The Raiders struck gold in the 2014 draft, landing outside linebacker Khalil Mack, quarterback Derek Carr, guard Gabe Jackson, defensive tackle Justin Ellis and cornerback/returner TJ Carrie.
Each played big roles as rookies and figures into the team’s short- and long-term plans.
But the 2014 Raiders draft was an outlier, a fortunate fluke in recent franchise history. As several observers have pointed out, the Raiders’ draft failure over the past 10-15 years has been the primary cause for the team’s failures.
As the Raiders prepare for this year’s draft, which begins April 30, general manager Reggie McKenzie will need another golden draft like 2014’s in order to keep the franchise moving forward. Scoring well in free agency is a plus, but building through the draft is what brings long-term success.
And the Raiders haven’t had much of it in the 21st century.
No. 1 picks such as lineman Robert Gallery (2004), quarterback JaMarcus Russell (2007) and linebacker Rolando McClain (2010) flamed out, and others like cornerback Fabian Washington (2005), safety Michael Huff (2006), Darren McFadden (2008) and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (2009) didn’t turn out to be long-term franchise foundations.
As Jeff Fedotin of the National Football Post pointed out last year, it wasn’t just the players selected that proved a problem, but the team’s overall talent evaluation process was flawed because Oakland passed up so many available great talents in those drafts. Just in the 2009 draft alone, the Raiders took Heyward-Bey seventh overall, bypassing such future standouts as defensive lineman B.J. Raji, receivers Michael Crabtree, Hakeem Nicks and Jeremy Maclin and linebackers Brian Orakpo, Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing.
Plus, as ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson noted this week, the Raiders’ other failure has been to draft players it deems worthy of second contracts.
Center Stefen Wisniewski, for instance, was a solid pick from the 2011 draft, but the Raiders have decided to let him walk in free agency. The same with left tackle Jared Veldheer. Veldheer, in fact, was a terrific third-round pick from 2010 who developed into a fine player, but left in free agency after the 2013 season.
For now, it appears that McKenzie’s 2013 and 2014 draft classes have players who could be part of the team’s long-term plans. It’s hard to see Mack, Carr and Jackson (at this point) not getting a second contract. And cornerback D.J. Hayden, linebacker Sio Moore and running back Latavius Murray from 2013 could also become long-term keepers.
Wrote Williamson: “McKenzie’s past two draft classes appear to have several candidates who could earn second contracts when they are eligible. McKenzie has to hit on these players if the Raiders are going to end this alarming trend and get better on the field.”