was about the team winning. He also emulates Jerry Rice for his "work ethic." His commitment to team and work are both upsides. He also knows that he'll have to share the ball with McFadden, Bush, Miller and a slew of other receivers and running backs.
In terms of Michael Mitchell, I love this pick! Watch the video of this guy! It verifies what caught Coach Cable's eye: "probably the most ferocious hitter in the draft." Forget the fact that he played in the Mid-Atlantic Conference – hardly a football powerhouse. He looks like he is playing in the wrong league. He is bigger and more physical than most players on the field. He is also very fast and covers an incredible range of the field quickly. He has great awareness and seems to read plays instinctively. The fact that the NFL “experts” hadn't heard of him until recently speaks more to their limitations than to NFL team scouting. After all, he did also play against powerhouse Ohio State University. According to NFL network, the Chicago Bears were also prepared to take Mitchell in the 2nd round. The Raiders just beat them to the punch. I think he'll make a great addition to the secondary along with Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff (yes, I still think Huff has great potential), and I'm hoping he brings back the Tatum/Atkinson tradition of Raider safeties.
The Raiders also added more size and speed at wide receiver selecting Louis Murphy from University of Florida in the 4th round. They sought help on the defensive line with Matt Shaughnessy from Wisconsin in round 3 and potential outside linebackers/defensive ends Slade Norris from Oregon State and Stryker Sulak from Missouri. The team traded with Carolina to pick big blocking tight end Brandon Myers from Iowa as the final pick in the 6th round.
On the whole I think we'd have to say that the Raiders have done great this off-season. They did a tremendous job in free agency, retaining pro-bowlers Asomugha and punter Shane Lechler, getting receiver Javon Walker to accept a lower salary, signing free agent offensive linemen Khalif Barnes from Jacksonville and Samson Satele from Miami. They also brought on proven quarterback Jeff Garcia and appointed Paul Hackett as quarterbacks coach. All of these moves should help JaMarcus Russell reach his potential. Now we added some players who just might make an impact early on.
Through all of this, the Raider who continues to impress me the most is Coach Tom Cable. He just projects clarity and confidence. If Bey and Mitchell were not his first choices, but Al Davis' , Cable convinced me otherwise. He continues to show a lot of poise under fire – being hired after the drama of Lane Kiffin, winning the last two games of the year against quality teams, when the Raiders could have easily given up on the season. Helping the offensive line have one of its most productive games in Tampa Bay after the offensive line coach abruptly jumped ship. Cable provides the Raiders with what they need most right now: stability. It looks like he's got the ship steady, hopefully he can keep it going in the right direction.
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