For Al Davis this time of year is like Christmas. Except instead of boxes wrapped in colorful paper, the foot of his tree is littered with cornerbacks, wide receivers and all sorts of other skilled positions with sub 4.3-second potential.
Yes, there are no secrets. Whenever a player gets into his stance to run 40 yards he’s only 4 seconds and some change away from having his name called on draft day when the Oakland Raiders are on the clock.
While Al’s obsession with speed is well documented, the ability of both he and his staff to unearth gems has been quietly overlooked.
In recent years the Raiders have had a lot of success drafting. Darrius Heyward-Bey notwithstanding, the last few drafts have yielded some serious NFL talent. Also, you’ll have to make one slight allowance for a certain oversized QB no longer in the league for this argument to work. But hey, nobody’s perfect.
Had DHB not blazed a 4.30 in the dash, he’d most likely have been a mid to late first round pick as many anticipated. Instead, he ran faster than any other man at the combine and the rest is – thus far – overpaid history.
Quiet as kept, the Raiders did well for themselves outside of the Heyward-Bey debacle. Even more questionable than the DHB pick was the moment Michael Mitchell’s name was uttered in the second round. While he’s no All-Pro, Mitchell is rounding into a fine NFL safety with a good chance at being a starter in 2011.
But let’s not just talk about the first two rounds. In the NFL draft you’ve got go deep.
How about getting the likes of Louis Murphy, Tyvon Branch, Jacoby Ford and Michael Bush in the fourth round of their respective drafts? Ford was also seen as another stopwatch special when he ran the fastest time at last year’s combine. Flash forward to his rookie season and Ford emerged as one of the most dynamic young playmakers in the NFL contributing in big ways as a returner and receiver.
While most only seed the 40 time, Davis sees guys who can play the game too.
But Al’s picks aren’t limited to the skilled positions on the edges. He’s found some nice talent in the trenches too.
Lamarr Houston should be a fixture on the defensive line for years to come in the East Bay. Meanwhile Jared Veldheer emerged as a legit left tackle in an ever improving rookie campaign. Many see Matt Shaughnessy as potential Pro-Bowler while Trevor Scott has found ways to contribute each year he’s been in the league.
What is most impressive of all is how much the Raiders have relied on their young talent in recent years. With the exception of Bruce Campbell, every player drafted last year contributed in some meaningful way as a rookie in 2010.
So, the question is who will emerge in 2011?
With the combine mere hours away from opening its doors, we’ll just have to wait and see. There is little doubt the fastest man will be on Al’s radar. That is a given. But just who will become the next rookie contributor is a fact that will remain to be seen. Make no mistake, it is a fact that the next rookie class will be asked to contribute immediately. You can bet Al’s stopwatch on that.