Cue the cliché: The NFL draft is the biggest gamble in all of sports.
There is a reason why the above saying is uttered more than 1,000 times daily on sports talk radio – it’s true.
This is the time of year when Mel Kiper grabs the attention of the football world. Kiper is the Rain Man of the NFL draft. Toss out a name, any name, and Kiper will not hesitate to respond with a thoughtful analysis and critique of said NFL prospect. However, if Kiper were really that great at evaluating talent, he’d be employed by NFL general managers and not Disney.
Despite careful analysis, timely evaluating and professional perspective, Ryan Leaf still happens.
The only thing guaranteed on draft day is the amount of money players selected in the top 10 will receive. Here we find the Raiders, sitting at the number 7 spot, in one of the most uncertain drafts in recent memory.
In 2008, the New Orleans Saints selected a defensive tackle from USC by the name of Sedrick Ellis with the 7th overall pick in the draft. Never mind how he performed in his rookie year, by simply hearing his name called by Commissioner Goodell, Ellis earned a 5-year contract worth $49 million, $19.5 million of which is guaranteed.
Should the Raiders select Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji with the 7th overall, you’d better believe his agent is going to want Sedrick Ellis money, if not more.
I’m not here to say that Raji is not worth the price tag, but how do you know he truly is?
The NFL draft is a roll of the dice. No player is ever a “can’t miss” prospect as football is a sport where the unexpected is always expected. Don’t believe me though. Just ask fans in Dallas who knew they had a Super Bowl team in ’08 and fans in Miami who knew they had another top 10 pick coming their way before the season started.
Despite a fantastic ending to the 2008 season, Tom Cable knows the heavy lifting has just begun. The Oakland Raider defense needs immediate help in a multitude of areas. Perhaps the needs are too great to be dealt with in one off-season, let alone one draft.
The offense is in dire need of a play maker out wide. Many look to Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree as the solution. Again, I defer to the clichéd adage. Not only is Crabtree a gamble but he’s also going to command a heavy price tag if picked in the top 10.
Given the amount of money spent on a terrible crop of free agents in ’08 and all of the guaranteed cash endowed on unproven talent over the last few years, it would seem only logical for the Raider brass to take a more careful and cautious approach on April 25th.
No matter how great any prospect looks, there is not one player so good that his mere presence in Silver and Black will cure all that ails the Oakland Raiders.
This off-season has been about being precise and cautious. The Raiders have spent next to nothing on free agents instead choosing to invest in known commodities such as Nnamdi Asomugha and Shane Lechler.
Tom Cable’s football philosophy is based on building strength through competition. Therefore, it would seem to be in the spirit of Cable to trade down. Whenever a player is selected in the top 10 – with the exception of quarterbacks – they are expected to play immediately. Not many general managers will tolerate a player being paid more than $50 million to sit and learn. Perhaps Michael Huff’s career would have been much different had he not been selected number 7 overall. Not all players make a quick adjustment to the NFL, some require time. When a player is picked in the top 10, there is no time for waiting.
In the game of poker, it is always ideal to be in one of the late positions. You have the opportunity to study every move made before deciding how to play your cards. Every year in the draft, a player with plenty of potential will slip out of the top 10, allowing another team to get a great player at a lesser price. Randy Moss immediately comes to mind when thinking of this scenario.
In 2009, it would be in Oakland’s best interest to trade down. Selecting two players late in the first round would cost less than one in the top 10 and would give Tom Cable and his staff more options instead of betting it all on one player who comes with a bloated value.