Originally written on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 7/2/13
The NFL Draft is a spectacle for various reasons. At the draft, dreams are discovered, money is made, and the groundwork for the future of the NFL is laid out. But, all of that is minuscule in comparison to the entertainment supplied by each and every Oakland Raiders draft pick.  Building teams in the NFL is a lot like taking a test in middle school: you really have to try to fail. There are simple formulas to building a contending NFL team and with the right number of high draft picks, it should not take that long to turn a lackluster franchise into an elite one.  But, year after year, the Raiders ignore those formulas and instead try and formulate their own, which as their ten straight non-winning seasons prove, have not been too successful. Raiders fans like to blame all of their misfortune on the Tuck Rule incident in the 2001 playoffs, but in reality, most of their problems stem from the draft. From JaMarcus Russell, to Darrius Heyward-Bey, to using their first round pick in 2000 on Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland cannot seem to get it right. But no draft pick has proven to be more costly for the Raiders over the last ten years than the 2007 first overall pick. This was the pick used to take Russell, who did not take long to show the NFL what it looked like to squander a perfect opportunity. Well, I don't know if "perfect" is the best word to use when describing playing for the Raiders, but you get the point. No one is going to argue how badly Oakland missed with Russell, but what is overlooked is what the Raiders actually missed in that draft.  One of the best wide receivers, running backs, cornerbacks, and linebackers in the game went after Russell in the first round. Oakland could have had either Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, or  Darrelle Revis over an overweight underachiever. So, instead of leaving the job up to our imagination to envision what would have happened if the Oakland front office collectively had half a brain, I will explore each scenario to figure it out for you. What if the Oakland Raiders drafted Calvin Johnson? Johnson was drafted with the second overall pick by the Detroit Lions in 2007. But, what if Oakland decided to take the majorly hyped receiver number one overall? The Raiders would probably still have taken Darren McFadden with their fourth overall pick in 2008 because Matt Ryan went number three to the Falcons and there were no other worthy quarterbacks to be picked that high. But in 2009, everything would have been different.  Instead of taking Heyward-Bey with the seventh overall pick, they could have sured up their defense by drafting either B.J. Raji, Brian Cushing, or Brian Orakpo. Their other option would be reaching for Josh Freeman to fill their quarterback vacancy. He has shown promise during his career in Tampa Bay, but you would have to think matching him up with Johnson and McFadden would raise his play to another level. That offense would borderline elite and as they grew together, they could have had something really special in Oakland.  What if the Oakland Raiders drafted Adrian Peterson? Peterson was drafted with the number seven overall pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2007, but let's say the Raiders make him the number one overall pick. In 2008, they would stay away from McFadden and would have been able to go a couple different ways.  They would have been in a tough spot, considering their needs at number four overall, and trading down would definitely be a realistic option if they did not need McFadden. If they kept their pick at number four, they could go the defensive route by drafting Jerod Mayo, but there were a great deal of defensive busts drafted in the top-ten that year, so it would have been tough for the Raiders to get through that mine field unscathed.  Another option would be to reach for Joe Flacco, who was drafted at No. 18 by the Ravens. Back then, that would be unheard of, but after Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco proved that rookie quarterbacks can start right away and make a difference, in this day and age, it would not be too surprising to see someone like Flacco go as high as number four.  Let's say the Raiders do trade back and nab Flacco. That means that Flacco is behind center and Peterson is behind him. Now all they need is a wide receiver and that is where the 2009 draft comes into the picture. Unfortunately, Oakland would probably still take Heyward-Bey in this scenario over the largely more popular Michael Crabtree, defying all logic in the process.  But for the sake of argument, let's say the Raiders do make the educated pick and take Crabtree in 2009. That would mean their offense would be headed by Flacco, Peterson, and Crabtree. Again, that is a pretty deadly offense that would have made a major impact on the future.  What if the Oakland Raiders drafted Patrick Willis? Willis was taken by the San Francisco 49ers with the No. 11 overall pick. But, let's say Oakland decided to bolster their linebacking corps. with a dominant inside linebacker by taking Willis with the first pick. In the 2008 draft, taking McFadden is still probably their best realistic option. That is the defensive bust minefield draft and with Willis locked up, there is no point in taking that risk.  In 2009, reaching for Freeman is another option, but if I were in the Raiders front office, I would be enticed to make their defense one of the best in the league by either drafting B.J. Raji or Brian Orakpo, or even making their linebacker arsenal one of the best in the game by taking Brian Cushing. Nnamdi Asomugha, Willis, and Orakpo/Raji/Cushing would be extremely tough to score on. This team woud probably sign a receiver and quarterback through free agency and depending on their competence, become an instant playoff team.  What if the Oakland Raiders drafted Darrelle Revis? This is the most improbable scenario out of the four. The Raiders had the best cornerback in the league at the time in Asomugha and they drafted cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Stanford Routt in the first two rounds of 2005 and safety Michael Huff in 2006. But screw it; let's give Oakland the best secondary in the history of the game. The 2008 draft would again most likely result in the Raiders taking McFadden because their defense would be pretty solid with the fact that you could not throw on them at all and their offense would be lacking a weapon. McFadden would become that weapon.  In 2009, they could go the defensive route again with Orakpo/Raji/Cushing, but I think their best option would be to take Crabtree to pair with McFadden on the offensive side. Now, all this team would need is a quarterback and I have a feeling that most free agent quarterbacks would be aching to play on this team.  Which is the best scenario for Oakland? Now, from what we learned in Back To The Future, you cannot mess with the past because the future would be completely different. If the Raiders took other players, then their draft pick slots would have been different and they would have had different draft strategies. Also, hindsight makes us all look like geniuses, but this article was meant to look at best case scenarios only. And because of that, I came to a conclusion that I did not expect to make. The Raiders were put in some pretty poor draft scenarios that definitely would have made it difficult for any team to prosper. So, yes, taking Russell and Heyward-Bey did not help, but if they didn't take Russell, their best realistic quarterback options through the draft would have been Flacco and Freeman. And yes, that would have been better than taking Russell, but this is the best case scenario we are talking about, people. The point is that no matter what the Raiders did, in a realistic situation that does not include hindsight, they were set up to fail in every draft from 2007 to 2010.  As for the best scenario out of the four, I would have to go with the first one in which the Raiders take Calvin Johnson. That would leave Oakland with an offense consisting of Josh Freeman at quarterback, McFadden at running back, and Johnson at receiver. They would have to add free agents to sure up their front seven, but there is no doubt that this offense would be able to carry the team. Even if the Raiders drafted one of the best receivers of all time instead of one of the biggest busts of all time, they would still be a great deal of moves away from even making the playoffs. And that just brings us to the bigger picture when talking about Oakland's draft woes. They were always at the wrong place at the wrong time in the draft and have been paying for it since 2007. One day, they will collect a string of nice draft picks and become a factor in the NFL again, but until then, Raiders fans will remain like Ben Stiller in the end of Dodgeball, blaming a formality for all of their problems. By: Matt Levine Twitter: @Matt_TFJ
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