Raiders ’09 Draft: Two years after the Sh*tstorm

About two tenths of a second after the Darrius Heyward-Bey pick by the Raiders in the 2009 draft, the negative criticism began pouring in. And oh, how they piled on. When the Raiders’ second round pick came in, what started out as a feeding frenzy became a massacre. The accumulation of negative criticism was so overwhelmingly unanimous, I decided I would make note of the comments and check back on how accurate they were, down the road a piece.

Well, it is now two seasons later and time to see how those draft picks are doing. As Jeff Little and I pointed out last week, the timetable for a drafted player to be expected to prove himself varies slightly depending on draft position.

The gist of the idea in the case of the 2009 class would be that Darrius Heyward-Bey, at the seventh overall pick, was to show his worth in his first season. Or at very least show his potential and make progress throughout the season. As for Mike Mitchell, the Raiders’ round two pick, he should also show his potential his first season with marked improvement his second year.

The third round picks and below should be doing well by the end of their second season so that by the end of their third year, they would have proven they were worth being drafted. Not many teams will wait more than three years for a player to show he is an NFL caliber talent. Teams just don’t have the luxury to allow that kind of time before looking elsewhere.

So with that in mind, here is what the draft analysts said of the Raiders choosing Darrius Heyward-Bey as well as their draft as a whole.

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In regards to who was the biggest loser on draft day, Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said this:

“It’s gotta be the Oakland Raiders… They needed a tackle. What’d they do? They went out and got a wide receiver. They didn’t even get the best wide receiver. Michael Crabtree is going across the bay…”

Granted Woody Paige has long had an immense hatred of the Raiders and he would say something like this every year. That is a prerequisite for working for the Denver Post (the Raider hatred part). He says the Raiders needed a tackle. That is very true, but they also needed a receiver. Crabtree was the best receiver in the draft, though it is looking now like the Raiders should have steered clear of either player. Crabtree held out for more money because he is a prima donna who thought he should get paid more than DHB despite being chosen three picks later.

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This was Cris Carter on ESPN in the hours after the Raiders drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey:

“I think I know a thing or two about being a pro. 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… You don’t win football games with track guys. You don’t. AND he can’t catch the ball. He can’t!  I mean, the coach says, “Hey son, you’re a receiver, go out and get me the ball.” He can’t do that very well. In the ACC… He was HONORABLE MENTION!..

“There’s nothing in his game that says he’s more ready than those other guys. Because the other guys are consistent. The other guys, when they stepped on the field in college, they dominated… [At Maryland] he had games when he didn’t even catch a ball. If he can’t catch a ball in an ACC game, he gets to the National Football League, now you know they have a reason to make him disappear.”

This rant by Carter became infamous almost instantly. The mocking of “Honorable Mention” was all over the internet and television. But you know what? He was absolutely right. Even if the Raiders liked Darrius Heyward-Bey, you can’t use that high of a draft pick and pay that kind of money on a completely unproven talent. Honorable Mention in a weak football conference like the ACC is not good at all.

Carter went on to say that DHB can’t be depended on to make the tough catches. That too has been proven to be true. Despite DHB upping his receiving totals his second NFL season from 9 to 26, I can’t recall a single catch he made that was a difficult grab. The only strides he seems to have made were actually catching the ball at all. He was known to drop easy, on-target throws his rookie season while he was making those easy catches in 2010.

Carter also mentions that DHB disappeared in games at Maryland. In the 26 games he has appeared in as a Raider, he has had zero catches in 10 of those games and 18 games with one catch or less. Clearly his disappearing act has continued in the pros.

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Todd McShay’s first take on AFC drafts:

Best pick: WR Louis Murphy, Florida (fourth round, No. 124 overall).

Worst pick: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland (first round, No. 7 overall).

“Bottom line: The Raiders obviously march to a different drummer. They found speed in Heyward-Bey and they think he can provide the vertical element that Al Davis always wants in his offense…But the thing is, Oakland is going to have to pay big money to Heyward-Bey, who might not even be a No. 2 receiver.”

Right again. Louis Murphy was looking like the Raiders’ best pick in this draft following the 2009 season. Matt Shaughnessy is now looking like the best pick though Murphy has still looked good. Murphy has led all wide receivers in yards both of his first two seasons while, as McShay points out, DHB is not even a No. 2 receiver. Heyward-Bey was the Raiders’ worst receiver his rookie season with just 124 yards despite starting 11 games. And he was third among Raider receivers in 2010 — beaten out by yet another rookie fourth round pick, Jacoby Ford.

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Mel Kiper Jr Draft Grades:

Oakland Raiders: Grade D

“Oakland’s draft was a head-scratcher. The Raiders took wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey at No. 7 even though Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin were still on the board. But the biggest reach of their draft and of the entire draft was the second-round selection of safety Michael Mitchell. This kid was thought to be a seventh-round pick at best and possibly an undrafted free agent, and the Raiders pulled the ultimate reach by taking him in the second round… To take Heyward-Bey that high and not trade down, the Raiders, to me, defined moving forward who we’re gonna be talking about in this draft.”

We have covered the fact that Heyward-Bey was a reach but this is the first we have heard anyone speak of round two pick, Mike Mitchell. Hard to argue with Kiper on this one although it is also not for sure he is completely correct. The jury is still out on Mitchell. Tyvon Branch won the starting strong safety job out of camp and has held it down. If Branch hadn’t panned out, Mitchell might very well be starting and living up to the hopes the Raiders had for him. Hard to say at this point.

The other interesting point here was the idea of trading down in the first round. It is something that Al Davis never does. The Raiders had a fantastic draft last year in part because they were willing to trade down several times in the second round and pick up some extra picks later in the draft. To trade down in first round of the 2009 draft would have been a brilliant move. With receivers like Percy Harvin and Hakeem Nicks available in the lower half of the first round, they could have gotten an actual proven receiver and probably an additional first round pick as well.

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CBS Sports Raiders Draft Day Recap:

Clark Judge: “I was surprised [with the choice of Heyward-Bey] but I’ll tell you one reason you can’t be surprised — because he can run. Al Davis loves the vertical passing game; he doesn’t have the vertical passing game receiver. He does now. But we talked about productivity; this kid doesn’t have it. He has never scored more than five touchdowns in a year. He went through a month this year without catching a pass. But a lot of people see him as one or two years down the road being a future star. He’s a guy I thought might go anywhere from 15 to 25 but at seven Jeremy Maclin was there and I cannot see that.”

The first point Clark Judge makes is about the Raiders getting DHB for his use in the Raiders’ vertical game. Despite Judge panning the choice, he says the Raiders now have their vertical threat. But over two seasons, DHB’s longest catch was for 26 yards and it was a comebacker in which most of those yards came after the catch — hardly a “long ball” situation. Judge also keys on the fact that DHB had never scored more than five touchdowns in his three seasons at Maryland. Well, in the NFL, DHB has not scored more than one touchdown in a season.

Pat Kirwin: “Heyward-Bey, the good news about him is he played on a team that didn’t have a quarterback. If you want to make a case for him, that’s the case. It’s not enough for me, though… [I didn’t] think [Mitchell] was gonna get drafted. Gil Brandt, my buddy, didn’t have him in the top 150 so we quickly looked him up in the book. Here’s a guy that was a 214 pound safety that ran 4.6 so he doesn’t even have the Al Davis speed prerequisite. He’s just the mystery guest, folks.”

Kirwin keys on the fact that DHB didn’t have a decent quarterback throwing to him at Maryland. And while the Raiders have had some poor QB play since DHB came into the league, it was much improved in the latter part of the 2010 season. Despite the improved play by a much better quarterback, DHB must do better than his one game over 100 yards and his single touchdown — especially when a rookie is running circles around him. Kirwin is wrong about Mike Mitchell’s speed though. Mitchell ran a 4.4 40, not a 4.6, so he fits the typical speed pick.

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Austin Murphy of SI.com:

“Their team having lost 72 of its 96 games since appearing in the ’03 Super Bowl, Raider Nation can now safely be described as “long-suffering…” They have a pretty good idea of what they saw over the weekend: another subpar draft, courtesy of the guy who’s presided over some of the most disastrous drafts of the past two decades.

“With the 7th overall pick, the Raiders selected Darrius Heyward-Bey, a Maryland junior who had a strong combine, running the swiftest 40 (4.3) and reportedly acing his interviews… The problem being that the ex-Terrapin is still learning how to catch the football.

“Oakland’s second pick was, by a degree of magnitude, a more outlandish reach than its first… Mitchell was, by all accounts, a fine safety in the MAC: a hard-hitting, heads-up ballhawk — albeit one who wasn’t even invited to the combine or any of the college all-star games.

“Regardless of how DHB and Mitchell pan out, we can be certain of this: if they succeed, Davis will bask in the credit. If they flop, and the team goes south again, he’ll deflect blame until it’s time to fire another coach, call another press conference, and talk about how he was undermined. It will be painful for Raiders fans, but highly entertaining for the rest of us.”

Let’s check his information here:

Raider fans not happy with 2009 subpar draft? Check
Some of the most disastrous drafts of the past two decades? Check
DHB still learning how to catch? Check
Mitchell hard-hitting? Check
Mitchell heads-up ballhawk? Not so sure about that one just yet
Mitchell not invited to combine makes him a reach in round 2? Possibly
Al Davis fired another coach? Check
Al Davis has entertaining press conference about being undermined? Check
Raiders going south? No

So he got most of his predictions correct. But the Raiders are playing better and 2009 drafted players like Shaughnessy and Murphy are a big reason why. Almost no one was talking about those two after that draft.

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Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times on Darrius Heyward-Bey:

“The fact this fleet-cleated receiver’s running stride is even longer than his last name was irresistible to the Raiders, who took him seventh overall even though they could have grabbed Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree. But the Raiders should be wary of this bit of NFL math: “Speed (minus) hands = James Jett.”

If James Jett reads this he might actually be more insulted now than he was then.

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Gregg Rosenthal of Rotoworld.com:

Grade: D

“Heyward-Bey could be the next Troy Williamson, a fast player who isn’t tough enough for the NFL. Second round pick safety Michael Mitchell wasn’t even on most teams boards, but he runs fast. Owner Al Davis is building a great relay team.”

DHB did miss five games his rookie season, was out much of 2010 training camp with “fatigue,” and was hobbled late in the 2010 season, so saying he isn’t tough enough for the NFL is somewhat valid. I assume he was also speaking of DHB’s inability to fight for the ball.

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Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News:

“This is probably a terrible draft because Davis has been a terrible drafter… dating back maybe 20 years, maybe longer. That’s why the Raiders get no benefit of the doubt with Al’s kooky picks this year. He should’ve been roasted like this for years — for Michael Huff and Robert Gallery and Napoleon Harris, just to name a few since 2002.”

Can’t argue with that logic. Al Davis has presided over some pretty terrible drafts in the past 20 or so years. But where Kawakami as well as many others go wrong is in pretending they knew something the team didn’t when a player doesn’t pan out. Gallery was called a “can’t miss” pick by everyone and Huff was the consensus best safety in the draft. Even JaMarcus Russell had every team in the league falling over themselves with his physical abilities. The Raiders were the unlucky team who had the first pick and got stuck with him and the contract he held out for.

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When I initially collected statements from these various outlets, I wasn’t completely sure how I would be using them. It seemed to me that with the way the Raiders draft was so trashed, there would be several ways that I could make them eat their words. But as it turns out, in this case at least, they were all pretty much spot on. And Raider fans were spot on as well.

If you factor in the All Name team of Slade Norris (round 4) and Stryker Sulak (round 6) who both were cut from the team before the 2009 season, it really looks bad. If it weren’t for the fine play of Matt Shaughnessy and Louis Murphy, this could very well have gone down as one of the worst drafts for any team, ever.

The good news is, it’s much easier to look back at poor drafts of the past after the great draft of 2010 and the ensuing resurgent season. That draft was widely praised, and they were right about that one too. But it still would have been a lot more fun to tell all these guys they were dead wrong in their criticism of the 2009 draft.

Also See: How long should the Raiders wait for a player to develop?

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About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

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