By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Monday, April 28th, 2008 at 11:40 am in Oakland Raiders.
The smallest draft class in Raiders history had great measurables. Now all they have to do is measure up.
Everyone knows about the skills of running back Darren McFadden. UConn defensive Tyvon Branch was one of the fastest defensive backs at the combine. Wide receiver Arman Shields ran a sub- 4.4 40-yard dash, and was a warrior on three-cone drills and the like at the combine. Wide receiver Chaz Schillens was another size, speed projection with moderate production.
Defensive end Trevor Scott ran a 4.54 40-yard dash in his private workout.
These guys not only looked good getting off the bus, they got off it faster than most.
With just five members in the Class of ’08, the Raiders look to stock their roster for the rookie minicamp starting May 9, signing undrafted free agents. Teams will scramble for these guys, with the stone reality being that of all the undraftables the Raiders bring in, it’s possible none of them will make the 53-man roster.
You hope for a Barry Sims, Tommy Kelly or Chris Carr. Last year, the Raiders didn’t find a single undrafted free agent worthy of making a team coming off a 2-14 season.
So how did the Raiders fare this year?
Go ahead and give it your best guess, because that is all it is. Trash ‘em if you wish, give ‘em an A-plus, grades are meaningless and pointless until the players actually take the field.
It seems clear, however, that at least in Kiffin’s mind, putting together a team will be more difficult than it was last year because of free agency and the draft. It probably didn’t win Kiffin any points with Al Davis when he said it, but the coach allowed that the goal was to make it hard to determine the final 53. Last season, Kiffin said it wasn’t all that tough with the Raiders because they simply weren’t all that talented.
It was a classic Davis draft, but it’s up to Kiffin to fit the pieces together.
There remain huge question marks, as gifted starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell is little more than a glorified rookie. The defense still has to prove it can stop the run and looks to be at least one pass rusher short, unless you’re optimistic enough to see Scott as an instant impact player out of the Mid-America Conference.
But there is more talent on hand, with a head coach just getting back his sea legs as well as a defensive coordinator and several key assistants in the last year of their contracts.
There is also one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, although you could make the argument that a team with 19 wins over five years has no easy games.
A few notes and observations in the 22nd blog entry since Saturday morning:
– The rookie minicamp, which begins May 9, is not open to players with an accrued year of experience, according to offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.
That means even if Russell wanted to come, he couldn’t.
– Not so for Michael Bush, who spent the season on PUP and doesn’t have an accrued season. The drafting of McFadden had to be discouraging for Bush, with some projecting him as the Raiders feature back by 2009 or 2010. Now he’s fighting for scraps with Dominic Rhodes behind Justin Fargas and McFadden, providing Rhodes remains on the roster after accepting a cut in pay.
Bush is fully rehabbed, but the level of intrigue regarding his skill has changed in tone, judging from Kiffin’s off-hand reference to Bush Saturday.
“We’re kind of piled there with a number of really good running backs and guys coming back, including Michael Bush, who we really don’t know enough about yet,” Kiffin said.
The fact is Bush practiced for only a short period of time, during the season, when teams are looking for quickness and timing and not laying each other out. One sideline observer of the closed sessions thought he looked slow.
Still, some players look slow who actually are moving well. You never really know until they’re running from (or over) opponents during a game, and the Raiders never gave Bush that chance last year.
With Fargas’ running style, Bush can still be an injury away from playing time and will finally get the chance to show what he can do in training camp and the preseason.
The Raiders, by the way, didn’t overpay Fargas, and should he show signs of wear, Bush could still end up playing in tandem with McFadden.
– Ex-Raider personnel exec Mike Lombardi was floating the idea on the NFL Network that the New Orleans Saints might be interested in making a deal for LaMont Jordan, given Reggie Bush’s role as a change-of-pace back and the fact that Deuce McAllister is coming off a knee injury.
More likely would be the Saints simply waiting for Jordan to be cut and getting to him quickly with an offer far less than the $4.7 and $5 million salaries scheduled for 2008 and 2009.
– Most everything about McFadden’s skill set sounds fabulous, and perhaps it is. Just like it was supposed to be with Reggie Bush two years ago. In the draft, nothing is a sure thing.
– Good to know a single conversation with Tom Rathman has cleared McFadden’s fumbling problem at Arkansas, although I’m guessing the college coaches may have mentioned the same fundamentals a time or two. I like Rathman, but I doubt he’s the only running backs coach around who can teach backs how to carry a football.
– That said, fumbling can be cured. In his early training camps, Fargas was a frequent fumbler and now it isn’t an issue.
– Shields missed 10 games last season with a posterior cruciate ligament injury, but is in no way this year’s Michael Bush, a player who essentially lost his final year in college due to injury and was babied through training camp because of a badly broken leg.
Shields had great numbers at the combine and was shown running and jumping on the video presentation on NFL.com. He even wiped out on the field during one drill and popped right back up.
– Judging from the weight the Raiders gave the speed and strength workout numbers, I’m wondering who Oakland would have taken if someone had jumped up and selected McFadden before they had a chance.
I’m sticking with Vernon Gholston, given Kiffin’s assurances that Kelly is the Raiders’ three technique and that it didn’t make sense to take Glenn Dorsey, a natural three technique.
(I told you during my ill-fated mock draft I was sticking with Gholston and going down with the ship . . . glug, glug, glug)
– The trade of Fabian Washington was a dump job on a far smaller scale than the one that occurred last season when Randy Moss was dealt to the New England Patriots for a fourth-round pick.
Defensive back John Bowie became the man acquired for Moss, Shields came to the Raiders a year later at No. 125 in exchange for Washington.
Moss forced the Raiders hand through his insistence he wanted no part of the program. Washington nudged the Raiders to unload him based on his spotty play and general indifference.
In 2006, Washington might have been the Raiders best defender at training camp. He was all over the field, making plays. True, those plays were coming against the horribly inept offense of Tom Walsh and Art Shell, but I remember writing at the time it looked as if Washington was ready for a breakout year.
Instead, Nnamdi Asomugha was the one who blossomed while Washington ranged from below average to above average. He was nothing special at training camp last season and ended up losing his starting job to Stanford Routt.
Worse yet, it never really seemed to bother Washington. Even corners who deserve to be benched are usually proud enough to give at least a stiff upper lip and insist they are quality starters. Washington was fine with it, and seemed to coast through the season happy to be on the team and collect a paycheck.
He also wasn’t exactly what was advertised. His speed was undeniable, but Washington simply wasn’t physical enough to play the sort of press coverage the Raiders need. At one point, with a group of writers, Washington conceded he probably weighed 170 pounds and had never been 175 in his life. He was listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds.
Washington ends up as another Phillip Buchanon and Derrick Gibson on Oakland’s first-round defensive back scrap heap, except in Buchanon’s case, the Raiders manged to take Houston for second- and third-round draft picks.
– All the trade speculation was no more than a yearly tease. Jeremy Shockey, Jason Taylor and Chad Johnson (not to mention Michael Huff and Derrick Burgess) are all still with their respective teams. The Cowboys managed to complete a deal for penal code-challenged cornerback Pacman Jones.
– It’s only a mild surprise the Raiders didn’t draft any offensive linemen. They’re not looking for the same players as everyone else. The Raiders most consistent offensive lineman last season was right guard Cooper Carlisle. The Raiders got him as an unrestricted free agent last year with virtually no competition. He came from Denver, schooled in the zone blocking system.
– Once you get to the fourth round, everyone is a reach. That’s they they’re being drafted in the fourth round. So don’t even bother applying the “bust” tag to any player who has no better than a 60-40 chance to make the roster anyway. Once you get to the fifth round, sometimes you’re happy if they make the practice squad.
Johnnie Lee Higgins was getting glowing reviews a year ago. He may or may not be any better than Shields or Schillens. We’ll have a better idea in July.
– According to the University of Buffalo Web site questionaire filled out by football players, the three people Raiders’ draftee Scott would like to invite to dinner are The Rock, Mike Alstott and George W. Bush.
– Commissioner Roger Goodell, who pushed the idea of shortening the amount of time between rounds and making it more viewer friendly, should have made a unilateral decision Sunday to end the draft when a long-snapper was selected.
That would have been in the sixth round, No. 189, when Seattle took San Diego State long-snapper Tyler Schmitt.
– Either that or when the first person named “Pierre” was drafted. That was also in the sixth round, when Pierre Garcon, a wide receiver out of Mt. Union, was taken by Indianapolis at No. 205 overall.
– Remember how Davis made such a big deal over Kiffin’s recruiting acumen? Kiffin had been in the living rooms of the country’s top high school players, so in theory he had already done a great deal of background.
Ten USC players were drafted Saturday and Sunday. For the second straight year, none by the Raiders.
Chances are good there isn’t a single player drafted in the Class of ’08 that ever had Kiffin in his living room as a USC recruit. Kiffin said McFadden wasn’t recruited because they knew he wasn’t coming West.
None of the other four draftees _ Branch, Shields, Scott or Schilens, had the look of a USC recruit.