Eight Days and Counting

The NFL Draft, a.k.a. Mel Kiper Jr. Day, is over eight days away at Radio City Music Hall in New York, and there is a consensus that LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell will be the “lucky” player chosen at the top of the draft class by the Oakland Raiders. Russell is an impressive athlete, complete with size, strength, and speed,
but if he’s taken by the Raiders, the bloom is going to come off the rose very quickly because of their swiss cheese-esque offensive line, which allowed seventy-two sacks last season. By the end of the season, incumbent quarterback Andrew Walter looked like either a punch-drunk boxer or, for you Pulse Wrestling fans, Terry Funk. Although the Raiders have many needs, it’s hard to tell whether or not quarterback is the most critical need.

The Raiders could take Wisconsin offensive lineman Joe Thomas, winner of the Outland Trophy for best interior offensive lineman or defensive lineman. Thomas could alleviate the pressure on Walter or whoever is under center next year (maybe Daunte Culpepper?) by just being a big body in the middle. Keeping the pressure off Walter could allow him to implement the vertical passing game not only owner Al Davis loves, but also resident malcontent wide receivers Randy Moss and Jerry Porter could love. That is, if Porter and Moss tune in and get involved. A big body in the middle also opens holes for former Indianapolis Colts running back Dominic Rhodes, who is looking to spark an anemic rushing game, led by Justin Fargas with 659 yards.

The Raiders, however, are still licking their wounds after taking lineman Robert Gallery out of Iowa with the second overall pick in 2004, passing on the likes of now St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. So, it’s understandable that the Raiders would be hesistant to draft another offensive lineman that high. But the beauty of having the number one overall pick in the draft is the leverage it brings – some team out there has a player in its sights and feels another team will sweep him out from under them.

For example, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, owners of the number four pick, are very high on Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has the potential to be the superstar offensive player the Bucs thought they were getting when they drafted running back Cadillac Williams out of Auburn in 2005. Since the Detroit Lions are ahead of them, there is an understandable fear that Johnson will not be on the board once Tampa goes on the clock. So, as reported by ESPN, Tampa Bay has floated the number four, thirty-five, sixty-four, and sixty-eight draft picks, their entire first day of draft picks, to Oakland for the number one overall pick.

If the Raiders have doubts at to who they will take, they should make a deal like that, assuming only the number one overall pick is given up. A trade of that magnitude would increase their total number of picks from the ten they already have, allowing them to address more of their needs in a way reminiscent of one of the model organizations when it comes to the draft, the New England Patriots. Increasing your late round picks increases your chances of drafting a diamond in the rough player, like New York Jets safety Kerry Rhodes (fourth round, 2005), New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston (seventh round, 2006), and, the mother of all late round picks, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000).

Eight days and counting for the Raiders. The Black Hole is starting to stir.