What If?: A Decade of Oakland Raider First-Round Draft Picks

David WilsonCorrespondent IJanuary 11, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 29:  Cornerback Usama Young #28 of the New Orleans Saints breaks up a pass intended for wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey #12 of the Oakland Raiders during the preseason game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on August 29, 2009 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Whilst they may have had some mid and late round success in the draft over the last decade, the first round draft picks for Oakland during the past decade have been a pretty lackluster bunch.  But what if things had been different? 

There were plenty of players drafted after the Raiders selected who would have been better choices, and went on to be hugely successful in this league. Poor drafting in the first round has been a major factor in Oakland’s lack of success since the 2002-03 Super Bowl.

The list is long and mostly undistinguished.

In 2001, the Raiders picked safety Derrick Gibson from Florida State. Gibson was an outstanding athlete, but a poor football player who lacked the instincts needed to be a successful pro. When we picked Gibson, still on the board were Drew Brees, Chad Johnson, Kris Jenkins, Todd Heap, and Kyle Van den Bosch. 

In 2002, Philip Buchanon and Napoleon Harris came on board as first round picks.  Buchanon saw himself as another Deion Sanders, which he clearly wasn’t. Harris, though a far classier individual, never lived up to the hype. Both were gone to other teams within a few years and became journeymen. When we picked these two, Lito Sheppard and Ed Reed were still on there, and are having great careers.

I can bypass 2003, because if we selected Tyler Brayton in the first round, we also got Nnamdi Asomugha.

Tough to criticize in 2004 either. We thought Robert Gallery was a ten year Pro B owler at left tackle, but so did everybody else when we drafted him.

For 2005, Al Davis picked another super athlete, cornerback Fabian Washington from Nebraska, who ran a 4.25 40 at the combine. Just over two years later, he was traded to Baltimore for a fourth round pick. When we picked Washington, Aaron Rodgers, Logan Mankins, and Michael Roos were still there.

In 2006, with the seventh pick overall, Oakland selected safety Michael Huff, from Texas. Although he played well at times this year, he has only just broken into the starting line up, and four picks in three years isn’t what you expect from a player selected at seven.  When we took Huff, Haloti Ngata was still there. So was DeMeco Ryans.

Perhaps the biggest mistake of all, in my opinion, came in 2007, when the Raiders had the first overall pick. They took rocket armed LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Russell has shown a poor work ethic and questionable character, which have given him appalling statistics in every way over the first three years of his career. He is more unpopular with the fan base than any player in Raider history.

In fact the Raiders have looked far better under backups Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye than they ever did under Russell.

Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, and Darrelle Davis were selected the same year, and have become premier players at their positions. That just makes the Russell decision look even worse.

In 2008, despite glaring needs on both sides of the line, the Raiders selected running back Darren McFadden from Arkansas at number five. Although he has shown flashes and is a dedicated football player, he has in no way achieved what the Raiders expected of him. His transition to the pros has been a difficult one. We could have taken Ryan Clady or Sedrick Ellis at that point in the draft. 

I could say Chris Johnson this year, but I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Who would have thought it though? The one super athlete Al Davis didn’t reach for, and he becomes an all pro.

2009 brought us nothing better, when our selection at number seven was Darrius Heyward-Bey, the wide receiver from Maryland. Once again, a player chosen on athletic ability rather than production. He struggled all year, and to compound the problem the Raiders insisted on starting him even though he clearly wasn’t ready. 

His poor route running and dropped passes contributed to some early Raider losses.  Oakland could have helped themselves by drafting better receivers like Jeremy Maclin or even  Percy Harvin. 

They could have filled that strongside linebacker spot with defensive rookie of the year Brian Cushing, or addressed a critical need at right tackle with Eugene Monroe or Michael Oher. But they took Darrius Heyward-Bey instead.

The Raiders pick high at number eight again this year, and they have to make better decisions with their first round picks. There are glaring needs on this roster that have to be filled with football players, not just athletes.

If Oakland continues to draft poorly, they will continue to be a shadow of a once proud franchise, and continue to select in the top ten.