The recent “Hall of Shame” posts by Patrick got me thinking; “What about the other side of the spectrum?”. The “Hall of Shame” focuses in on those Raiders that were either drafted high and were busts or were paid a high price for and tanked. But every now and then AD and company hit the jackpot in the lower rounds. Here is a list of some of the biggest draft day steals in Raider history. Keep in mind that I have not gone further back than 1977 because that is when the draft was reduced to 12 rounds.
(That said, a few names worth mentioning as being drafted in the lower rounds prior to 77 would be:
64 Mel Renfro HB Oregon 10th Round (14 yrs in Dallas, HOF)
66 Pete Banaszak HB Miami 5th Round
68 George Atkinson DB Morris Brown 7th Round)
77 Rod Martin LB USC 12th Round
I would call Rod Martin quite a draft day steal considering he was drafted in the very last round in the very first year of 12 rounds and he went on to help the Raiders win 2 superbowls at LB. He played all 14 years of his pro career for the Raiders. This included a stellar performance in SuperBowl XV against the Eagles. “The Eagles somehow felt they could exploit Rod Martin,” veteran linebacker Ted Hendricks explained. “They decided to attack the right side of our defense, away from me. They tested Rod the whole game, and all they got out of it was three interceptions.” If three interceptions in a SuperBowl doesn’t put a guy in elite company nothing will.
77 Lester Hayes DB Texas A&M 5th Round
That’s RIGHT: Both Rod Martin AND Lester Hayes in low rounds in 77! The 5th round was not as big of a deal in 77 as it is today with all of our scouts and technology but to get a player like Lester Hayes after nearly 5 rounds of teams had a shot at him is still a huge accomplishment. The “Stick-em” controversy aside, Hayes averaged 4 int per year in his 10 year NFL career including 13 int in 1980 season helping the Raiders win their 2nd Super Bowl. Those 13 interceptions tied him for 2nd place all time for interceptions in a season and he is the only guy to do it since Dick “Night Train” Lane set the NFL record of 14 in 1952. He is tied with Willie Brown for the most career interceptions in Raider history with 39. In Superbowl XVIII the combination of Hayes and Mike Haynes shut down the Redskins all day and held them to a single rushing TD for the whole game. Giving Hayes get his 2nd Superbowl ring and The Raiders 3rd Superbowl victory.
83 Mervyn Fernandez WR San Jose St 10th Round
Now putting Mervyn Fernandez on this list may be a reach but drafting him in the 10th round certainly wasn’t. Mervyn really only had about four good seasons for the Raiders afterall and he was drafted in 83 and didn’t make the team until 87. He was a classic “hometown boy makes good” being that he was from Merced CA and went to San Jose State. In just his 2nd season with the team he had over 800 yards (805) and averaged a whopping 26 yards a catch! Then the next year he had over a thousand yards receiving (1069). And the following year he had over 800 yards again. All three of these years playing alongside my boy Tim Brown.
87 Bo Jackson RB Auburn 7th Round
What can I say about this guy? He is Bo Jackson. One of the greatest all-around athletes in sports history. He practically invented the two sport star. He defied gravity on baseball outfield fences and ran “all the way to Tacoma”. He holds the top 2 longest rushing plays in Raider history and 3 of the Raiders top 4 longest rushing plays: 88, 91 (the running into the tunnel “all the way to Tacoma” run) and 92. If his career had not ended prematurely, he could have had his day in Canton. To this day I stare at my Bo Jackson autographed Raiders helmet and wonder what might have been.
93 Greg Biekert LB Colorado 7th Round
Greg Biekert became the starting Middle Linebacker in just his 2nd year in Oakland. He was never the fastest or most physically gifted guy (which is likely why he slipped in the 7th round) but he was a ball hawk. He was very smart and he always seemed to be around the ball and was usually making the tackle. Which is why he started all but 5 games in his entire 11 year career (last 2 with the Vikings) and had over 100 tackles nearly every season. Not only that but I met him at Raiders training camp once and he was the absolute LAST guy to leave the field so that he could sign every autograph that was asked of him. He was even signing them while he was walking. Gotta like and respect a guy like that. The NFL had only 8 rounds in the draft that year before reducing to the current number of 7 the year after. Biekert played well for the Raiders for 9 years which is more than one expects from a guy essentially selected in the last round of the draft. Hard to say he makes up for the Raiders drafting S Patrick Bates in the first round that year but it does take a little of the sting away.
96 LaRoi Glover DT San Diego State 5th Round
This was a steal in the draft but the catch is that the Raiders weren’t the team that realized it. The unfortunate thing is that Glover’s true potential was realized by another coaching staff when he was was released by the Raiders and picked up by the Saints for which he was a starter for a five years including amassing 17 sacks in 2000. He has since played for the Cowboys for 4 years and now he plays for the Rams for which he had 6 sacks last year. He has started all but 4 games in his entire career since 1998 and averages about 40 tackles and nearly 8 sacks a season. Too bad none of that career was with the Raiders.
97 Grady Jackson DT Knoxville College 6th
Talk about a space eater…and everything else eater. Weighing in at a generously low 362lbs, Grady is…well..let’s just say big. He is in his 11th year in the NFL and is at the tail end. Grady played 5 seasons for the Raiders and in his last season in Oakland (2001) he had 69 tackles. The year prior he had 8 sacks which is quite good for a DT. Especially at his size. He has had some trouble staying healthy over the years but when he is healthy he is a beast. In the 5 seasons he played all 16 games he averaged 50 tackles. And to think Darrell Russel was our 1st round pick that year. The only thing those two have in common is they both played DT. You couldn’t find two more different character guys than Grady Jackson and Darrell Russel. Grady is from a large, poor, southern family raised by a single mother and went to little known Knoxville College. And DRuss was a a criminal crybaby (God rest his soul) who went to the University of Spoiled Children.
99 Roderick Coleman LB East Carolina 5th Round
Last year with the Falcons Rod was injured most of the season but prior to that since 2000 he averaged 40 tackles a year. He also (and most importantly) had 38 tackles and 11 sacks in the Raiders 2003 AFC championship year. Between 02 and 05 he averaged 10 sacks a year (two years with the Raiders and two with the Falcons). On a side note: with the house cleaning in Atlanta he has been cut and many in the nation seem to think there is a good chance he could be back in Oakland next season. At this point, however, he may only be a good guy to have around for depth purposes. But who knows.
99 Eric Barton LB Maryland, 5th Round
It took until his third year in Oakland to earn a starting spot but when he got his chance did he ever make the most of it. He had 125 tackles and 6 sacks in 2002 to help the Raiders win the AFC championship and then had 132 tackles in 03 . In fact in every season that he has been healthy and the starter he has had over 100 tackles. Not too shabby for a 5th round pick. Especially when you consider the Raiders drafted a scrub like Tony Bryant in the 2nd round that same year.
00 Shane Lechler P Texas A&M 5th Round
Ok so drafting a punter in the 5th round is not a steal by any means. Some might say for punters the 5th round is sort of like the 1st round. But Lechler is arguably along side Ray Guy as the two greatest punters in NFL history so I had to throw him in here. (On a side note; When I saw him boot a punt in training camp his rookie year I think I saw God open up the sky and speak to me.) In the same year we essentially wasted a 1st round pick on a kicker too. Heh, Go figure.
02 Ronald Curry QB North Carolina 7th Round
Not only has Curry become a clutch posession reciever for this team in recent years but the leaping catch he made in the back of the end zone, reaching up, one handed, turning back behind him, in the snow, in Denver to beat them (did I mention it was IN DENVER?) was pretty much the greatest catch I have ever witnessed. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. That catch alone is enough but becoming the reciever he has become after nearly being drafted Mr Irrelevant certainly earns him a spot here. And speaking of Mr Irrelevent, our first pick of that same year was CB Phillip Buchannon so that means the top pick was one of the worst in Raider history and the last was one of the best.
07 Oren O’Neal FB Arkansas 6th Round
Now I know it is still early but I have to hand it to Oren O’Neal. When I saw the Raiders had drafted him I said “Who?” and then I searched through every draft guide I had and I said “Who?!” None of the guides even mentioned him. And then he went out and gave Justin Griffith a run for his money as the fullback for this team. As an unheralded 6th round drafted rookie in a zone blocking scheme he helped open holes for one of the top rushing teams in league. That is impressive.
Some of you may be surprised there are actually a good amount of defensive players on this list. I know when I think of the Raiders drafts it is hard to get past the seemingly endless number of high pick busts on the defensive side of the ball. 1st round stinkers like Tyler Brayton (03), Derrick Gibson (01), Rob Fredrickson (94), and Chester McGlockton (92) or some of the guys I mentioned earlier in the post. And despite the fact that none of the guys on this list are in the hall of fame (yet), a list like this certainly helps to keep my faith in the ability of the Raiders front office to offset the “Oh Sh*t”s with a few “Hey look what I found”s.