The company line coming from the Raiders trade for linebacker Kamerion Wimbley was that it added a fourth first-round draft pick to their defense.
When they made the trade public, that fact was stressed to every media member because, well, I can only assume, that was by decree of Al Davis.
Davis loves talent. Big bodies, the fastest 40-yard dash times. Imposing physiques. He believed in a team looking good “coming off the bus” decades ago and he believes it still.
First-round draft picks look good coming off the bus, regardless of which team was doing the picking. So Davis has firmly believed in not only his own first-round picks, but those of other teams, signing them up whenever possible after having washed out elsewhere.
He’s had some successes in this regard. Jim Plunkett and John Matuszak come to mind immediately but there are others.
So it wasn’t at all surprising when Wimbley was talked up for being the No. 13 overall pick in the 2006 draft. He joined Michael Huff (No. 7, 2006), Nnamdi Asomugha (No. 31, 2003) and Richard Seymour, (No. 6, 2001 ) as first-round picks on the Raiders defense. They failed to mention, of course, that Gerard Warren was the No. 3 overall pick in 2001 _ three spots head of Seymour _ and that he was let go rather than forking over a roster bonus.
If the Raiders are imposing because of having four picks in the first round, how good would they be with eight?
It happened once, with none of the players being over 32 years of age.
That same year, the Raiders had 10 offensive players who had been first-round picks none over the age of 31.
That’s 18 players on a 53-man roster who were picked in the first round, and if Elias or ESPN or anyone else with a computer has come up with more on a single team, I’d love to hear about it.
NFL Films would still be rhapsodizing over the the abundance of talent had it not been for one thing _ the 1997 Raiders were 4-12 under Joe Bugel. On defense, the Raiders finished last in the NFL in rushing yardage allowed, and last in passing yardage allowed _ which when you think about it is one of the most remarkable defensive statistics in league history given a team’s inclination to keep running when the run is going well.
If only to serve as a reminder that claiming first-round draft picks doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, here’s a roll call of the 1997 Raiders and their first-round draft picks, including their age and overall selection:
S Eric Turner, 29, 3rd in 1991 by Cleveland
DT Russell Maryland, 28, 1st, 1991 by Dallas
DT Chester McGlockton, 28, 16th, 1992 by Raiders
DT-DE Darrell Russell, 21, 2nd, 1997 by Raiders
DE Anthony Smith, 30, 11th, 1990 by Raiders
DE Aundray Bruce, 31, 1st, 1998 by Atlanta
CB Terry McDaniel, 32, 9th, 1988 by Raiders
LB Rob Fredrickson, 26, 22nd, 1994 by Raiders
WR Desmond Howard, 27, 4th, 1992 by Washington
WR Tim Brown, 31, 6th, 1988 by Raiders
RB Harvey Williams, 30, 21st, 1991, by Kansas City
QB Jeff George, 30, 1st, 1990, by Indianapolis
RB Napoleon Kaufman, 24, 18th, 1995 by Raiders
T Lincoln Kennedy, 26, 9th, 1993 by Atlanta
QB David Klingler, 28, 6th, 1992 by Cincinnati
T Pat Harlow, 28, 11th, 1991 by New England
G Lester Holmes, 28, 19th, 1993 by Philadelphia
TE Ricky Dudley, 25, 9th, 1996 by Raiders
For what it’s worth eight of those players were gone right after the 1998 season or not long after it started _ George, Bruce, Fredkrickson, Holmes, Klingler, McDaniel, McGlockton and Smith.
In their place arrived a pair of first-round draftees _ Charles Woodson and Mo Collins _ while a third, defensive tackle Leon Bender, died of an epileptic seizure before training cap. Derek Brown, a former first-round pick of the New York Giants (14th overall in 1992) signed as a free agent.
Key roles in free agency were filled by undrafted defensive end James Harris, linebacker Richard Harvey, an 11th round pick, and Anthony Newman, a former second round pick. Eric Allen, a former fourth-round pick, came from New Orleans by trade.
Whether by plan or by accident, the Raiders, with Jon Gruden as coach and Bruce Allen as senior assistant, appeared to be selling Davis on the notion of filling roster spots by skill set compatible to systems of football rather than a first-round prototype.