The Oakland Raiders have not made the NFL playoffs since the team appeared in the Super Bowl following the 2002 season. Ranking the last 15 Raiders first round picks means looking at a lot of very high draft selections, as the team spent many of the years since their Super Bowl appearance with the worst record in the league. Team owner, Al Davis, during his career with the team, generally made the team’s draft selections, but in recent years, Davis had fallen in love with measurable statistics from the NFL Draft Combine. As a result of this, sometimes Davis would select players based on their combine numbers instead of whether or not they could actually play football.
The list of the last 15 Raiders first round picks means that there are some players on the list who are actually quality football players and some who were selected because they were great athletes who could run fast or who were very strong, but they were not very good players. The NFL Draft has been referred to as an inexact science and this list shows just how inexact the process has been for the Raiders, as there are as many studs as there are stinkers in the team’s last 15 first round picks.
15 JaMarcus Russell (2007)
The Raiders had the worst record in the NFL following the 2006 season and with Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter at QB, the Raiders needed help and felt that JaMarcus Russell could help immediately. The combination of Russell’s size and arm strength had experts believing that he could lead the Raiders back to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, no one accounted for Russell’s inability to adapt to the pro game and his struggles with his weight.
Russell held out of his rookie training camp while negotiating his contract and found himself down on the QB depth chart. As he worked his way into the lineup, his deficiencies began to show. Owner Al Davis insisted that he be named the starter, and because head coaches disagreed, Lane Kiffin lost his job and Tom Cable was at odds with the owner.
Russell was released by the Raiders after three seasons and he is generally considered as the biggest draft bust in NFL history.
14 Robert Gallery (2004)
Robert Gallery was selected second in the 2004 Draft, behind Eli Manning, and just ahead of Larry Fitzgerald and Philip Rivers. A few picks later in the draft, the Steelers selected Ben Roethlisberger, so there were several Hall of Fame-caliber players taken in the 2004 Draft, but the Raiders whiffed on this pick. Gallery came to the league after setting the high mark in the bench press at the NFL Draft Combine, so some believed that Al Davis selected Gallery because he was the strongest player in the draft.
Gallery gave up three sacks while starting at right tackle during his rookie season and then 3.5 sacks the next year. Strangely, he was moved to left tackle the next season and that year, he gave up 10.5 sacks. Gallery played the rest of his career as a guard, proving that he could not keep outside rushers away from his quarterbacks and he is generally considered one of the biggest offensive lineman draft busts in NFL history. With Fitzgerald, Rivers, Roethlisberger, Jonathan Vilma and others on the draft board, the selection of Gallery by Davis was a major head scratcher.
13 Fabian Washington (2005)
The drafting of Fabian Washington was another head scratcher for the Raiders and Al Davis, as the Raiders already boasted Nnamdi Asomugha and Charles Woodson at cornerback, and a quarterback tandem of Kerry Collins and Andrew Walter. Aaron Rodgers was selected immediately after Washington, which, given the construction of the team, is what is confusing. However, Washington posted the fastest time in the 40-yard dash, so Al Davis saw the speed and selected Washington.
Washington spent three seasons with the Raiders and, during those seasons, he was mildly productive but not enough to prevent the team from trading him after his third season. After three years in Baltimore, Washington was out of the league. His inability to find success in the NFL leaves Raiders fans wondering what might have been had the team drafted Aaron Rodgers instead of taking a player who seemed to have been selected only because he was fast.
12 Tyler Brayton (2003)
Tyler Brayton was the Raiders’ second first round selection in the 2003 Draft. The first was Nnamdi Asomugha (more on him later). The pick for Brayton was obtained when the Raiders traded Coach Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brayton made the team and was immediately inserted into the starting lineup, but his play was less than what the Raiders expected from a first round defensive end, even one selected at the end of the first round.
Brayton notched 2.5 sacks while starting all 16 games in his rookie season and .5 more sacks the following year. Brayton was removed from the starting lineup in his third year, and by his fourth season, Brayton was nothing more than a situational player. Brayton was released by the Raiders and had moderate success in Carolina. The legacy of Tyler Brayton suffers because he was selected in the same draft that produced All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha and the fact that he was playing for a team that had just competed in the Super Bowl.
11 Napoleon Harris (2002)
Napoleon Harris was the Raiders’ second pick in the 2002 Draft. The first was CB Phillip Buchanon (more on him shortly). Harris was selected immediately before future Hall of Fame Safety Ed Reed, 23rd overall, but at the time, the Raiders were the defending AFC West Champions, and Harris was a safe selection as the Raiders had few holes that year. Harris worked his way into the starting lineup as a rookie, made a few All-Rookie teams and wound up starting at Linebacker in the Super Bowl.
Harris had three productive years with the Raiders and that productivity made him a valuable asset, as at the end of his third season, Harris was traded to the Minnesota Vikings as part of the deal for Randy Moss. Harris’ production would slip after leaving Oakland and he would be out of the league a few years later. In hindsight, Ed Reed might have been a better long term selection, but Harris, while he was a Raider, did not disappoint.
10 Phillip Buchanon (2002)
Phillip Buchanon was the first of two first round picks in 2002 for the Raiders and made a name for himself right away with the Raiders. Buchanon played in a secondary that also featured Charles Woodson and Rod Woodson, and like his draft-mate Napoleon Harris, his play made him a valuable asset.
After three seasons in Oakland, where he amassed 11 interceptions in 36 games, Buchanon was traded to Houston for a pair of draft picks and Buchanon continued to be a productive player for a number of years. Buchanon’s selection gave the appearance of Owner Al Davis choosing another speedy player with no real talent, but Buchanon proved his naysayers wrong with his play.
Though Buchanon was only in Oakland for three seasons, he was one of the better first round selections since 2000, which is saying something for this franchise. He is ranked where he is on this list because he did not stay around long enough to make a real impact on the Raiders’ organization.
9 Darrius Heyward-Bey (2009)
Starting with the 2004 Draft, the Raiders, and in particular Al Davis, became more fascinated with measurables at the Scouting Combine than with actual football ability and Darrius Heyward-Bey (DHB) was the poster boy for those selections. DHB finished his junior season with only 42 receptions through 12 games, but chose to leave college for the NFL. DHB ran one of the fastest 40-yard dash times in the history of the combine and the Raiders selected him ahead of more polished receivers like Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt.
DHB started 11 games as a rookie, but only caught nine passes and had a number of dropped balls. His productivity increased slightly each successive season, but not to the level of an elite wide receiver and not to a level of a player who was selected 7th overall in the NFL Draft.
DHB would be cut after four seasons in Oakland and has now found a home in Pittsburgh with the Steelers. Heyward-Bay is undoubtedly very fast, but has never proven to be a quality WR.
8 Rolando McClain (2010)
Rolando McClain was a highly-touted and decorated player coming out of college. He was the University of Alabama’s Defensive MVP, won all of the national Linebacker Awards, and was a member of a National Championship team. McClain is also one of only two of the top nine players in the 2010 Draft to have not yet made the Pro Bowl, QB Sam Bradford being the other. However, while Bradford’s deficiencies are on the field, McClain’s are mostly off the field.
In his second season, McClain posted Pro Bowl-caliber numbers, but in his third, he was benched for a fourth round rookie due to “mental mistakes” and “incidents.” The “incidents” were mostly off-field issues, including McClain taking to Facebook asking to be traded. Over the next few seasons, McClain was cut by Oakland, signed by Baltimore, retired without ever playing a down in Baltimore, traded to Dallas, and suspended for a pair of substance abuse policy violations.
McClain came into the league with a ton of promise, but cannot seem to get out of his own way.
7 D.J. Hayden (2013)
Cornerback D.J. Hayden has the unique distinction of being the first Raiders first round selection after the passing of longtime owner Al Davis. As discussed, Davis had fallen in love with measurables at the scouting combine in his latter years and that led to many forgettable picks, but people also raised their eyebrows when GM Reggie McKenzie selected Hayden. The draft wasn’t seen as very deep, but the Raiders had a variety of needs and taking a cornerback ahead of a QB or a pass-rusher seemed strange.
Hayden came to the draft injured and many teams weren’t sure that he would be able to play, making his selection at number 12 even stranger. He also suffered an injury during his rookie season, but after he was fully healed, he has proven to be a decent players for the Raiders’ defense. Hayden is healthy and is playing well for the Raiders on defense, and McKenzie has been proven to have seen something that others seem to have missed.
6 Michael Huff (2006)
Michael Huff was a track star in college, and was selected during the Raiders’ Combine years, but Huff was different from the rest of the selections during that era because Huff was actually a quality football player. Huff won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back while in college and became a starter in the secondary during his rookie season. Though the Raiders endured some of their worst seasons with Huff on the roster, Huff gained a reputation as one of the league’s best defensive backs.
Following Huff’s fifth season in the league, he earned his only All-Pro selection, despite not being selected to the Pro Bowl. A few seasons later, Huff was switched to cornerback due to injuries and then was strangely cut from the team. Even more strange was the fact that within two seasons, Huff was out of the league and his career was over. Huff had speed, but he was a football player who was solid in Oakland, but couldn’t take his ability with him to other places.
5 Karl Joseph (2016)
Karl Joseph is the most recent draft pick on this list and he is ranked this high because he has already shown the promise that many of the other players on this list failed to show. Being selected in the top half of the draft usually comes with expectations that the player will be one who will help his team immediately and long into the future. As stated, drafting, especially in the NFL, is an inexact science, but Joseph has the look of a player who will be a stud for many years to come.
So far, he has shown an ability to play in coverage as well as playing well in space. Joseph is not extraordinarily fast, but he is quick enough to make plays and always seems to be near the ball. As long as Joseph continues to improve on what he has shown so far during his rookie season, Raider fans should be very happy with this selection.
4 Darren McFadden (2008)
Darren McFadden was a two-time Heisman runner-up in college and was a highly decorated running back. He was one of the fastest players at the combine and he came out of college with a ton of promise, so his selection did not seem like much of a reach, even at #4. The Raiders were thin at running back and McFadden was looked upon to help lead the team back to prominence, along with QB JaMarcus Russell, but it was not to be.
McFadden split time with a number of different backs during his time in Oakland and was never able to assert himself as the premier back on the roster. Injuries and inconsistency kept McFadden working in a running back by committee system and after seven seasons in Oakland, he would leave and would sign with Dallas, though he did manage one 1,000 yard season in Oakland. While he is still a serviceable back, Run DMC currently finds himself playing behind Ezekiel Elliot with the Cowboys.
3 Nnamdi Asomugha (2003)
Nnamdi Asomugha is the only early draft pick in this part of the list because he was the only player selected in the first round by the Raiders since Sebastian Janikowski was taken in 2000 that had any kind of significant impact on the franchise until the drafting of Khalil Mack in 2014. Asomugha was the Raiders’ best player during his eight seasons with the team. He was voted to the Pro Bowl three times, was a four-time All Pro selection, and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player on two occasions.
At the end of the 2010 season, Asomugha’s last with the Raiders, he was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s. Though he spent his last three seasons in the NFL playing for other teams, having left the Raiders as a free agent, in 2016, Asomugha was named by a football publication the best Raiders player of the past ten years and that assessment is probably true.
2 Amari Cooper (2015)
The Raiders’ 2014 Draft featured eight players who all made the opening-day roster, but the team only won three games that season. So when the Raiders made their selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, with the fourth pick, the Raiders selected wide receiver Amari Cooper. Having taken a quarterback with their second round pick the year before, GM Reggie McKenzie felt that his new quarterback needed a number-one receiver and Cooper has been that and then some.
During his rookie season, the only thing that Cooper did was have a 1,000 yard receiving season and make the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He also helped QB Derek Carr make the Pro Bowl for the first time, as the team placed 6 players in the game despite only winning 7 games that season.
Cooper is a huge reason for the Raiders’ continued improvement and this draft pick is one that the team will point to when the team’s turnaround is discussed.
1 Khalil Mack (2014)
Khalil Mack earned this position on the list with his play on the field and because of his impact to the Raiders and their improvement. It would seem a stretch to have a player with only two full years of experience to be the best player on a list such as this, but when that player is the first player ever to be voted first-team All Pro at two different positions in the same season, that player deserves every accolade that they receive. This list just adds to the recognition of how great Khalil Mack is as a player.
Mack has become a defensive force for the Raiders and has been compared to both J.J. Watt and Von Miller, placing Mack in some extremely lofty company. While he is still a young player, he is one of the leaders of the new-look Raiders, along with 2014 second round pick, QB Derek Carr. The Raiders and their fans are hoping for big things from All Pro DE/LB Khalil Mack.