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Brian Hamilton: What will Al Davis do now?

With the first pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders select …

So, Raider Nation, who will it be?

Word is Al Davis is pondering two prospects for the first overall selection of the April 28-29 draft. And no doubt the names “Calvin Johnson” and “Jamarcus Russell” have crossed his mind many times.



But it’s hard to believe any of these mock drafts are really more than an exercise in futility. After all, who in the world actually knows what’s going on between the ears of Al Davis?

Gimme one sports writer who saw Lane Kiffin coming? Are we to believe there’s a columnist out there who had the lowdown on that one back in January, when Davis hired the 31-year-old Kiffin as his head coach?




That’s the thing about the Raiders, right now. No matter how logical it might seem for them to select one of the aforementioned talents, it’s certainly not beyond Davis to try to catch everyone off guard.

Few would argue that the Raiders need an offensive infusion. Finishing last in NFL total offense and scoring – Oakland’s “O” scored all of 16 touchdowns and averaged a league low 10.5 points per game – makes it pretty clear which side of the ball needs the most help.

But where to get it?

Johnson, a Georgia Tech product, is the rare physical specimen at wide receiver. At 6 feet, 5 inches and 235 pounds, he’s drawn comparisons with Terrell Owens in terms of his physical stature and big play ability. (For his sake, let’s hope the comparison ends there.) Most draft experts consider Johnson a “can’t miss” player, the type of proven talent that can save an organization the embarrassment of blowing the overall first pick of the draft with a bust.

If the Raiders chose Johnson, he would join the ranks of an already talented receiving corps headlined by Randy Moss. But if the Raiders were to make that move, the question for Johnson would be the same Moss faced last season: Who’s going to get him the ball?

Andrew Walter appears to be the Raiders’ starting quarterback on the current depth chart only, as everyone under the sun predicts Oakland will either draft a quarterback or pick one up off the free agent market.

If Davis decides to go with Russell, LSU’s 6-6, 260 behemoth quarterback, he knows he’s likely getting the strongest arm in the draft. (And we all know how much Al loves to go “vertical” with the passing game).

And Davis also knows Russell beat the other top quarterback candidate, Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn, in a 41-14 rout of the Irish in the Sugar Bowl. (Russell completed 21 of 34 passes for 332 yards to Quinn’s 15-for-35, 148-yard performance).

But the truth of the matter is that the ability to throw the deep ball is one of the most overrated talents attributed to quarterbacks. Think about it Raiders fans, with whom did you win more: cannon-armed Kerry Collins or dink-and-dunk Rich Gannon (aka: 2002 NFL MVP)?

While I know Russell has “huge upside,” I think – and, yes, I love the Irish – Quinn is more ready to step in and help a team right away.

And for proof, I point only to his college coach who helped dramatically increase his passing numbers in his junior and senior seasons. We all know what Charlie Weis did with a sixth-round pick out of Michigan with a marginal right arm. And, by the way, when’s the last time you saw Tom Brady throw the deep ball? (Sorry to bring up Tom Brady, Raider Nation. I know. You’re still having nightmares over “the tuck rule.”)

Either way the Raiders may go at quarterback, however, the question for Russell or Quinn would be the same Walter faced last season: How are going to throw the ball while lying on your back?

Clearly, after leading the league in allowing 72 quarterback sacks in 2006, Oakland’s offensive line was the cracked foundation on which last season collapsed. Walter was sacked 46 times, while the departed Aaron Brooks was brought down for 26 sacks.

I’d say Oakland ought to trade the top pick to move down and obtain multiple picks to improve their porous offensive front, but the reality of looking at the Raiders’ recent history in drafting offensive linemen means that might not be a good idea.

In 2004, the Raiders used the second overall pick to draft Robert Gallery, the 6-7, 325-pound left tackle so often seen saying “olé” as defensive ends and linebackers hammered his quarterbacks last fall.

Three other starters on the Raiders offensive line depth chart – Kevin Boothe, Jake Grove and Paul McQuistan – were also drafted in the past three years.

No matter which player the Raiders draft with the overall pick, it isn’t likely a 2-14 team will see a dramatic turnaround due a top rookie’s performance (especially under the guidance of a 31-year-old rookie coach).

So what’s an owner to do?

You’re guess is as good as mine, especially when you’re trying to figure out what Al Davis is likely to do.

Maybe Oakland’s quarterbacks were just feeling some growing pains of what will be a solid group of linemen down the road.

Maybe Andrew Walter is a much better quarterback than the three touchdowns and 13 interceptions he threw from his backside last season.

Maybe another receiver is just what the Raiders need.

And maybe, just maybe, Al Davis is still the genius judge of talent he used to be.

Or, more than likely, maybe not.

ooo

Speaking of the NFL Draft, be sure to catch our story with former Nevada Union and current Green Bay Packer linebacker Spencer Havner in Monday’s edition of The Union.

After a stellar four-year career at UCLA and after sitting through a tortuous two days of the 2006 NFL Draft, in which his name was never called, Havner is now fighting for a roster spot with one of the league’s proudest franchises.

Havner, who is in Green Bay preparing for mini-camp in May, shares his first-year experiences of life in the NFL with The Union readers on Monday’s front page.

Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column appears Saturdays. Submit your sports items to him via e-mail at brianh@theunion.com, by fax at 477-4244, by phone at 477-4240 or by stopping by The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley.


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