After months of mocks, speculation, over thinking and down right guessing, the NFL Draft is finally upon us. With that comes a slew of “expert” opinions on how each of the 256 players drafted will perform during their NFL careers. But let’s be honest, nobody really knows.
Few arguments in sports can get as heated as one about who is the steal or the bust of the draft. And all of this without these guys ever taking a single snap in the NFL. Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy to go back and say, “wow, they shouldn’t have drafted that guy,” or, “great call drafting this guy.” Inevitably, mistakes will be made, and future Hall of Famers will be passed on.
The Raiders are no exception to this trend. In fact, over the last 20 years they have had some of the worst drafts in the league. Let’s do some revisionist history and look back at some of the biggest busts, as well as some of the stars that the Raiders have drafted since 1998. Why 1998 you ask? Symmetry. That was Jon Gruden’s first year as the head coach of the Raiders. And now, Chucky’s back.
The Raiders nailed their first pick in the Jon Gruden era. With the fourth overall selection, the Raiders drafted the Heisman Trophy winning cornerback Charles Woodson from the University of Michigan. Woodson was the most important player the Raiders have drafted in the last 20 years.
Woodson spent his first seven years in the Silver & Black and was part of the most infamous play in Raiders history (we don’t need to mention it by name). He made the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons in Oakland and was named defensive rookie of the year in ’98. It was his return to Oakland in 2013 that really cemented his legacy as one of the greatest Raiders in their storied history. While the team wasn’t good (they finished 4-12), Woodson was reborn in Oakland and played all but 7 snaps on defense. He also took on the role of leader and began to show younger Oakland players what it meant to be a Raider. This would be especially important heading into the 2014 season with the next two players on our list being drafted in the first and second rounds.
Khalil Mack was taken fifth overall in the first round of the 2014 draft. Since joining the Raiders, Mack has been a dominant defensive player at both linebacker and defensive end. He’s the only player in NFL history to be named to the All-Pro First Team at two positions in the same season. Mack has become the leader of the defense, crediting Woodson for showing him how to take on that role. Mack will be entering his 5th year as Raider this season and is just now hitting his prime. Pretty impressive for a guy that was named Defensive Player of the Year in just his 3rd season, been to three Pro Bowls, and has two First-Team All-Pro selections. When his career as with the Raiders is over, he may be considered as the greatest defensive player they’ve ever had. Still a long way to go for that, though. Either way, it’s safe to say the Raiders nailed this pick.
Derek Carr is the one guy on this list that isn’t a round round selection. I’m including him because I truly believe he would have been a first rounder had Mack not been sitting there at number five in the same 2014 draft. General Manager Reggie McKenzie had Mack and Carr listed first and second on his board heading into that draft. Fortunately, Carr was still there on day two. Carr, a quarterback out of Fresno State, was selected in the second round with the 36th overall pick. The Raiders had been in desperate need of a franchise quarterback since Rich Gannon’s career was cut short by a neck injury early in the 2004 season.
Carr has been every bit of that since his rookie season. Carr won the starting job in the final pre-season game of his rookie year and has held on to it since. In just four years as the Raider QB, Carr has climbed to number 4 on the Raiders all time passing list with 14,690 yds, 103 TD’s, and 61.3 completion percentage. He is also the unquestioned heart and soul of the team. Like Mack, Carr was able to lean on Woodson to learn what it meant to not only be a leader, but to be a Raider. Assuming Carr can stay healthy, he will no doubt break every passing record in the Raiders book and add to his three Pro-Bowl selections.
With the 17th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, the Raiders went against the grain (something Al Davis was never afraid to do) and picked Florida State place kicker, Sebastian Janikowski. Known for his huge leg and a few off the field issues (including a bribing a police officeraccusation), “Jano” looked like the perfect Raider. With guys like Shaun Alexander and Chad Pennington still on the board, the pick seemed like a bit of a reach. There was also a quarterback drafted in the sixth round that turned out to be pretty decent. Ultimately, Janikowski would turn out to be exactly what the Raiders had hoped for, if not more. He spent 18 years as the Raiders place kicker amassing 1,799 points, shattering the Raiders record. In 2011 he tied the then NFL record long for a made field goal with a 63-yarder vs the Denver Broncos. He also holds eight NFL records including most 50+ yard FG’s with 55. Jano turned out to be as safe a bet as you can get in the first round.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, there has been far more bad than good over the last 20 years. The list includes names like safety Derrick Gibson, defensive end Tyler Brayton, safety Michael Huff, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, and cornerback DJ Hayden. All five were drafted in the first round. None of the five made even one Pro-Bowl. Not one. That’s a lot of wasted picks in a pretty short period of time.
There are three names that really stick out to me, though. Not just because they never lived up to the hype, but because franchise type players were left on the board. And it all happened in a four-year span.
We’ll start with the 2004 Draft where the Raiders held the number two overall selection. Robert Gallery was the “can’t miss guy” of the draft. He was rated as high as a player can be rated and was to be the anchor on the blind side of the offensive line. Gallery didn’t play left tackle until his third season in the league after spending his first two seasons as the Raiders right tackle. His tenure on the left side lasted all of 13 games. The can’t miss guy gave up 10.5 sacks in his short time. While his time at guard turned out to be more productive, he wasn’t drafted #2 overall to be an interior lineman. His inability to be an impact player was compounded by the fact that the Raiders passed on certain Hall of Famers like wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, quarterback Philip Rivers, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. In fairness, Gallery was expected by every scout in the NFL to be far greater than he was, but that doesn’t help anyone now.
Regarded as one the biggest bust in NFL draft history (you could argue for Ryan Leaf as well), Jamarcus Russell was selected number one overall by the Raiders in 2007. This pick didn’t make sense from day one.
There was a huge divide within Raider Nation on whether Russell was worthy of being the top pick. He could throw the ball 80 yards but lacked accuracy and work ethic. Several experts thought offensive tackle Joe Thomas was the sure bet as the top pick, but I think the Raiders were still suffering from the shell shock of the Gallery pick. Most fans I spoke to wanted to see Calvin Johnson, AKA Megatron, taken first. The Raiders even passed on taking Adrian Peterson, which looked like an even bigger whiff when they jumped on the chance to take Darren McFadden in the first round the following year.
As for Russell himself, he was a disaster from day one. He and the Raiders were unable to agree on a contract. Russell missed all of training camp as well as the first week of the 2007 season before finally agreeing to terms. He wouldn’t even see the field until December. Russell was lazy and often looked more like the offensive lineman that were protecting him than he did an NFL signal caller. When his short three-year career as a Raiders was finished, Russell had amassed a 7-18 record and passed for a pathetic 4,083 yards with 18 TD’s and 23 INT’s.
Believe it or not, Russell is not the biggest bust for the Raiders over the last 20 seasons. With the 23rd overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft the Raiders decided to take Fabian Washington, a 5-foot-11 cornerback out of Nebraska. It was a typical Al Davis pick. Washington was a combine freak posting a ridiculous 4.29 40-yard dash time. But he wasn’t a great defensive back. Certainly not worthy of a first round selection. Washington also had a “me first” attitude, and by his third season he was no longer a starter for the Raiders.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “how is he worse than Russell!?” Hear me out. As I’ve pointed out from the Raiders earlier mistakes, it’s not always the players you take, it’s the ones you don’t take. The Raiders starting quarterback at the time was a 33-year old, past his prime Kerry Collins. Their backup was Marques Tuiasosopo. They had no long-term plan for the quarterback of the future. Davis was so enamored with speed that he turned a blind eye to one of the best prospects in the draft. With the 24th pick, one pick after the Raiders took Washington, the Green Bay Packers drafted Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It’s this one mistake that, in my opinion, changed the Raiders fortunes for the next decade. Rodgers could have sat behind Collins for a year without being expected to be the guy right away. Raiders fans could have been watching Aaron Rodgers throwing to Calvin Johnson or handing off to Adrian Peterson. Instead they watched Aaron BROOKS throw to whomever was wearing the opposing jersey and saw Fabian Washington routinely get beat by every wide receiver in the league.
As bad as Russell was, there wasn’t a franchise quarterback sitting there in that 2007 draft that would have changed the fortunes of an entire franchise. Russell may be the worst player on this list, but because of the repercussions of drafting Washington and not drafting Rodgers, Fabian Washington is my number one draft bust of the last 20 Oakland Raiders seasons.
Sorry Fabian. Fair or not, you ruined an entire decade of Raiders football.
Let’s hope the return of Jon Gruden, the momentum of the Raiders on their way to their new home in Las Vegas, and the continued success of Reggie McKenzie mean the 2018 Draft – and the 10th overall pick – continue to change the momentum and see the Raiders draft a player who will begin and finish his career a Raider.
Oh, and make a few Pro Bowls now and then