Every Friday, Mel takes a look at the NFL through the prism of the draft.
Every year after I put out my draft grades, there's a mountain of email and comments saying the same thing: "Mel, you (insert adjective), you can't grade a draft for at least a few years!" But that's not true. You can't grade the success of the actual picks for a few years, but you can absolutely grade a draft. Let me explain:
A draft isn't just about who you picked, it's about when you picked him. If Jerry Jones bought Google stock at $5.00 and Mike Holmgren bought it at $50.00, they'd both be rich, but it's clear who played the market more adeptly. So when the Jags picked Tyson Alualu at No. 10, I didn't slam the player -- I praised Alualu often when he was at Cal, and I like his start in Jacksonville -- but I did question the ability of the Jags to maximize their draft. Taking a guy at No. 10 who they could have landed at picks 28 thru 38 could potentially have cost them a couple more picks. You can't just have a sense of who you want, you should have a sense of who other teams covet. It's called a draft, not "pick your favorite guy."
That's an important example when discussing the Raiders. I'm absolutely guilty when it comes to questioning the Raiders during the draft, but a lot of that is value-related. We've heard so many criticisms of Al Davis -- he's too old, he's out of touch, he's infatuated with physical talent, he believes in a deep-ball system that doesn't work, his drafting is wacky -- but people within that organization have told me that within the last few years, the old man has been as sharp as ever, particularly when it comes to his input on players. Really. And as you look at recent drafts and decisions, you'll see that Davis and the Raiders are experiencing a revival because of a keen eye for talent (if not a sense of maximizing their picks) and some solid personnel decisions and hires. Let's look at some keys.
The draft: Perhaps peaking with the pick of Darrius Heyward-Bey at No. 7 and Mike Mitchell in Round 2 in 2009, there's been a lot of criticism with how the Raiders have drafted. Again it's not the picks, it's that some of them could have been picked later. But in terms of picking starters, Davis and Co. have done well in the last few years, particularly in identifying talent in later rounds. The team will get slammed for taking JaMarcus Russell in 2007, but few saw what a trainwreck he would become. Look deeper at that draft. Zach Miller (Round 2) is currently the Raiders leading pass-catcher. Johnnie Lee Higgins and Michael Bush have become contributors as deep picks. In 2008, the team got Darren McFadden, who's living up to expectations now, but they were brilliant late in getting Tyvon Branch, Trevor Scott and Chaz Schilens. Aside from Heyward-Bey (starter) and Mitchell (starter), last year produced the solid Matt Shaughnessy and Louis Murphy. Four developing starters from one draft just a year removed is good work.
And 2010's draft has proven solid so far. There had been a joke going around the ESPN draft set after the Raiders picked Rolando McClain, Lamarr Houston and Jared Veldheer with their first three picks