Raiders find value in late round draft picks

In two of the last four years, the Oakland Raiders have drafted first round players on the basis of potential, with the 2007 selection of JaMarcus Russell and the 2009 pick of Darrius Heyward-Bey. One of those four years their first round pick — number four overall Darren McFadden — was injured early on in the season after showing a little spark with a 164 yard performance against their divisional rival, the Kansas City Chiefs, in week two. But when you draft first round talent these days, you don’t want to draft for potential, you need to draft a starter in the first round.

With advances in sports medicine and training technology, athletes are reaching higher levels of competition than ever before. And with all the interchanging knowledge of coaches and accessibility of new trends, the players are becoming more cerebral and “NFL ready.” One of the clichés of the New England Patriots nowadays has become trading down from their original draft choice to obtain more picks later in the draft and also picks in future drafts. This has been a very effective strategy for the Patriots, which has supplied them with decent players at a lower cost. I wouldn’t be surprised if they traded down from the number 17 pick given to them by the Raiders in a trade for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Richard Seymour. Meanwhile, Raider fans may be breathing a sigh of relief knowing that the Raiders don’t have a first round pick this year and they will have Richard Seymour for many years to come.

With the availability of athletes in the modern draft classes, teams are starting to lean heavily on building their foundations through the NFL draft rather than via free agency, which was hugely popular in the 1990’s. In the NFL draft, Al Davis has historically looked for players who run the top 40-yard dash times, and while that has had its ups for his team, it has also had its share of downs. But since today’s athletes are so gifted, as their talents mesh with good coaching, the Raiders have been able to get some real steals late in the draft that will help them build a solid foundation moving forward into this new decade.

Let’s take a look at some late round steals for the Raiders from the 2007-2009 NFL drafts.

With the first pick of the fourth round, the Raiders took a chance on some of that potential I spoke of earlier with their selection of Louisville halfback Michael Bush. Bush had no combine stats, no forty times, and no senior season to go on. But before he suffered a compound fracture in the first game of his senior season, he had a lot of people talking about him as one of the top backs in the country, alongside Adrian “All Day” Peterson. And you can bet your bottom dollar that if the Raiders hadn’t taken him first overall in the fourth round, he surely would’ve gone within the next ten picks.

After sitting out all of his rookie year recovering from his leg injury, Bush has proven to be a valuable commodity for the Raiders. Thus far in his young career he has made his way to number 18 on the all-time rushing list for the Raiders with 1,665 yards on the ground at an average per carry of 4.42 yards. In addition, he has made players like two-time Commitment to Excellence Award winner, Justin Fargas, and LaMont Jordan, expendable players in the Raiders backfield.

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In 2008, the Raiders took another step towards the foundation of their future in the number one overall pick in the fourth round — yet again — with the selection of Connecticut Huskies’ cornerback Tyvon Branch. In just two years as the Raiders’ starting strong safety, Branch has made his way to number 28 on the Raiders’ all-time tackle list with 176 solo and 51 assists. He has two interceptions and has also forced three fumbles, recovering one that he took 76 yards for a touchdown. Branch has also made a strong impression on the Raiders’ special teams, playing as their gunner on punts. In addition, Branch has formed a strong bond outside of his work on the field with the Raider Nation by participating in an uncountable number of chats with various fans and his willingness to accept all friend requests on his personal Facebook page, where he posts exclusive videos from inside the Raider locker room.

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In the sixth round of the 2008 NFL draft, the Raiders took Buffalo defensive end Trevor Scott. Scott made his impact immediately known with his rookie season five sacks and his second season team-high seven sacks. During the middle part of his second season, Scott was moved to linebacker and took over for starter Thomas Howard while Howard was suffering a down year. Scott had 33 tackles that year and was possibly the most impactful player on the field for the Raiders’ defense in the second half of the season. During the final week of training camp in 2010, Scott was moved back to defensive end and was named the day one starter, thus proving his versatility in the Raider defensive scheme. Scott suffered a season ending knee injury and was placed on IR. But his 13.5 sacks in his first three seasons have him tied for number 23 on the all-time Raiders career sack list and he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.

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With their seventh round pick in the 2008 draft, the Raiders took San Diego State wide receiver Chaz Schilens. Schilens was known around NFL circles as a guy with tremendous size and skills who suffered from injury issues too often. Thus far in his Raiders career, he has been nagged by injuries and as a result has not been on the field as often as the fans would like. Schilens has played in only 13 games over the last two years, and has had surgery on a foot and on a knee. However, during the 14 games he started in his first two seasons, Schilens had 44 catches for 591 yards and four touchdowns. As Al Davis would say, “For those who’ve seen him practice, you can see greatness in him.” This year marks the first that Schilens will go into the offseason for the Raiders at 100 percent health. If — and this is a big if — he can stay healthy for the 2011 season, as Hue Jackson would say, “The sky is the limit for Schilens. He can be as good as he wants to be.”

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In 2009, the Raiders struck gold in the third round with their selection of Wisconsin defensive end Matt Shaughnessy. At the time the pick was made, Raider fans were already scratching their heads from the back-to back picks of DHB and Ohio safety Mike Mitchell. It was common for the first week after the draft to say, “Who is Matt Shaughnessy?” That is no longer the case. Shaughnessy has accumulated 69 solo tackles and 16 assists with 11 sacks in his first two years. That puts him at number 28 on the all-time Raiders career sack list. Many observers felt that Shaughnessy got shafted by the team when they moved Trevor Scott back to defensive end early in the 2010 season, leaving Shaughnessy as the back-up. But when Shaughnessy got his opportunities on the field during the season, he certainly made opponents aware that he was on the field, with 43 solo tackles and seven sacks while only starting eight games.

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Following the Shaughnessy selection, the Raiders took Florida wide receiver Louis Murphy with pick number 124 of the 2009 draft. The two-time National Champion and teammate of first round picks Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow may have been severely overlooked judging by the aptitude for the professional game and leadership capabilities he has shown thus far going into his third NFL season in 2011. Aside from Zach Miller, Murphy has proven himself to be the Raiders’ most reliable receiver on passing downs. His 75 catches in his first two years makes him number 54 on the Raiders all-time receptions list, but his 1,130 yards receiving has him at number 38 on the all-time receiving yards list for the Raiders. Murphy has started 18 games for Oakland and played in 30 in his first two seasons and has also tacked on seven rushing attempts for 74 yards on wide receiver reverses. Thus far, he has proven to be far more valuable than the first round pick of that same draft, Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Lord knows what the Raiders would do with their first round pick this year if it was still in their possession. But one thing you could put money on is the fact that they will get their value in the later rounds of the draft in 2011.

To view Levi’s take on the 2010 draft class, Click This Link

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