Last in a series reviewing Raiders’ draft classes since they returned to Oakland in 1995:
1/7_Michael Huff, S, Texas
2/38_Thomas Howard, LB, Texas-El Paso
3/69_Paul McQuistan, G, Weber State
4/101_Darnell Bing, LB, Southern California
6/176_Kevin Boothe, G, Cornell
7/214_Chris Morris, C, Michigan State
7/255_Kevin McMahan, WR, Maine
The top pick_Huff, an instant starter from Texas, started 16 games with no interceptions, no fumble recoveries and no forced fumbles. Yet he was solid in coverage against tight ends, an area of difficulty for the Raiders over the years. He also appeared to be an eyelash away from big plays on many occasions _ something he promises will be different this season.
Huff is still playing strong safety, with Stuart Schweigert at free safety. But there are questions as to whether his future is at that position. He said during fall minicamps he hoped to “bulk up” to 205 pounds, meaning that he probably played one of the league’s most physical positions at under 200 as a rookie.
Rob Ryan, Oakland’s blustery defensive coordinator, believes Huff will have his breakout year this season much as Nnamdi Asomugha did a year ago. Huff promises to take more chances and make more plays.
In terms of character, Huff stepped in and carried himself like a veteran starter from Day 1. Never a sign of immaturity.
Could have had_With speculation centering on the choice of a quarterback (JaMarcus Russell) with the top pick of the 2007 draft, people will be keeping score to see if Russell is superior to Matt Leinart (No. 10 by Arizona) and Jay Cutler (No. 11 by Denver).
Under the radar_With Houston’s DeMeco Ryans, Detroit’s Ernie Sims and Green Bay’s A.J. Hawk all enjoying stellar rookie seasons as linebackers, the Raiders’ Thomas Howard was barely noticed outside of Oakland. He was the fourth-leading tackler in the NFL among rookies _ behind the previously mentioned players _ and displayed the sideline-to-sideline playmaking ability which made him a second-round draft pick.
Howard was victimized occasionally by running backs in pass rushing, but not as often as Raiders outside linebackers in previous years. His speed should enable him to make even more progress in that regard.
Darnell Bing, a fourth-round pick from USC, was shifted from strong safety to linebacker but suffered a neck injury and was placed on injured reserve, missing the entire season. He will essentially be a rookie this season.
Changing of the guards_McQuistan was named the starting right guard not long after his arrival, with the organization touting him as a blend of Steve Wisniewski and Kevin Gogan. He was out after two games against the dominating fronts of San Diego and Baltimore in favor of Boothe. In December, McQuistan re-emerged as a starter, this time on the left side, and he finished out the season ahead of Barry Sims.
Sims was moved back to tackle, where he will compete against Robert Gallery on the left side. McQuistan worked at guard during voluntary minicamp, but is listed as a tackle on the club roster and could end up playing there. McQuistan was a left tackle at Weber State.
Draft bargains_Boothe started 14 games at right guard and is a favorite to remain a starter this season, with free agent acquisition Cooper Carlisle the other starter. Boothe struggled as did the offensive line as a whole, but on one play flattened San Diego nose tackle Jamal Williams _ prompting Williams to congratulate the rookie.
It was the sort of play in space the Raiders will need as they change from a man blocking scheme to more zone blocking and cut blocking under Tom Cable.