The NFL draft will hit primetime again just 18 days from now and you can bet that Al Davis and his scouts, in coordination with new Head Coach Hue Jackson and his staff, have been putting their potential draftees through the ringer. For as many good things as there are to find out about these prospects, there are just as many bad things to find out about some of the other prospects. We may all think we know where the positions of need lie for the Raiders, but what do they have to do to avoid catastrophe on draft day? In this article, I will outline seven keys to a successful 2011 draft for the Raiders.
Key One: Don’t go QB too early
I’m not saying that Jason Campbell is the end-all/be-all at quarterback, but Hue Jackson has said more than once that they have complete confidence in him to lead them to the promised land. With a highly drafted rookie quarterback, Campbell may not have as hard a time as he had with Bruce Gradkowski looking over his shoulder in 2010, but it takes away from what Jackson has said he wants to do — to get better around Jason Campbell to help him be successful. Bringing in one of the highly touted potential second round QB’s like Ryan Mallet, Jake Locker, or Colin Kaepernick takes away from potentially filling a void somewhere else. In exchange, the Raiders will get a player who probably will not see the field until at least the latter part of the year – if and only if Campbell struggles.
There may be a need to bring in a quarterback, but I don’t think it is an imminent need. They have serious holes to fill at left guard, right tackle, weak side linebacker, and in the secondary. They should address at least a couple of these issues before they go after a QB, especially considering that this isn’t a great QB class.
Key Two: O-Line, O-Line, O-line
There have been issues along the offensive line throughout this dire drought of losing seasons since 2002. They have tried to address the issue with picks like Robert Gallery and Jake Grove (2004), Paul McQuistan (2006), and Mario Henderson (2007), to no avail. In 2010, they may have hit a double with Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell back-to-back in the third and fourth round, but it’s still too early to really tell what they have as of yet. They may be able to supplement some of their current group into the 2011 line-up, but it is imperative that they bring in some more competition. The Raiders have got to come up with a couple more high potential linemen early in this draft. They need more big men who can come in and try to help build a strong nucleus for the future state of the franchise. This draft could be the first time since 1995 where the Raiders draft more than two offensive linemen.
Key Three: Jackson and Davis coming together
Say what you will about Al Davis running the show on draft day, but I’ll tell you this, the impact of Tom Cable in the Raiders draft room as head coach in 2009 and 2010 were evident. In order to make this draft as successful as the previous two have been, Davis and Jackson must have good draft room chemistry. Of course, as the General Managing Partner, Al Davis will have the final say in how it all plays out, but it is of utmost importance that he is on the same page with what Hue Jackson and his coaching staff want from the selected players. There is a reason why the coaches go out with the scouts and get a feel for the draft class all the way back at the end of January: so that the GM’s can get a feel for and understand what both sides want and come together to get the right pieces. This input from both sides keeps the draft class balanced with cross checks and ensures a good crop of talent moving forward. The new relationship between Davis and Jackson on draft weekend will be the most important relationship at Radio City Music Hall for the Raiders.
Key Four: Trade up as needed
Al Davis is not typically known as a guy who moves around on the draft board a lot. Perhaps the two most significant times in the past couple of drafts were trading down for Mike Mitchell in 2009 and trading up for Jacoby Ford in 2010. But it’s also okay to trade away future picks in order to move up and get the guy you want. Al Davis is one of the best in the business at determining what his 31 opponents on draft day are looking for and understanding their needs as well as his own. This year is an especially important one for the Raiders as they could be a team on the rise and will be making a majority of their picks in the middle rounds. So Davis has to be on point with exactly where the players that he wants to bring in are going to go in the draft. Of course, trading down is always the most beneficial way to get your guys, as there is potential to obtain more picks and players, but if the guy the Raiders need might go higher than their next pick, Davis has to be willing to pull the trigger and move up, perhaps in this draft more than ever.
Key Five: Can’t miss in second round
The Raiders have been wishy-washy in the first round of the draft for as long as I can remember. It’s hard to say whether their first round picks are going to turn out superstars or setbacks. Granted, most of the time (unfortunately) it is the latter. This year, without a first round pick as of yet, the Raiders have got to hit a homerun with their second round pick and bring in a guy who is going to have an immediate impact with a team that already has some tremendously gifted football players. Easier said than done, but if there is an owner in the league who you want pulling the trigger on a guy in the second round, it is none other than Al Davis. You know what — forget about all the “Hire a GM” spiel that was tossed out a while back and realize that the Raiders owner is what Hue Jackson says: a former professional coach that knows football and the players that play it.
Like I said above, the only way that Davis is going to live up to his previous two-three years’ drafts is to be locked in like this is his last go round. It all starts with that first pick in the second round, and that pick absolutely has to be the right guy this year.
Key Six: Finding that late round gem
The NFL goes far more in depth in terms of research than you or I are capable of doing with their one-on-one access to athletes, countless hours of film study, and interviews with the players’ respective coaches. It’s been said that Tampa Bay Head Coach Raheem Morris and GM Mark Dominick spent over two hundred man hours last year on Syracuse wide receiver Mike Williams alone. The end result was that they may have gotten the best wide receiver in the draft in the fourth round. It’s safe to say that up to 20 NFL teams had removed Williams from their draft boards altogether. Getting impact players late in the draft is essential to building a winning atmosphere. Granted, Williams has character concerns, but thus far in Tampa Bay he has not done anything that indicates he will cause trouble for them in the future.
It’s not always as easy as finding somebody who has skills but fell because of character issues. Sometimes you have to really evaluate how a particular underrated player fits into the scheme you are trying to develop and just take a chance on him. Other times, finding Michael Bush with a broken leg falling into your lap in the fourth round is as easy as taking candy from a baby.
Key Seven: Filling the Asomugha Void
Presently, it is hard to say whether or not Nnamdi Asomugha will be back in the Silver and Black uniform in 2011, but regardless of whether he is or not, the Raiders need help at the cornerback position. Walter McFadden, Jeremy Ware, and even Chris Johnson left a lot to be desired in the backfield for the Raiders last year. In fact, one of Johnson’s goals going into the season was to make the Pro Bowl, but he couldn’t even win the starting job coming out of camp. When Nnamdi Asomugha went down in the middle of the season, it was a bad omen for the rest of the Raiders season – call it a breaking point. Not only did they not make the playoffs following his injury, but the injury also voided his contract for the upcoming season.
Filling the shoes of Asomugha is not going to happen in the blink of an eye, but having the right players in development is essential. Getting a guy who is the right fit opposite Stanford Routt in the event that Nnamdi is not available is going to play a big role in the success of the defense this year. Is that guy already on the roster? Perhaps you could make an argument for Walter McFadden’s potential, but I’m not ready to make that assessment. The Raiders without Nnamdi Asomugha are one cornerback short of making a playoff run in 2011. My personal favorite is Jimmy Smith, should he fall anywhere close to the middle of the second round.
There are several keys needed for the Raiders to have a successful draft in 2011, but only a few keys needed for you to know what’s going on. The first thing you have to do is submit your 2011 Mock Draft into our draft contest. The second thing you need to do is join us from April 28th through the 30th, right here at TFDSsports.com, for live pick-by-pick updates and exclusive in-depth articles on the newest Raiders faster than any other site on the internet. Last year we had well over 125,000 visitors in April and this year we expect the same altitude. So join us for draft weekend.