As NFL commissioner Roger Goodell strolled to the podium to announce which player the Oakland Raiders had selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft, the crowd hushed. The pundits covering the draft and fans across Raider Nation all expected owner Al Davis would select a wide receiver.
If you had read at least one mock draft, you knew the Raiders needed a receiver. Johnny Lee Higgins led all Raider receivers with a paltry 22 catches last season. If you know Al Davis, you know he covets speed.
So why was everyone so aghast was when the Raiders selected Darrius Heyward-Bey, the fastest clocked wide receiver (4.30 in the 40-yard dash) at this year’s NFL combine?
If you do not understand the answer, then you, like Al Davis, don’t understand the NFL draft.
Yes, the object of the draft is to acquire the highest player on your draft board. But you also have to understand where that player ranks on other teams draft boards and what the general consensus around the league is for that player.
Even if the Raiders felt Heyward-Bey was their guy, could they have traded down for additional draft picks and still drafted Heyward-Bey? Dallas Morning News NFL reporter Rick Gosselin had Heyward Bey listed number 20 on his draft board. Because the Jets moved up to get quarterback Mark Sanchez, no team had drafted a wide receiver in the six selections made prior to the Raiders' pick.
That meant the Raiders were going to be able to address their biggest team need with their choice of receivers in the draft. Its impossible to say with any real accuracy how other teams stack ranked the top receivers on their draft baord, but most had either super productive Michael Crabtree or return specialist and speedster Jeremy Maclin listed as the top two receiving prospects in the 2009 draft.
Most scouts covet production. In only two seasons as a Texas Tech Red Raider receiver, Crabtree won the Belitnikof Award twice, given to the nation’s best receiver. Crabtree broke the NCAA record with 231 catches in two years, including 13 consecutive games with a touchdown catch.
Maclin also knew how to find the end zone, scoring 32 times in only 28 games. Maclin’s return skills helped him become only the third player in NCAA history to average over 200 all-purpose yards (202.3) per contest during his career.
So what does those players' production have to do with the Raiders drafting Heward-Bey?
Because even if Hewyard-Bey was the only guy they wanted to draft, they could have dropped back in the middle or late first round, added at least one additonal draft pick, and still got the same exact guy they wanted anyway. And they wouldn’t have to pay him the top 10 first round money to boot.
And just in case you think there were not any interested parties in moving up the draft, consider this quote from Washington Redskins Executive Vice President Vinny Cerrato about landing defensive end Brian Orakpo from Texas:
“Sometimes you've got to be lucky in the draft, that the guy that you really covet falls to you. You know, I tried for an hour to move up to get the guy. Nobody would do it, and he fell to us."
Proving that they also are clueless on draft day, the Redskins didn’t even let the clock tick on their 13th selection. As soon as the Redskins were on the clock, they turned in their pick for Orakpo.
Even if the Redskins are absolutely sold on Orakpo, they could have spent the five minutes fielding calls to get an idea of what the market would bear to trade down. In that five minutes, who knows what they could have learned or been offered.
To be clear, I am not arguing that Maclin or Crabtree will be better then Heyward-Bey in the NFL, although Crabtree should be special. The argument is the Raiders could have acquired more draft picks and saved money in the salary cap by drafting their guy later, versus reaching with the seventh overall selection.