ALAMEDA, Calif. — For seven straight years starting in 2004, the Oakland Raiders had a top 10 pick in the NFL draft only to end up disappointed in the outcome.
Six botched selections and one misguided trade later, the results from those years add up to no playoff berths, no winning records, no Pro Bowl invitations and only oft-injured Darren McFadden left on the roster.
There were perceived safe picks like Robert Gallery in 2004 that never developed. There were reaches like Darrius Heyward-Bey in 2009 who failed to prove the critics wrong. Then there was JaMarcus Russell, perhaps the biggest draft bust ever with seven wins as a starter for his more than $39 million in salary.
The simplest explanation for a decade during which the Raiders lost the second-most games in the NFL is that late owner Al Davis lost his touch when it came to the draft.
“Al was an outstanding football man,” former Cowboys player personnel director and NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt said. “I think he knew as much as anyone in the National Football League. But in the last four or five years of his life, he slowed down. There wasn’t somebody there to take over or someone there to fight him when he wanted to take someone like Heyward-Bey.”
Now second-year general manager Reggie McKenzie gets his first crack at a premium pick in what will be one of the most important steps in a rebuilding process that has mostly featured the cutting of many of Davis’ previous draft picks and other prominent players in order to get a bloated salary cap in order for next season.
The Raiders hold the third pick in the draft Thursday night with glaring needs on both sides of the ball, most notably at pass rusher, offensive line, receiver and cornerback.
With so many holes, the philosophy for McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen will be finding the best player and avoiding the busts and disappointments that have done the Raiders in so often of late.
“It’s obvious that you like certain players more than others,” McKenzie said Tuesday. “You can go and ask every scout in the room and you’d probably get a favorite player that differs from the other. But that’s the fun part of this job is trying to get all those opinions and come to a common goal to choose one.”
From taking Gallery over Larry Fitzgerald in 2004 to the decision to draft Russell over Calvin Johnson in 2007 to the injuries that have limited 2008 first-rounder McFadden throughout his career to the ill-fated decision to value Heyward-Bey’s speed so much to take him ahead of Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin in 2009 to the disappointment of Rolando McClain in 2010, high picks have hurt more than helped the Raiders.
“You anticipate you’re going to get an immediate starter, and hopefully a Pro Bowl player,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “When that guy doesn’t pan out, A, you’ve got big money attributed to him at his position and, B, at some point you’ve got to backfill. So you’re paying double for one position and you get all out of whack and obviously the more you do that the more it affects your salary cap.”
McKenzie has released 2006 first-rounder Michael Huff, Heyward-Bey and McClain already this offseason and cut ties with two other players acquired for first-round picks in Richard Seymour and Carson Palmer. Those moves have added substantially to the “dead money” on the Raiders’ salary cap with more than one-third of available money this year being allocated to players no longer on the team.
McFadden and kicker Sebastian Janikowski are the only players among the team’s first-round picks still on the roster, tied with Chicago for the fewest in the NFL and far below the league average of 5.5 first-round picks sticking with teams.
Oakland also is without a second-round pick that went to Cincinnati in 2011 in the Palmer deal and a fifth-rounder dealt to Seattle in 2011 for departed linebacker Aaron Curry, making the rebuilding process even more difficult.
“It’s bad when you have salary cap problems,” Brandt said. “It’s really bad when you have salary cap problems and few draft picks.”
McKenzie’s first draft as general manager in Oakland was greatly hindered by a lack of high picks because of previous moves and the fact he didn’t have his own scouting department in place until after the draft. He didn’t make his first pick until 95th overall when he drafted offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom.
Bergstrom played only 10 percent of the offensive snaps as a rookie as he was unable to beat out struggling veterans Mike Brisiel and Cooper Carlisle.
Fourth-round pick Miles Burris made the biggest impact as the team’s starting linebacker but will have to compete to keep that job this season. Defensive linemen Christo Bilukidi and Jack Crawford played sparingly, receiver Juron Criner caught 16 passes and linebacker Nate Stupar was cut before the season.
“The guys I brought on board, there is a common denominator in that we know each other and we know what each other likes,” McKenzie said. “We know the type of player that it would take to not only to win, but to produce at each position.”