After letting the three-day draft marinate for several hours, here’s what I come up with concerning the Raiders’ Class of 2011:
The most important adjustment Al Davis has made the past two years is in heeding information about a player’s desire and level of commitment to go along with the physical attributes that will always be a big part of the way he selects players.
Davis still wants the Raiders to look good coming off the bus. It’s just that now he wants them to look good while carrying their playbooks.
The Raiders will still miss on occasion, something that happens to every team in the NFL. But at least they’ll miss on someone who appears to care. Say what you want about 2009 first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey and second-round selection Mike Mitchell, but any failure to become a frontline NFL player won’t be because they were lacking in desire.
It seemed to be a common theme among this year’s class, from center Stefen Wisniewski right on through receiver David Ausberry _ the talent to contribute and a willingness to work for it. Cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, tackle Joe Barksdale and running back Taiwan Jones, as well as Wiz II, all had an appealing humbleness about them that indicated they were taking their team and their sport very seriously. The same goes for cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, available by conference call.
It was a trait that ran through last year’s celebrated draft class as well. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain could be a bit quirky, but there seemed to be no doubting his willingness to learn and grow in the mental part of the game. Lemarr Houston, Jared Veldheer, Jacoby Ford, Bruce Campbell, Walter McFadden, Travis Goethel, Jeremy Ware, Stevie Brown . . . all appeared to have a grasp on the challenge ahead as it pertained to work ethic and attitude.
That hasn’t always been the case. Maybe it was the legendary indifference of JaMarcus Russell that caused this shift in philosophy, but there were plenty of examples preceding Russell.
Fabian Washington, the first-round pick in 2005, admitted after being traded to Baltimore he was immature and didn’t grasp the concept of being a professional in Oakland.
Going back to 2002 and 2003, I can think of three players who weren’t bad guys but came to the Raiders and conducted themselves as if they had everything figured out _ tight end Teyo Johnson (2003), cornerback Phillip Buchanon (2002) and linebacker Napoleon Harris (2002), the latter two first-round draft picks.
Second-overall pick Darrell Russell arrived in 1997 with a reputation of taking plays off and not being entirely serious about his profession. They got a couple of Pro Bowl years out of Russell, but if a Russell-like player came out now, you wonder if the Raiders would take a pass.
The Raiders traded up twice in 1996 to take tight end Rickey Dudley, who caught 29 touchdown passes in five seasons but never achieved the stardom his skill set seemed to warrant. Dudley wasn’t a head case or a slacker. But after doing a profile on him dating back to his days in high school, it was clear Dudley’s first love was basketball and he admitted as much.
Dudley liked football and appreciated the opportunity, but he loved basketball. It was his passion.
I asked Hue Jackson if there were players taken off the board regardless of their skill set based on red flags gathered through an interview or research.
“There’s no question,” Jackson said. “Obviously the measureables are important. We want the guy to be as big as he can be, as agile as he can be, as fast as he can be. But at the end of the day, he’s got to want to play football. And that’s what it comes down to.
“You’ve got to like the toughness, the physical nature of this sport, and if you don’t do that, you can’t be successful in this league.”
Is combine flash Van Dyke a reach in the third round? Perhaps. He’s alarmingly thin as well, with legs that look like pencils. Rod Woodson signed off on him, however, and that should count for something.
Taiwan Jones, the fourth-round pick, also comes off as earnest and sincere. He’ll be fine about his role and isn’t going to be demanding the ball any time soon. Considering Darren McFadden’s injury history and Jackson’s love for running the ball, Jones could come along sooner than expected.
As for physical “freaks” such as tight end Richard Gordon and Ausberry, taking a calculated risk on a superior athlete is simply the Raider way. The difference is now they’re taking a closer look at the heart to go along with the body.