May 122012
 

By Chris Hansen

People line up to declare the next Al Davis draft selection a bust because the Raiders are well known for draft blunders. These people point to a lack of football instincts in the players Al Davis drafts. They say things like, “He’s just a track star, he’s not a football player.”

Let me know if you can figure out what a saying like that means. It sounds good but means nothing. Can a track star not be good at football also? You don’t hear people say, “He’s a wrestler, he’s not a football player.”

Those same people turn around and say, “Speed kills.” What? So now speed is good in the NFL player? Yes, there is much more to being a good player than speed, but much of it depends on how smart the player is, how much they can learn and if they are dedicated. Are these traits not also desirable in a track star? Why does running track have to be a negative stereotype?

Some guys have more smarts, have learned more or have been more dedicated to football when they enter the NFL. This is the reason why some players will have instant success, but can be limited by their physical gifts Others take time to grow, but end up being better players. Good examples include Nnamdi Asomugha and Vernon Davis.

The buzzards were circling around Darren McFadden coming into 2010 and seven weeks later he is averaging more yards per game from scrimmage than any player in the NFL. Any person who watched a little bit of Darren McFadden tape saw a football player more than they saw a track star. Even though I don’t think McFadden ran track. So the focus shifts to someone else now that McFadden has fought off the buzzards with a sharp stick.

Once upon a time Nnamdi Asomugha was a bust. I even suggested the Raiders move him to safety right before his breakout season. It remains one of my worst calls. Everyone was quick to jump on Mike Mitchell, the super reach of the 2009 draft is making the Raiders look pretty good right now. If he keeps improving, Mitchell could make the Raiders look very good and restore some of the respect Al Davis has lost the last seven seasons.

Next up, Darrius Heyward-Bey. Track star? Check. Production? Not much. Years in the league? Two. Al Davis? Drafted him. Bust? People have been saying it since he was a rookie.

Heyward-Bey has a chance this Sunday to have a breakout game against a soft Seahawks secondary ranked 29th in the league while giving up an average of 261.3 yards per game.

With Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy out, Heyward-Bey is now the best option at receiver. That’s scary. He badly needs a breakout to fend off the vultures and the Raiders badly need a receiver to come through for them in a big game. The biggest game of the season to this point is Sunday. The Raiders are 3-4, looking for credibility, a .500 record and back-to-back victories before squaring off against the rival Chiefs, who happen to be in first place.

For the Smurfs, Jacoby Ford and Nick Miller, this is their first crack at receiver in the NFL. Basically, they are both rookies, even though Miller was on the roster last season.

Ford played second-fiddle to CJ Spiller at Clemson, but was the alternate offensive weapon. Ford may be making a bigger impact on the Raiders than Spiller is on the Bills, drafted three full rounds apart. Ford will start this week for the injured Murphy. He’s shown his speed can be deadly and that he can score if given space and few people will be talking bust for this ex-track star, since he was drafted in the fourth round.

Jared Veldheer, drafted in the third round has seized the starting left tackle position. If he plays anything like he did last week, Veldheer will lock the position down for good. How often can a team say they are starting a rookie third-round draft pick at left tackle and feel good about it? Not often.

Has anyone even suggested Rolando McClain will not be a good player? Smart, dedicated, learned a lot from Nick Saban before coming into the league. He’s a physical specimen. Now that he is getting comfortable he’s starting to make more plays. The Raiders and Raider Nation are very excited about the centerpiece of the defense.

Texas has really churned out some nice defensive players in the past few years and Lamarr Houston is next in line. He’s been disruptive at times and learning from Richard Seymour should help the 305-pound defensive end. He’s never going to be a sack extraordinaire, but like Seymour he can still have a significant impact on the game. He’s already a fine player.

Jeremy Ware and Bruce Campbell are seeing limited snaps and the Raiders are hopeful about their futures. Walter McFadden and Stevie Brown have varied rolls, but Brown is making an impact on special teams.

It’s far too early to make definitive statements, but it doesn’t seem like the Raiders have anything approaching a draft bust with their 2010 draft selections seven games into the season. With a little luck they will be able to say the same about the 2009 draft class.

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