The draft is a tricky thing to predict and you can’t truly predict how a player is going to pan out until you’ve seen him in action – and even then it could go either way. Throughout the better part of the 2000s along with the early 2010s, the Oakland Raiders were one of the worst teams in the NFL. That had a lot to do with how poorly they drafted. Every draft pick is important but there’s a reason why teams place such an emphasis on first round picks. They’re expected to be stars right off the bat and lead your team in some regard. If you struggle with selecting talent in the first round then your team struggles, plain and simple
The Raiders had a penchant for physical specimens during the draft process. It seemed as though they valued raw ability rather than sill and intangibles when it came to draft picks. Ideally you try and get someone who has a bit of both. But simply going for every workout warrior you see isn’t going to help your team. Football is about a lot more than physical ability. It takes hard work and a certain dedication that some players don’t have or haven’t had to develop in their younger years due to their extraordinary talents. So how would the Raiders look if we re-drafted their last 15 first round draft picks? Let’s take a look and see what we can do.
15 Karl Joseph (2016)
Original Pick: Karl Joseph
Let’s kick things off with the Raiders’ latest first round draft pick. The 2016 Oakland Raiders were much improved from a year ago, and had they not lost their starting quarterback so close to the start of the playoffs would’ve probably made it much further on in the post season. While the offense definitely did shine this past season, the Raiders defense was a big part of why the team was so successful. Karl Joseph is still young but looks to be one of the NFL’s up-and-coming safeties. He adds a physical presence to the Raiders secondary and backs up his aggressive play with a nose for the ball. He didn’t exactly create that many turnovers in his rookie year but he looks like he’s got a knack for knowing where the ball is going to be during important plays, and that’s a good start.
14 Amari Cooper (2015)
Original Pick: Amari Cooper
We just recently went over the Raiders’ success on defense last season, so now let’s take a look at one of their stronger offensive stars. Oakland has had a history of drafting what are sometimes referred to as “combine warriors” – prospects with strong combine performances and good measurables. But as we’ve all seen before, that doesn’t equate to success in the NFL. Amari Cooper was a step away from this. He had a solid combine but what got him by was his talent rather than his mesurables. He’s one of the best young receivers in the league, running crisp routes and has one of the surest pairs of hands in the NFL right now. You can expect to see him in silver and black for a long time.
13 Khalil Mack (2014)
Original Pick: Khalil Mack
If you look at where the Raiders are now compared to where they were a few seasons ago, and you had to pinpoint the moment it all began to change, then you’d turn to the selection of Khalil Mack in 2014. Mack was a top prospect that year but was coming out of a relatively smaller school. There were some concerns over how he’d transition to the NFL’s talent level given what he was used to seeing in college. But Mack turned out great. Better than great in fact, as he’s now one of the best defenders in the league. Mack is a dominant force on the Raiders defensive line and serves as the team’s most disruptive force. His versatility, high motor and production over the last few years have made him one of the most valuable players in the league.
12 Le’Veon Bell (2013)
Original Pick: DJ Hayden
The selection of DJ Hayden here was a gamble that sadly didn’t pan out great for both sides. Hayden was a talented prospect, but injury concerns saw his draft stock fall. The Raiders chose him hoping his durability wouldn’t give out on him in the pros. Hayden had a hard time staying on the field as a Raider and wasn’t much of a contributor. Oakland could’ve picked up Le’Veon Bell in the same draft. Though Bell has had his own injury concerns, he’s one of the best in the league when healthy. A dynamic playmaker, Bell not only would’ve served as a punishing bruiser in the backfield but a reliable pass catcher as well. Imagine how scary the Raiders offense would be right now if they had Bell back there?
11 Devin McCourty (2010)
Original Pick: Rolando McClain
After finding some success as a Cowboy, you might think that changing the pick here from Rolando McClain to Devin McCourty doesn’t make that much sense. But McClain was an absolute train wreck with the Raiders. Performance and off the field issues made the selection one of the Raiders worst and ultimately damaged the team more than it did help them. If defensive leadership was what they were looking for then Devin McCourty would’ve been a much better choice. McCourty has been a presence on the Patriots defense for years and has shaped up as one of the league’s better safeties. While it wouldn’t have solved their run defense problem it would’ve definitely given them a more than serviceable player on the defensive side of the ball.
10 Michael Crabtree (2009)
Original Pick: Darrius Heyward-Bey
Another former Raider who was chosen higher than he should’ve been was Derrius Heyward-Bey. Heyward-Bey put up a crazy yard dash time prior to the draft, which pretty much guaranteed his name on the Raiders’ card that year. But speed can’t make up for an inability to run routs and soft hands. Rather than reaching for Heyward-Bey the Raiders should’ve gone with Michael Crabtree, who eventually ended up on their roster anyways. Crabtree is a great possession receiver and serves as a solid number two in the Raiders’ offense. He’s physical and can match up well with some of the taller defensive backs in the league. He would’ve offered Oakland a younger more explosive target in his earlier years.
9 Jerod Mayo (2008)
Original Pick: Darren McFadden
You’re going to see a lot of workout warriors on this list. McFadden is definitely one of those guys, but the tragic thing about Darren McFadden’s career is that he could’ve been a solid back had it not been for the injuries that plagued his career. We’ve talked about the Raiders and their feelings towards physically gifted players, had it not been for the injury bug biting so hard and so often, McFadden could’ve panned out great. Hindsight in mind, Oakland would have been better off taking Jerod Mayo that year. We know that Oakland’s run defense was pretty subpar at this time – one of the reason’s they drafted Rolando McClain was to fix this. So drafting Mayo here would address the issue early and give them a top inside linebacker for years to lead their defense.
8 Joe Thomas (2007)
Original Pick: JaMarcus Russell
If every GM in the league had known what we all know now about JaMarcus Russell then the guy would’ve slid all the way to the last day of the draftt, or even gone undrafted. Forget being the number one pick. But hindsight is 20/20 and so the Raiders selected the imploding passer without skipping a beat. The Russell pick damaged the franchise more than anything. One pick that would’ve benefited them greatly would’ve been the selection of Joe Thomas at number one. You could make the argument for Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson, but Joe Thomas has been one of the league’s best blindside blockers for a decade now. The position often goes underappreciated and the durability, strength and sheer talent Thomas brings to the table is too much to pass up.
7 Tamba Hali (2006)
Original Pick: Michael Huff
Michael Huff was in no way a bad pick here for the Raiders. He spent a good deal of his career in silver and black and was a solid safety. But you don’t use first round picks on solid players, you want a difference maker. Tamba Hali is one of the better pass rushers in the league, and though age is slowing him down a bit he still remains one of the better contemporary rushers we have. Nearly a decade before the Khalil Mack selection, Hali here would give the Raiders a fearsome pass rusher as well as a versatile end or outside linebacker. Huff at his best was good, but Hali at his best was dominant; and the Raiders needed a dominant player more so that a good player.
6 Aaron Rodgers (2005)
Original Pick: Fabian Washington
Fabian Washington was kind of a bust. He had a decent career but was hardly what you’d expect from a first round cornerback. What stings about this pick is that the Raiders chose a subpar player right before the Packers found their quarterback of the future in Aaron Rodgers. You can bet that the Raiders would’ve loved to have him on their team knowing what he would become. Aaron Rogers had the luxury of sitting and learning in Green Bay. It could have been the same in Oakland as the Raiders had Kerry Collins on the team at the time. Rodgers would’ve have learned from Collins the same way he learned from Favre. When the time was right, the Raiders would spring their young quarterback on the league and dominate.
5 Larry Fitzgerald (2004)
Original Pick: Robert Gallery
While it would make sense to give the Raiders one of the three great quarterbacks that came out of this draft class, seeing as we’ve given them Aaron Rodgers in 2005, let’s look at another great player to come out of the ’04 draft. Robert Gallery was a bust. That’s all there is to it. If the Raiders really did want to sure up their offense then going with a great young receiver like Larry Fitzgerald would’ve been the way to go. Fitzgerald is one of the best receivers to play the game. Imagining him in anything other than a Cardinals uniform might sound weird but you know he would’ve been dominant regardless of where he ended up. Just think of all those Rodgers-Fitzgerald connections that could have taken place in the end zone.
4 Nnamdi Asomugha (2003)
Original Pick: Nnamdi Asomugha
No change here as the Raiders got this one right. While you could say a lot about former Raider picks in the early 2000s – most of it bad – Nnamdi Asomugha is one of the rare great players. There was a period in time where Asomugha was one of the best corners in the league. Its guys like him and Darrelle Revis who popularized the shut down corner that every NFL team is in search for. Asomugha was pretty dominant during his time as a Raider. He gave the team a strong presence on his side of the ball and greatly limited what opposing number one receivers could do. Though he fell off after leaving Oakland, Asomugha was still a great Raider during his time.
3 Osi Umenyiora (2003)
Original Pick: Tyler Brayton
Few teams get consecutive first round picks to work with. While the Raiders hit gold with their first selection in the 2003 draft, they weren’t as lucky with their second. A second first round pick can be a blessing. But the Raiders failed to maximize on the opportunity. Tyler Brayton was an absolute bust in the NFL, there's no way to sugar coat that. He struggled with getting to the passer and never established his presence on the defensive line. In contrast to that Osi Umenyiora was a great defensive end in his time with the New York Giants. Taking Umenyiora here could’ve given the Raiders one of the better pass rushers of the 2000s and greatly improved the production they got out of that position at the time.
2 Ed Reed (2002)
Original Pick: Phillip Buchanon
Another athletic defensive back the Raiders chose who ended up a bust, Phillip Buchanon wasn’t much during his time as a Raider. Offering little in terms of coverage and run support, Buchanon was soon gone from the organization just a few years after he’d been selected. If the Raiders really wanted help in the secondary then going with Ed Reed here would’ve been the better choice. Reed developed into one of the best at his position and could play the pass along with the run as a physical defender. Imagine Reed in a Raiders uniform moving around the secondary alongside Charles Woodson. It would’ve been a feared unit that could’ve been dominant for the remainder of the decade and possibly helped the Raiders along to some Super Bowl success.
1 Andre Gurode (2002)
Original Pick: Napoleon Harris
Unlike the 2003 draft, the Raiders really didn’t do much with either of their first round picks. Buchanon was a bust, and so was Napoleon Harris. While the Raiders were likely searching for someone who would anchor their defense, they only got inconsistency in Harris. He wasn’t much of a defender in the league and bounced around a bit before retiring in 2009. Instead of going for an anchor on defense the Raiders could’ve gone for an anchor on the offensive line. Andre Gurode was a very underappreciated lineman for the Cowboys. His relatively short career is one reason as to why people seem to forget about him, but Gurode was a solid interior lineman. He could start at center or either guard position and while the pick wouldn’t blow you away, it would serve as the foundation for a better offensive line down the road.