Dennis Allen & Reggie McKenzie's Drafts Are Bailing out the Sinking Raider Ship

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2013

MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 26:  Dennis Allen, head coach of the North squad, watches his team in a game against the South squad during the Senior Bowl at Ladd Peebles Stadium on January 26, 2013 in Mobile, Alabama.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

In October of 2011, the Oakland Raiders acquired unhappy quarterback Carson Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals (via New York Times) to fill in for an injured Jason Campbell. To acquire Palmer, then-coach Hue Jackson convinced owner Mark Davis to give up the Raiders' 2012 first-round pick, as well as this year's second.

Davis, incidentally, has said he pulled the trigger based on advice from Ron Wolf, John Madden and Ken Herock.

Whatever the path, it's not a stretch to say the move didn't work out all that well.

When current head coach Dennis Allen took over in 2012, he faced a tough task—rebuilding a team which had mortgaged its future.

Two drafts later—this year's with nearly a full complement of picks—has Allen done enough to reverse the damage of poor trades and decisions like the Palmer one?

While the jury is naturally still out, it's clear he's made some significant progress.

In the 2012 NFL draft, Allen and the Raiders were down to just two picks (plus three supplemental ones) after a string of decisions including the Palmer trade, a move up in the 2011 draft for Joe Barksdale (cut that season) and Taiwan Jones as well as the selection of Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft.

Despite that, Allen and his staff did a good job of picking players who would pan out. Of their six picks, five are still on the roster and the sixth—seventh-round outside linebacker Nathan Stupar—is still in the league, playing for the San Francisco 49ers.

Maybe there weren't any home runs but the Raiders got quality with every pick in a draft they couldn't afford a miss on.

The Raiders moved around more than a few times in this draft, acquiring multiple picks in the sixth round and shifting back in the first when they knew their guy was going to still be on the board.

What really stands out about this draft is that Allen (and GM Reggie McKenzie) were not content to take what came to them—they were bold with their decisions.

For example, they selected D.J. Hayden with Xavier Rhodes and Desmond Trufant on the board.

Hayden is a tremendous story, having overcome grave medical concerns stemming from a collision in practice last November which resulted in a torn vein near his heart.

As Frank Schwab at Yahoo! Sports put it in a recent article:

Hayden was historically unlucky and then lucky beyond belief, all in the same afternoon.

The injury to Hayden, which as Schwab points out was on a completely commonplace hit and has never been seen on the football field before, certainly gave more than one team pause.

It's not likely to happen again, but the ramifications of it were on the minds of teams, even as his draft stock was on the rise post-pro day workout.

Interestingly, while the pick has received some heat, many analysts had Hayden in the top 25 (and in the Greg Cosell mock draft linked above, he went to the Dolphins at 12, right where he went to the Raiders).

Lost of folks raised an eyebrow at this pick, but if he stays healthy—and every team cleared him —Hayden will be an excellent corner in a secondary in desperate need of one.

Offensive tackle Menelik Watson is another guy who showed this is not a staff afraid of going after what they want. Watson is an athletic player who is incredibly raw, having originally come to America to play basketball then finding his way to football in junior college.

The Raiders look like they'll toss him in at right tackle early—while the line played alright for parts of the year as a whole unit, aside from Jared Veldheer at left tackle and center Stefan Wisniewski, there's not a ton of upside (and that's ignoring Veldheer coming up on the end of his contract).

While traditionally right tackle is a position with a more gradual learning curve, Watson won't have a wide margin for error.

However, he only played one season at the FCS level and only two seasons altogether.

If the team can help him reach his potential though, he will be a tremendous tackle and likely stay on the right side for a long time.

Sio Moore and Tyler Wilson were both excellent value picks. Moore was solid his entire career at UCONN and is a very versatile player—someone who the Raiders and Allen can plug in and get a guy who can drop in to coverage as easily as he rushes the passer.

Wilson is a guy who has many analysts wondering whether Matt Flynn might lose his job to a guy named Wilson for a second straight year.

Analysts and teams both had a hard time ranking this class of quarterbacks and none of them are locks to be successful.

That said, more than a few writers had Wilson high on their boards. Could he be the hidden gem—maybe the tipping point—in the story of this rebuild?

Wilson is a very tough quarterback who will stay in the pocket and take a hit to deliver a ball—and he does so with great velocity and arm strength. That arm strength can make him a bit too confident (leading to interceptions) but overall the confidence is a plus.

While not a mobile quarterback in the Colin Kaepernick vein, he's no statue and can roll out of the pocket and throw on the run with ease.

One of the biggest issues the Raiders have had is a lack of a franchise quarterback. It's what led to overpaying for an aging Palmer in the first place.

If Allen and McKenzie hit on Wilson, it will change the whole complexion of the team. In fairness, if Matt Flynn excels as the quarterback, that would too, I just like the upside Wilson has more than I've ever liked Flynn's.

While the task is unfinished—not surprising given the monumental size of it—Allen and McKenzie have done an admirable job of turning things around in the last two drafts with very limited resources.

There is really only one need they haven't addressed over the past year or so, and it's one they really can't.

The team needs their fans to remain patient while the young core they are putting together learns and grows.

So far though, the coaching staff and front office seem to have things on the right track.


Andrew Garda is the former NFC North Lead Writer and a current NFL Analyst and video personality for Bleacher Report. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys and the NFL writer at You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.


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