I have to admit, by the time the Raiders had made their second round pick, I was shaking my head in disbelief.
The salt the pundits were rubbing in my black and silver bleeding wounds didn’t make it any easier.
I could not for the life of me understand why they would choose Darrius Heyward-Bey so early in the 2009 NFL draft just to be different or rebellious.
In fact, I couldn’t see why Al fell in love with DHB even though he possessed the speed Al Davis has always maniacally pursued.
And then it hit me.
I don’t know if it was the Kool-Aid that everyone will swear I am drinking, but I finally got it.
Al Davis could care less what spot he got his man. He didn’t care if he could pick up extra value by trading down. He probably despises the glitzy spectacle it has become, right down to the mouthpieces that clairvoyantly declare winners and losers of the draft.
After all, we all know how many of these "extra" picks actually make the final roster.
Al Davis wanted a vertical threat to go with his cannon armed quarterback, and he wasn’t about to risk it by trying to get cute and slide down.
This is the guy he coveted all along, so what sense would it make to trade down and risk losing the player he desired for two players he didn’t want?
I then reexamined Heyward-Beys football resume.
There it was staring back at me.
DHB ran a scorching 4.23 forty at 6-2 and 212 pounds in 2006. To put it in perspective—Deon Sanders ran a mythical 4.19 back in the day.
Get a stop watch out and time yourself clapping your hands together if you want to know the difference between 4.19 and 4.23.
It is mind numbingly negligible.
In a race it is Deon by a nose.
This isn’t a comparison of athleticism, but just pure straight line speed.
The Raiders didn’t draft DHB to be the go to guy; they drafted him to be Cliff Branch. Branch never caught more than 60 balls, but averaged 17.3 yds per reception. The Raiders of old would pound the ball with the running game and line up Branch on the outside as if to say, “I dare you to put eight men in the box."
Some might say that is living in the past, but the same wouldn’t say boo about the 49ers trying to recreate Jerry Rice, especially if they were trying to fit a player in the West Coast offense.
The knock on DHB is his inconsistent hands.
Ball catching skills can be improved.
Route running can be tightened up, but straight line speed can’t be coached.
Therein lies the rub. Al does have a philosophy.
The Raiders have a scheme, and that scheme requires speed and explosion. It isn’t as simple as coach Cable describes in his “pound the ball and then throw it over their heads” explanation, but that is the gist.
Like any scheme, it does still work as long as you have the right personnel.
And on draft day 2009, the Raiders did what most of us have loved about them for years—they went their own way by thumbing their noses at the Mel Kipers and Mike Mayocks of the world, and picked who they wanted.
Someone who fit the scheme.
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