ALAMEDA (AP) – For nearly a half-century, Al Davis ran the Oakland Raiders’ draft room in his own unique way. He coveted speed and size, seemingly ahead of almost all other attributes.
His picks often baffled so-called experts and other teams, with some turning into surprising successes and others into notable flops.
Now there’s a new man in charge in Oakland. General manager Reggie McKenzie began overhauling the organization after being hired in January and now is preparing for the team’s first draft since Davis died last October. This will be the first Raiders draft that Davis has not run since 1962.
“It’s an exciting time,” McKenzie said. “Coach Davis, this has been his deal since the Raiders were the Raiders. So, I am the new guy. This is my first time drafting after a legend has been drafting for the Raiders for so long. So, it’s huge. But I am excited about it and I am looking forward to it. There are still so many people in the organization, so I get to hear everything about how he used to do it.”
McKenzie will likely have to wait a while to make his first pick, which won’t be until the final selection on Day 2 with the 95th overall pick at the end of the third round – the first of the team’s three compensatory picks.
The Raiders traded their first-round pick last October for quarterback Carson Palmer, a second-rounder during last year’s draft for backup running back Taiwan Jones and offensive lineman Joe Barksdale, and spent a third-rounder to take quarterback project Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft.
Oakland also dealt a fourth-rounder to Washington in 2010 for former starting quarterback Jason Campbell and a seventh-rounder last year for starting outside linebacker Aaron Curry.
That leaves McKenzie with compensatory picks at the end of the third, fourth and fifth rounds and Oakland’s original picks in the fifth and sixth. With McKenzie unable to trade compensatory picks and unwilling to give up future high picks, it seems unlikely the Raiders will be able to pick before 95th.
“We need some depth to compete and hopefully win jobs,” he said. “That’s what we’re targeting. When we say best player, whether it’s D-line, linebacker, O-line, tight end … it doesn’t matter. We want to get a good player. We’ve got five picks. We need to make them all count.”
Davis’ drafting acumen helped build championship teams in the 1970s and 80s. He got Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ken Stabler and Hall of Fame offensive lineman Art Shell in the second and third rounds in 1968; big-play receiver Cliff Branch in the fourth round in 1972; Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper in the second round in 1974; star cornerback Lester Hayes in the fifth round in 1977 and Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long in the second round in 1981.
But there were more misses than hits in recent years, contributing to a run of nine straight seasons without a winning record or playoff berth.
Of the 12 first-round picks since 2001, including six players in the top 10, Nnamdi Asomugha is the only one to make a Pro Bowl. More notable were busts like quarterback JaMarcus Russell in 2007 or taking offensive lineman Robert Gallery over Larry Fitzgerald in 2004.
There was also the constant obsession with speed, most notably when Davis drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey seventh overall in 2009, ahead of far more accomplished receivers. Heyward-Bey had a breakthrough season last year but still has fewer receptions, yards and touchdowns than the five receivers taken after him in the first round that year.
The infatuation with speed got to the point that as soon as a player clocked in at under 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, jokes immediately started that the Raiders will draft him no matter what he’s done on the football field.
Last year’s Raiders roster featured the fastest players at the last three combines and five other players clocked at 4.36 seconds or better in the 40 at the combine or their pro days.
“Speed is always going to be important,” McKenzie said. “But if you’re insinuating that speed only? No, we’re not looking for just guys that run fast. Of course we love size, and we’re going to emphasize size. But we’re going to make sure they’re good football players. Make sure they’re tough, they understand the game.”
It truly is a new era.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)