Raiders have their track team…again

Every year when the draft is approaching, the talk in regards to the Raiders always revolves around Al Davis’ speed fetish. And nearly every year, he proves the prognosticators right. He may not take the exact player they expect, but one can always look at his choices and say “he’s fast so that makes perfect sense.”

When the Raiders chose Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the #7 pick, the mud immediately started to fly because Heyward-Bey ran the fastest overall 40 time at the combine.

It got downright nasty and classless at times especially prior to and during a live interview with Heyward-Bey on ESPN which many of you may be familiar with since it has been so often linked to and used as an example of ESPN’s shameful lack of class. If you by some chance have not seen it — click here.


Among the shenanigans was this quote from Cris Carter, about DHB:

“This is the guy out of the top five guys that I would say would be least likely to succeed. The reason why is because this is not track. He’s one of the fastest athletes in Maryland history. Timed at a 4.25. Some people say he can run a 4.2 flat. But every game I see they put eleven guys on defense and they put hurdles in between. You got to run between people. If they were having a track meet, which the Raiders should know this, remember they had the 4×100 team, they had the two Olympian guys. You don’t win football games with track guys. You don’t. AND he can’t catch the ball.”

This track team he refers to was the team the Raiders put on the field in the early 90’s — a team whose wide receiver corps once boasted the likes of Heisman winner Tim Brown, former Olympic sprinter James Jett, wide receiver Alexander Wright (winner of the NFL’s fastest man race), and Willie Gault — a legendary speedster. Then they added Heisman runner-up Raghib “Rocket” Ismail to the mix.

That team may not have vindicated Al Davis and his need for speed but it did beat Denver to make the playoffs, beat Denver again in the AFC Wildcard game, and it just barely missed out on the AFC championship game. That’s saying a lot since the team was just recovering from the Todd Marinovich debacle and the coach was Art Shell. But that is the most success the Raiders had during those “track team” years.

Well, now the Raiders seem to have done it again. This team has speed that has not been seen since that ‘93 squad.

“The slowest 40 time out of the whole group is like a 4.33,” said Jonnie Lee Higgins. “It’s hard to cover speed.”

Actually that may be stretching it a bit although the top four 40 times on this team among receivers, including Higgins, is 4.33 or faster.

So who’s faster between JLH and DHB?

“I haven’t raced the fellah but I’m pretty sure that I am,” says Higgins.

That’s a race I would like to see. Official as well as non-official times have Heyward-Bey winning that race but that’s on a track. I would like to see a race on grass. Perhaps a friendly wager would be in order?

Here is what the Raiders wide receiver 40 times look like:

WR Darrius Heyward-Bey: 4.3

WR Samie Parker: 4.3

WR Todd Watkins: 4.32

WR Jonnie Lee Higgins: 4.33

WR Chaz Schilens: 4.38

WR Javon Walker: 4.38

WR Louis Murphy: 4.39

WR Shawn Bayes: 4.4

WR Arman Shields: 4.44

WR Jonathan Holland 4.45

WR Nick Miller: ? (fast)

The newest addition is former Chief Samie Parker and his 4.3 speed. Both Heyward-Bey and Todd Watkins were once clocked in the 4.28 range. Javon Walker hasn’t had that kind of speed for a long time but after his recent surprise surgery he revealed that he has been in severe pain for over two seasons. Hopefully he can regain some of the speed he was known for. Louis Murphy was among the top ten combine performers. Nick Miller was a UDFA selection who has no official 40 time but is a return specialist with plenty of speed to burn.

And that ’s just the receivers. There’s a great deal of speed at other positions as well, including the fastest 40 on the team which belongs to CB Stanford Routt. Some other speedsters currently on the roster:

CB Stanford Routt: 4.29

S Tyvon Branch: 4.31

RB Justin Fargas: 4.32

RB Darren McFadden: 4.33

S Michael Huff 4.34

CB John Bowie: 4.36

CB Nnamdi Asoumugha: 4.38

S Mike Mitchell: 4.39

CB Justin Miller: 4.4

LB Thomas Howard: 4.44

At receiver, the Raiders have been in search of the next Cliff Branch for years. The first attempt was when the team drafted the speedy Jesse Hester with their first round pick in 1985. He never panned out. And to make matters worse, another receiver taken in the first round that season became the best of all time at the position: Jerry Rice. The fact that the 49ers took the consensus best receiver in the 2009 draft, Michael Crabtree, after the Raiders got their speedy receiver has drawn a lot of comparisons to that fatefull draft of ‘85. And unless Heyward-Bey thrives and/or Crabtree flops, it will hang over the Raiders for many years to come.

When defending the Heyward-Bey pick, many point to the selection of Tim Brown in the first round of the ‘88 draft. But there is very little comparison. Tim Brown was a Heisman-winning wide receiver from powerhouse Notre Dame and he earned his greatness through his all-around game and his savvy. He just happened to be pretty fast too. He was closer to being the next Fred Biletnikoff than the next Cliff Branch.

I am sure at the time Cliff Branch retired, Al Davis had no idea just how difficult it would be to replace him. Hester wasn’t it, James Jett wasn’t the guy (although he was on the team just as long), and Raghib Ismail wasn’t it either.

Obviously history is not on the Raiders’ side in this respect. One would think that after having both Tim Brown and Jerry Rice together on the same Raider team that made a Super Bowl appearance would be evidence enough that speed is not the be all and end all — especially after all these years of failing miserably in that department.

If this, as Cris Carter said, were the “4×100″ relay, then the Raiders would win it hands down every time. But last I checked, it was a football they were supposed to be catching, not a baton. The speed, speed, and more speed formula hasn’t worked in the past so there is little reason to believe that it will work now. Hopefully for the Raiders, they can excell in other departments like heart, intelligence, instinct, and grit. Otherwise, the only dash time they will be recording is how fast they can get home at the end of the season.

About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

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