B.J. Raji and Ron Brace: The two that got away

After the 2009 NFL draft, most of the debate centered on the Oakland Raiders selecting Darrius Heyward-Bey over Michael Crabtree.

The pundits had a field day lampooning the misguided Raider front office as it appeared that Al Davis had once again restocked the cooler of Haterade in Bristol, Connecticut.


Raiders missed out on Raji

In the long run, taking DHB over Crabtree could prove to be a moot point. Neither the 49ers, who selected Crabtree, nor the Raiders are a receiver away from contending. Mike Singletary has already nearly brought the former Texas Tech stud to tears in an OTA and Heyward-Bey’s hamstring is looking like the 2009 edition of Darren McFadden’s turf toes.

Where the Raider Haters worldwide missed the boat on draft day were the two opportunities the Silver and Black had to attempt to fix the true Achilles’ heel of the past six years; the run defense.

With the decision to draft DHB when the best defensive tackle in the draft, B.J. Raji, was on the board, the message was clear. Al Davis wasn’t going to commit $20 million to a rookie defensive lineman. Heyward-Bey’s name was called and the first chance to select a run stopper went by the wayside. The Green Bay Packers, also a team in need of better run support, took Raji at #9.

By the start of the second round, yet another chance to get a solid defensive tackle presented itself. Raji’s Boston College teammate Ron Brace was on the board. This time, the Raiders deferred instead opting to trade with the New England Patriots. (Note to Al Davis, stop trading with the Pats! Ok, so the Doug Gabriel deal was a wash, but the Randy Moss move nearly gifted the Hoodie a big piece of history were it not for the stickum on David Tyree’s helmet)

The Raiders, seeking to add draft picks, swapped second round picks with the Pats and gained an addition pick in the 6th round. Of course, New England moved up to take Ron Brace while the Raiders slid back to grab the surprise of the draft, safety Michael Mitchell.

That pick in the 6th round from New England was used to select Missouri defensive end Stryker Sulak. The now infamously waived prior to training camp Stryker Sulak.

Letting go of Sulak is not as big a deal as many are making it out to be. His chances of making the squad were slim after a failed attempt to convert the pass rusher into an outside linebacker. He was not going to unseat any of the other ends in front of him, including third round choice Matt Shaughnessy. In a lot of ways, the Raiders did Sulak a favor by giving him enough time to line up another suitor.

6th round picks are a gamble and very few make it through three years of pro football. There are always exceptions but this was a numbers game.

After it is all said and done, the 2009 season could very well be defined by the draft. With two chances to get invaluable help against the run, the Raiders chose to try their luck elsewhere.

DHB might be able to stretch the field for JaMarcus Russell, but that means little if the opposition is consuming the clock by pounding the rock.

A recipe for disaster might have been created by constructing a big play offense who might not keep the ball long enough to save a drowning defense that might not be good enough to get off the field on rushing downs.

The last time the Raiders selected a defensive tackle higher than the 6th round was in 2000 when Arizona State’s Junior Ioane was picked in round 4. In fact, in the last eight years only two defensive tackles have been drafted by the Raiders – Anttaj Hawthore (2005) and Chris Cooper (2001).

Many will debate Crabtree or DHB, the truth is that the real discussion point is DHB and Mitchell over Raji and Brace. Unless John Marshall is a miracle worker, it seems like this could be the talking point for the next six years.

There is no guarantee that either Raji or Brace will pan out. However, drafting either would have been much better than what the Raiders have done thus far to address their woeful run defense, which has been to do nothing at all except to change the rug when there is clearly a hole in the ceiling.


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Tags: Al Davis, Oakland Raiders, Raider Nation, Fans, Popular, Featured Anttaj Hawthorne B.J. Raji Chris Cooper Darren McFadden Darrius Heyward-Bey David Tyree Doug Gabriel JaMarcus Russell John Marshall Junior Ioane Matt Shaughnessy Michael Crabtree Michael Mitchell Mike Singletary Randy Moss Ron Brace Stryker Sulak

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