When Al Davis makes a draft pick, he usually looks at this one quality: potential.
Al Davis' problems have stemmed from not finding a consistent quarterback, making horrible free agent signings, and changing coaches with too much frequency.
Davis is often insulted for his "poor drafting."
I don't get it.
With exception to 2007's pick of JaMarcus Russell, Al Davis has been spot on with his first round selections. What people tend to neglect is that it takes years to evaluate a draft class. Al Davis tends not to draft NFL ready players with his first rounders.
The Raiders longtime owner can do this because he is patient. Davis is the owner and GM, so he can wait awhile on a draft pick, and not fear for his job.
But when Al Davis gives up on a draft pick, you know that the player just can't get it done at the NFL level.
Slowly but surely, the Raiders first round draft picks have been quietly developing into very good players since 2003.
Nnamdi Asomugha was seen as a major reach when he was taken out of Cal in 2003. He struggled with his transition to cornerback for the better part of three seasons, before transforming into one of the best in the business in 2006.
He caught eight interceptions that year, and opposing quarterbacks don't even bother to throw in the vicinity of Asomugha anymore.
Robert Gallery was taken by the Raiders in 2004 with the second overall pick. Like Asomugha, Gallery also struggled at his drafted position. When the Raiders moved Gallery to left guard permanently in 2007, he thrived.
Gallery now is considered one of the league's top guards.
Fabian Washington, one of the leagues fastest players, failed to live up to expectations as the 23rd overall pick in 2005.
It was curious when the Raiders traded him after the 2007 season. We later found out that Washington requested a trade, who is now with the Baltimore Ravens.
This one of the two busts from the last decade. The other we'll get to later.
Michael Huff was drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2006.
He disappointed from the get-go, and was even benched in the later part of the 2008 season because of poor tackling.
In 2009, the light seemed to have turned on. His ball skills seemed much more impressive, picking off three passes in the first few games.
He'll never be an in the box run defender, but that doesn't mean he won't be an impact player on passing downs. If he can just keep improving proper tackling, I like his coverage skills enough to confidently declare him a successful pick from the 2006 draft.
I've been telling Chief fans to not expect too much from Eric Berry. Safeties, like defensive tackles and wide receivers, take time to develop.
No safety taken in the first round since 2006 currently ranks top five in their position. But maybe Berry is special.
However, if I were Jason Campbell, I'd be trying to take advantage of him, until he proves that he's elite.
Going back to the article, let's hit on JaMarcus Russell.
He's the single worst draft pick ever. In any sport. Not even Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan was worse—okay, maybe it was.
If Russell was like Alex Smith, who tried his hardest with the 49ers but has been a disappointment, I would have been fine with the selection.
Russell happens to be the single most talented quarterback I have ever seen wear an NFL jersey. His arm was so good, that he literally could throw 60 yards on his knees. I bet half the league's starting quarterbacks can barely do that on their feet.
I can safely say that JaMarcus could be the best quarterback in the league if he wanted.
Isn't it a shame that he didn't, though? From sleeping in meetings, to not working hard enough to be successful, JaMarcus proved to be the biggest waste of talent the NFL has ever seen.
No one can say Davis reached here. Practically every scouting service rated Russell in the top three of their overall prospects. Only Calvin Johnson had a consensus higher grade. This pick deserved a Z-, but I don't think anyone thought it was a mistake at the time to pick Russell.
Enough about Russell, though.
In 2008, Al Davis took Darren McFadden. I actually don't think it's been McFadden's fault that he hasn't produced.
A turf toe injury hampered him after producing a career performance against the Chiefs in 2008. Injuries continued through 2009. McFadden has rushed for a total of an unspectacular 856 yards so far in his young career.
When he was on the field, McFadden was ineffective. I look at it as more of Cable's terrible play-calling, than McFadden's fault. Cable tried to run it inside with McFadden, but it's been proven that McFadden isn't a between the tackles type of runner.
After looking back to the 2008 draft, I honestly believe that McFadden still possesses more physical talent than any other player in the draft, with the exception of Chris Johnson.
With a proper offensive coordinator at the helm, McFadden should be used much better. He's a fantastic open field runner, and is actually a wonderful receiving back.
There's no doubt that this is a make it or break it year for McFadden. Since running backs usually convert well to the pro game right away, I'd find it surprising if Davis keeps McFadden around, especially at a high salary.
Onto the 2009 NFL draft.
Last year's first round draft pick was Davis' most questionable of the last decade. Darrius Heyward-Bey was the consensus number three rated wide receiver and projected late first round pick.
Many people were monumentally shocked when Roger Goodell announced Darrius Heyward-Bey's name as the number seventh overall pick. I turned the clicker to ESPN news to find Cris Carter berating DHB, and the Raiders decision to pass on Crabtree.
DHB never caught more than 50 passes in the ACC, so it was certain that DHB was going to be a project player.
DHB's rookie season was nothing short of horrible. He caught only nine passes, and played in only 11 games. I think everything overwhelmed him last season.
It sounds like DHB has come back with a vengeance this offseason. Working harder than ever, DHB has reportedly taken huge strides to live up to his draft status.
The reason Davis drafted DHB was his 4.30 speed at 6"1 1/2 and 215 pounds. With those kinds of physical gifts, there's no question there's a high ceiling for Heyward-Bey. He probably has a much higher ceiling than Crabtree and Maclin.
Look, I'm not going to go so far and declare him the next Cliff Branch or Tim Brown, but everything has been encouraging to Raider fans this offseason. Plus, don't you think that there's a reason Davis drafted the first receiver in the first round since Brown in 1988?
This past draft, the Raiders decided not to go with a high 40 time for their first pick. You see, that's exactly why McClain will be an instant contributor.
He is already the most pro ready middle linebacker prospect to come along since Patrick Willis.
Many people expected the Raiders to take Bruce Campbell with the eight overall pick. The Raiders did eventually take the work out warrior in the fourth round.
Honestly, I have no idea how Campbell fell that far. We're talking about a guy who is the most physically gifted lineman I've ever seen. He runs almost as fast as a linebacker, but he's 310 pounds. He looks like a stud.
But he isn't a good football player yet.
But imagine if he works his butt off and develops into the right guard position.
In 2012 (whenever football starts resuming again), we're possibly looking at one of the NFL's top lineman. This kid possibly has more potential than Darrius Heyward-Bey, and that's saying something.
So, there you have it folks. Many people laugh at Davis for his workout warrior type of first round draft picks.
It's unfortunate that the only Raiders pick to officially bust was the quarterback, but sometimes that happens.
If this team had solid play out of the quarterback position for the past couple of years, the talent has been good enough to make the playoffs.
I think we finally have it with Jason Campbell, another former first rounder.
The other former first round picks on the roster are Kamerion Wimbley, Kyle Boller, and Richard Seymour.
The Raider roster certainly has the physical talent, but are we a good enough football team in 2010?
I can't wait to find out.