The good news for the Raiders is that they’ll have the fifth overall pick in the upcoming draft.
Picking fifth can net a major impact player, including a quarterback.
But just because a team has a great spot in the draft or a stockpile of picks doesn’t necessarily mean those picks will have a major impact on the next year.
Now that the Raiders have completed a 4-12 season, the team’s 2013 draft class is Exhibit A of that.
Last April, the Raiders had the No. 3 selection and traded down to No. 12, where they selected cornerback D.J. Hayden. In the second round they picked offensive tackle Menelik Watson, then picked linebacker Sio Moore in the third round and quarterback Tyler Wilson in the fourth round.
Of those four, only Moore made a major impact. In 15 games, the outside linebacker had 50 tackles, 4½ sacks and forced a fumble, and looked very good at times. Potentially, Moore could be a part of the Raiders defense for years.
But overall, the Raiders get an Incomplete grade for the draft class, because Hayden and Watson were hampered by injuries and Wilson couldn’t make the opening-day cut and eventually was signed off the practice squad by another team.
If Hayden and Watson rebound physically in 2014, they could be major pieces in the team’s rebuilding process. But it’s hard to say how good they are based on what they did this past season.
Watson, a physically talented but raw prospect from Florida State, had a procedure on his knee in training camp and also was bothered by a calf problem throughout the entire season. He played in just five games and started three.
With a good offseason and training camp, Watson could blossom and earn a starting spot for 2014 at right tackle, opposite veteran left tackle Jared Veldheer (if the Raiders re-sign him). But Watson – who showed flashes of toughness and athleticism – wasn’t good enough his first season, when healthy, to beat out Matt McCants, a former sixth-round pick of the Giants in 2012.
“We still feel like Menelik has a bright future for us, but he’s missed so much time,” said Raiders head coach Dennis Allen, late in the season.
Hayden, too, remains an unknown quantity.
He played in just eight games, mostly as the nickel corner, before a groin injury cut his season short. He had 26 tackles, a forced fumble and one interception – which saved a victory over the Chargers – but also was burned terribly at times, specifically in a loss to the Eagles.
General manager Reggie McKenzie drafted him because he loved his coverage skills, but learning how to play cornerback in the NFL is often a lot of trial-and-error, and Hayden didn’t get the chance to learn from his mistakes and have a better second half of the season.
Like Watson, he could be a big contributor in 2014 or go through another rough learning season – sort of a second rookie year.
When asked recently by the Bay Area News Group’s Steve Corkran if he still feels a pressure to play well immediately to justify being taken with the Raiders’ No. 1 pick, Hayden said: “Something to prove? Man, we just got to win. That’s all we got to do. That’s the way to prove to Raiders fans, make them happy, get this organization back to where it was. We just got to win.”
It still remains to be seen, however, how much the Class of 2013 will contribute to that cause.