You've gotta give the NFL credit; despite the fact that it was used against them in court, the NFL always insisted there would be a 2011 draft. They never wavered, even when it made legal sense to delay the draft.
After Judge Susan Nelson ruled to void the lockout, and then ruled against a stay request by the owners that would delay the start of the NFL season, league officials, among more uncertainty and unrest than they could've fathomed hours before the draft, had a very real choice to make.
To draft, or not to draft?
The NFL, from a business and legal perspective, would've been well served to delay the draft, at least until all potential antitrust violations and contingencies were addressed, understood and some kind of emergency framework of labor rules put into place.
Not wanting to alienate an already weary fanbase, the NFL smartly decided that, despite the potential legal stickiness and free agency uncertainty, it was too much to ask football fans to swallow a delay of the only real meaningful football event in months.
So the draft went on. A few surprising things happened in Round 1: the Titans and Vikings grabbed Jake Locker and Christian Ponder far higher than those players were expected to go; the Saints sent a message to Reggie Bush and the rest of the NFL by trading back into the first with New England to pick up Mark Ingram, putting the Patriots in position to control the early rounds of next years' draft as a result—which is not a surprise in itself, because "The Hood" pulls this off every year—and Nate Solder was drafted before Anthony Costanzo.
The Washington Redskins passed on Blaine Gabbert and traded down with another QB needy team that took Gabbert in Jacksonville; the Atlanta Falcons made a bold statement by trading a ton of draft currency to move up and grab Julio Jones at six. And Da'Quan Bowers wasn't picked at all after being thought of as a potential No. 1 overall selection just a few scant months ago.
Through all this, the Raiders worked the phones like a political campaigner, trying to wrangle their way into the first round. However, they could not and thus had to sit and watch as everyone else in the NFL added at least something to their roster on Day 1.
Let's look at who the Raiders may target with their second and third-round picks. There's still quite a bit of talent out there, and they need to build on the success of last year's draft for some sustainable success.
The Wiz clears a path for a Penn State touchdown
The Raiders need help on the interior line, and have for some time. Cooper Carlisle was passable when he first arrived in Oakland, but he's steadily declined in both production and popularity.
Robert Gallery flamed out as a tackle but has turned into an excellent guard; however, he was a huge fan of departed coach Tom Cable, credited the man for turning his career around and has made it clear he won't be coming back to Oakland next year.
Many Raider fans and pundits have Wiz going to the Raiders. His uncle, Steve, was a staple of the Raider offensive line for years in the 90's and Al Davis is notoriously loyal to former players and coaches—that he likes that is. I'm pretty sure Lance Kiffin isn't getting yearly Christmas cards—so it's a possibility.
There are reasons the Raiders should look elsewhere, though, and those reasons are familiar.
Samson Satele, the Raiders current starting center, is a smaller guy who lacks the strength to battle the larger, stronger nose tackles in the league. He gets pushed around and backward often, and is more mobile and athletic, and suited to a zone-blocking scheme.
The Raiders ran a ZBS under former coach Tom Cable, and picking up Satele when they did made sense.
But Wisniewski projects as a very similar player to Satele, and his lack of height and shorter arms make a transition to guard that much more difficult.
Still, with his pedigree, success and leadership abilities at a high level program like Penn State, and the Raiders need for OL depth, this would not be a surprise pick .
I will be happy with this pick if they got him in the third or fourth round; I think their second rounder is too high at this point, and I will be disappointed if they draft him with this pick.
Hudson shows his moves after a play
Although listed as a guard, Hudson projects as a potential center in the NFL due to his slight build and his speed and athleticism. He did play guard at Florida State, where he was a four-year starter and all conference performer since his Sophomore season.
One reason the Raiders may look hard at him and Wisniewski: all of the Raiders' successful teams in history have had a solid anchor in the middle of their line, whether with Jim Otto, Don Mosebar or Barrett Robbins.
Since Robbins' bi-polar meltdown prior to the SuperBowl in 2002, the Raiders have mixed together a motley crew of unsuccessful castoffs, draft choices, backups and trade acquisitions.
This is where I throw in that I always really liked Jake Grove and feel if he had stayed fully healthy, he would've been an excellent center for years. But alas, that was not the case.
Samson Satele began to play serviceably toward the end of last season, but he is a liability in pass protection and too often gets pushed back into the pocket, causing a collapse and the QB to scramble.
Hudson isn't huge, but he is quick and athletic and has enough strength in him to fight with some of the NTs he'll face in the NFL. However, he is more finesse than power, and the Raiders are moving away from finesse lineman at this time.
The biggest downside to both Wisniewski and Hudson is that they are both quick and athletic players best suited for a ZBS, and not the mauler-type bully that the Raiders are moving toward as they transition from the ZBS to a more power blocking scheme. For that reason, I can see the Raiders passing on both players even if they are available.
Another lineman from a small school, Ijalana was a four year starter at tackle and projects as a guard in the NFL. In fact, such a small school that Getty Images doesn't have any pictures of him, and I don't have rights to any pictures of him. Thus, no picture. Sorry Ben!
The Raiders have some success with lineman from smaller schools, so it's not out of the realm of possibility.
Ijalana is a lineman in the Raiders' new mould: a big, strong mauler type that enjoys run blocking and gets to the second level effectively. Ijalana is known as a smart, tough player who keeps his wits about him in chaos and shows the willingness and patience to learn and be coached.
He is thought to be best suited as a right tackle or guard in the NFL; two positions of need for the Raiders who will be losing starting LG Robert Gallery and have few attractive options at RT.
Langston Walker is a good player but he's getting old and he couldn't stay healthy last season.
Ijalana could come in and help the Raiders right away at either RT or at guard. The Raiders have their LT in Jared Veldheer, though some aren't fully sold on him as of yet, and there are other options available in free agency - whenever it starts.
Although not as polished as Wisniewski or Hudson, and although the level of competition he played was a little lower, Ijalana's intangibles and strengths are better suited to the Raiders new offensive philosophy of power running and power blocking.
Any of these three lineman could help the Raiders, and depth is needed. But the Raiders should look for the best available player in the 2nd round, as all three of these guys could still be there in round three. Or all three could be gone. It's a calculated risk, but if a really sensational player is still there at #48, then the Raiders have to seriously consider that.
The versatile, dynamic, athletic and tatted up Kaepernick seems to fit the Raider mould
A really sensational player like Colin Kaepernick, for example.
I didn't really know how I felt about Colin Kaepernick until last night. I went over to my buddy's place after the wife got home from work to watch the rest of the draft; the Giants were on the clock when I left.
When I got there, he told me the Giants picked Prince. Of course they did, I said. Who wouldn't have at that point?
Then he asked me "What do you think of the reaches at QB? I mean, Locker?!?! But the Vikings reaching for Kaepernick at No. 12? Crazy man!!"
Now, I had dozed off right around pick No. 11 and didn't come to for about five minutes; so Christian Ponder wasn't at the forefront of my mind.
I looked at him in disbelief and said "What? What do you mean? WHO drafted Kaepernick?"
"The Vikes," he said flatly.
I flipped; I then realized I really like this kid, and really wanted the Raiders to draft him at No. 48. I was quite upset for about two minutes; until it clicked.
"Dude," I said. "They drafted Christian PONDER. Not Kaepernick. Still a reach, but different guy."
"Oh yeah," he shrugged. "Whatever."
Size. Speed. Strength. Charisma. Monster, rocket arm. Accuracy. Tattoos.
This guy is a character both on and off the field, and I mean that in a good way. He's a charismatic guy that draws people in, gets them to believe, and then shows them why by performing at a high level.
From his interviews to the Wonderlic to everything on the field, I like this kid a lot. I love Jason Campbell, but I also feel that it can never hurt to have a good, young QB prospect on the roster that doesn't have immediate pressure and thus can learn effectively.
That's the situation Kaepernick would be walking into in Oakland, and if Washington doesn't snag him at No. 41 or Cincinnati or Arizona before that, I would be a happy man if the Raiders pulled the trigger on CK, even with more pressing immediate needs on the roster.
Mallett keeps his eyes downfield in the face of a brutal pass rush
It's funny how perception, rumor, innuendo and marketing can affect the draft status of a player.
Cam Newton was caught cheating and stealing at Florida.
Ryan Mallett was an arrogant, cocky and insufferable jerk at Michigan. But never caught cheating or stealing.
Newton left Florida, went to Blinn College for a season, and then his father blatantly prostituted his services to SEC schools who, frankly, don't much care about morals or values if a kid can play football. And Newton can certainly play football.
Mallett simply transferred away from somewhere he was unhappy and unliked and went back to his homeland for another shot at glory; and nobody in his inner circle held Arkansas hostage or demanded money for his services either.
Cam Newton couldn't really explain football plays or schemes when put on the spot in Jon Gruden's quarterback camp.
Mallett had no problem breaking down plays and writing them out on the big board.
Yet Ryan Mallett, the most impressive physical specimen at QB in this draft, has dropped like a stone made of lead out of the first round, while Cam Newton was drafted No. 1 overall. Mallett is a bad seed, a terrible kid with a terrible attitude. Newton is engaging and charismatic. Therefore, Newton should be drafted much, much higher.
Marketing. Perception. Rumour. Innuendo.
Cam Newton is very engaging and charismatic, and it's not a surprise that many teams fell in love with him. He's not only a gold mine of potential on the field, but off it as well.
Mallett rubs people the wrong way. People don't seem to like him; and he continually does things that make him look bad, like ditching the Carolina breakfast and such.
Yet, in this draft we have a kid in Jimmy Smith that failed THREE drug tests in college and admits he abused codeine. He was drafted No. 27 overall.
The Raiders may benefit from this perception of Mallett, as he's the closest to a prototypical Raider QB as you can get. If Al Davis were to draw up his ideal QB, it'd be close to Mallett physically. The process also seems to have matured him somewhat.
In an interview last night, he stated that he would make the teams that passed on him sorry, reward the team that took a chance on him and that he was disappointed he didn't get drafted in the first, but not devastated because he's still going to be an NFL player.
I would be equally happy with Kaepernick or Mallett as our QB of the future; I really don't have a preference here. Hopefully one of them will be there when we pick, and we pull the trigger, even if Campbell is here for another couple of seasons.
Ras I Dowling has the size and speed combination Al Davis covets
Those who love to assume the Raiders will always draft the fastest player available should take heed to last year's draft.
Yes, the Raiders did draft Jacoby Ford, the fastest guy at the combine, in Round 4. But they also drafted a whole lot of football players for their on-field production and leadership ability and not just their measurables.
Ras-I Dowling is an intriguing prospect. Not the fastest guy in the world—but fast enough at 4.4 —he would probably have been drafted already had he not struggled with leg and lower body injuries recently.
He's 6'2" and 200 lbs, in the Raider mold of a physical corner who will get up on you and press in man coverage. He has great instincts, and loves to play a physical style whenever he can. Suits the Raiders defensive philosophy perfectly.
He would be a great compliment to Stanford Routt on the other side. Routt is more of a finesse, speed corner who can make up for mistakes with his athleticism and jets.
Dowling would be the perfect compliment to lock up the more physical, grinding No. 2 receivers throughout the league. The Raiders will have to grab him at No. 48 though, because there is no way he's still there in the third round.
Could the Raiders have better luck with this Longhorn?
The feeling one gets from drafting a Texas defensive player in recent years is akin to that of electing a new official to political office: initial excitement followed by the disappointment of reality culminating in a deeply unfulfilled void.
Raider fans know this feeling well through Michael Huff. Despite his improved play last season, Huff's play has fulfilled this emotional blueprint for Raider Nation since he was drafted No. 7 overall back in 2006. That is to say, he never lived up to expectations and has been a vast disappointment by most measures.
However, last year the Raiders drafted Lamarr Houston, a nasty 'ol Texas DL who came in and made immediate and impressive contributions to the Raiders' defense. The exception to the Longhorn rule it would seem, along with Brian Orakpo from Washington.
Right now, the Raiders look to be losing both starting FS Michael Huff and starting CB Nnamdi Asomugha. So, despite the track record of disappointment from Texas defenders, Aaron Williams and his size and strength make a hell of a lot of sense for the Raiders.
Williams actually combines decent speed and quickness with his impressive size, meaning he could play either CB or S in the NFL, though most project him as a S at the moment.
It's really only his lack of snaps and experience that are holding him back right now. Williams has shown the ability to play both press and zone coverage, and his size/strength/speed set make him an ideal Raider cornerback.
He would be a good choice in the second round, if he were available.
Van Dyke jumps a pass
This guy has been floated as a possibility purely because of his speed. He didn't start every game at Miami and drove people insane with his inability to translate otherworldly athleticism into consistent production.
The Raiders grabbing him in the second or third rounds would be a classic reach for speed and athleticism, and would be a frustrating pick at this point.
Van Dyke has some NFL type skills but he is extremely raw and would need time and seasoning before he would be able to contribute anything of value on a regular basis.
The Raiders currently have some young, intriguing talent in the defensive secondary in Jeremy Ware, Walter McFadden, Mike Mitchell and Stevie Brown, and if they were to draft a DB early, it can't be another project that's going to take a ton of time.
It's realistic that the Raiders will be starting Routt and Chris Johnson on the outside—and CJ has fallen off in recent years and isn't getting any younger—with Ware or McFadden as the nickel corner.
It's imperative the Raiders get immediate production from any DB they draft as they prepare for life without Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff, and Van Dyke doesn't appear to have the ability to give them that production.
If the Raiders draft him second or third round, consider me disappointed. And very, very angry. But if we take a flier in the fourth or after, I can live with that.
Wilson works out at the combine in Indianapolis
With Thomas Howard's role diminishing—or him leaving altogether—and Quentin Groves' struggles at WLB last season, the Raiders could look to a LB to help improve their run defense and shore up the front seven even more.
After adding Houston, Big John Henderson, Groves, Kamerion Wimbley and rookie beast Rolando McClain to the front seven last year, the Raiders were quicker, stronger and more effective against the run and in rushing the passer.
But they still need to get stronger on the outside. Despite his prodigious ability as a pass rusher and his quickness for his size, Wilson is a great tackler and his speed and instincts get him to the ball quickly. He's a great run stopper for being as athletic as he is; when he wants to put in the effort.
Coverage could be an issue as he doesn't turn his hips well and is a little stiff in his backpedal: but the Raiders don't need him to cover players.
The one concern is that scouts and coaches alike believe Wilson can be a little lazy, lets his athleticism compensate for effort and lacks physicality on a consistent basis.
But his upside and measurables are off the charts, and the Raiders love combine warriors. Wilson has the added bonus of actually being a productive, sideline-to-sideline linebacker in a tough conference in college to go with his outstanding physical gifts.
If Kaepernick, Mallett, Dowling, Williams or Ijalana are all gone, Wilson would be a good pickup here.
Big Marcus hoists the Rose Bowl trophy
These players are all on the Raiders' radar, but it's unrealistic to think that many of them will be available.
I see Hudson, Ijalana, Kaepernick, Dowling, Williams and Wilson all gone by the time we pick at No. 48.
So from this list, that leaves us Wisniewski, Mallett or Van Dyke. Of course, there are a lot of other options such as Marcus Cannon, Stephen Paea, Marvin Austin, etc.
But I think the Raiders pick one of these guys in the second round. And despite my love for and belief in Jason Campbell, he's not getting any younger and an arm of the future to groom behind him is exciting.
For me, Kaepernick or Mallett would be awesome; if both are gone, then Dowling or Williams. If all four are gone, then Wiz.
Or, if something happens behind the scenes and we don't feel we can re-sign Zach Miller, Kyle Rudolph becomes an attractive player. But that's not going to happen: Miller will be back.
Still, it's nice to have options, and less needs than we usually do on draft day. This team is improving; drafting high level players with high character and leadership qualities, which the majority of these players possess, can only continue that improvement.
We'll find out around 7:30 EST tonight whether they've continued that improvement or pulled some Raider craziness.
Either way, enjoy!