Raiders have lots of holes, options


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Jan 22, 2006
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Raiders have lots of holes, options
But Davis is playing it close to the vest, not hinting what he'll do with the No. 7 overall pick

By Steve Corkran

Numerous so-called experts already have weighed in on what the Raiders intend to do with their first selection in the NFL draft Saturday.

More will do so in the coming days. TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, no medium is without a take on the Raiders.

Texas quarterback Vince Young is the Raiders' primary target with the No. 7 selection, long-time draftnik Mel Kiper Jr. tells us. USC quarterback Matt Leinart is the choice, ESPN and The Sporting News insist. Wait a minute, it's Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk, North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams or Maryland tight end Vernon Davis, others say.

Make no mistake, no one outside of Raiders managing general partner Al Davis knows who he's decided upon with the first of his team's seven draft picks. Not even coach Art Shell knows for sure. Davis has been known to query coaches, scouts and other personnel before making a selection that flies contrary to the consensus.

Former Raiders coach Jon Gruden witnessed this phenomenon first-hand when he coached the Raiders from 1998-2001. Shock and astonishment only begin to describe Gruden's reaction when Davis decided upon kicker Sebastian Janikowski in the first round of the 2000 draft.

Last year, the Raiders owned the rights to the seventh pick overall and used it as part of a package to trade for wide receiver Randy Moss. They once again are dangling the No. 7 pick in an effort to make some offseason noise.

It's believed the Raiders can get as high as No. 2 -- the Houston Texans appear dead-set upon drafting USC running back Reggie Bush at No. 1 -- in a trade with the New Orleans Saints.

By doing so, the Raiders would be in position to choose from among Leinart, Young and Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler. Those three are considered the best available quarterback prospects.

"You can't look past Leinart's success," Gruden said of the player who won the 2004 Heisman Trophy and guided the Trojans to two national titles. "He's big, durable. He's been in a lot of lopsided games. Vince Young is a freak in what he can do. He's big, athletic, agile and can throw the ball well. You have to have a plan that suits him, which is part of coaching.

"The guy out of Vanderbilt is a great player, a creative guy. Man, he can run, throw. He's tough with a physical presence about him."

Maybe so, Shell said, but none are so good that he deserves to start as a rookie.

"What Cincinnati did with Carson Palmer was excellent," Shell said at the NFL owners meeting in Orlando last month. "What Tennessee did with Steve McNair, when they sat him down, was excellent. It gives those guys a chance to see what is going on, and to learn. If you bring in a young guy and throw him to the wolves, that's hard. Some guys can be broken that way."

In other words, veteran quarterback Aaron Brooks is the latest version of Kerry Collins, the short-term answer but not the long-term solution.

That is, if the Raiders get their way and at least one of the aforementioned quarterbacks is available when they select.

Oakland owns the rights to one selection in the first, second, third, fourth and sixth rounds, as well as two in the seventh, in the two-day, seven-round draft.

They could miss out on a top quarterback prospect but still acquire several players capable of making them a better team than the one that finished 4-12 last season.

For instance, the Raiders are in need of more depth at defensive tackle, with the loss of veterans Ted Washington and Ed Jasper to free agency. Finding someone to push incumbent strong safety Derrick Gibson for the starting spot is a priority, as well. Bringing in an infusion of talent on the offensive line is considered a necessity for a team that struggled from tackle to tackle last season.

The Raiders are also thin at linebacker beyond projected starters Sam Williams, Danny Clark and Kirk Morrison. Cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Renaldo Hill also left via free agency and need to be replaced.

A lot can change between now and the time the Raiders are required to make their first selection Saturday. Those who purport to have a pulse on the Raiders' thought process will attempt to keep people apprised. In the end, they'll be doing nothing more than what the Raiders and the league's 31 other teams will be doing this weekend: making educated guesses.
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