Oakland Raiders defensive back Lester Hayes (37) in action against the Philadelphia Eagles during Super Bowl XV
The NFL draft is quickly approaching. And with the Raider having no high picks this year, they are going to have to come away with a few "steals" late in the draft to come out winners on draft day.
The Raiders are most noted for their high picks that bust out of the NFL. In fact, the Raiders have had just one of their round one picks live up to his draft status in the past ten years and that was Nnamdi Asomugha-ten years ago.
But it hasn't always been that way. Every now and then Al Davis and company hit the jackpot in the lower rounds. Here is a list of some of the biggest draft day steals in Raider history. I thought about making it a top ten list, but then thought ‘ah, what the heck' and just put all the best with no regard to a specific arbitrary number limit attached.
Rod Martin LB USC: 12th Round 1977
I would call Rod Martin quite a draft day steal considering he was drafted in the very last round in the very first year of 12 rounds and he went on to help the Raiders win 2 Super Bowls at linebacker. He played all 14 years of his pro career for the Raiders. This included a stellar performance in Super Bowl XV against the Eagles. "The Eagles somehow felt they could exploit Rod Martin," veteran linebacker Ted Hendricks explained. "They decided to attack the right side of our defense, away from me. They tested Rod the whole game, and all they got out of it was three interceptions." If three interceptions in a Super Bowl doesn't put a guy in elite company, nothing will.
Lester Hayes DB Texas A&M: 5th Round 1977
That's right; both Rod Martin AND Lester Hayes in low rounds in 1977. The 5th round was not as big of a deal in ‘77 as it is today with all of the scouts and technology we have these days, but to get a player like Lester Hayes after nearly 5 rounds of teams had a shot at him is still a huge accomplishment. The "Stick-‘em" controversy aside, Hayes averaged 4 interceptions per season in his 10-year NFL career. This included 13 INT in the 1980 season, helping the Raiders win their 2nd Super Bowl. Those 13 interceptions tied him for 2nd place all-time for interceptions in a season. The only other player to do it was Dick "Night Train" Lane who set the NFL record of 14 interceptions in 1952. Hayes is tied with Willie Brown for the most career interceptions in Raider history with 39. In Super Bowl XVIII the combination of Hayes and Mike Haynes shut down the Redskins all day and held them to a single rushing TD for the whole game. Giving Hayes his 2nd Super Bowl ring and the Raiders their 3rd Super Bowl victory. Despite these accomplishments, somehow, Hayes continues to get the shaft from the Hall of Fame committee.
Greg Biekert LB, Colorado: 7th Round 1993
Biekert became the starting middle linebacker for the Raiders in just his 2nd year in the league. He was never the fastest or most physically gifted guy (which is likely why he slipped in the 7th round) but he was a heat seeking missile on the field. He was very smart and always seemed to be around the ball-- usually making the tackle, which is why he started all but 5 games in his entire 11-year career (last 2 with the Vikings) and had over 100 tackles nearly every season. The NFL had only 8 rounds in the draft that year before reducing to the current number (7) the year after. Biekert played well for the Raiders for 9 years which is more than one expects from a guy essentially selected in the last round of the draft. Hard to say he makes up for the Raiders drafting safety Patrick Bates in the first round that year but it does take a little of the sting away.
Grady Jackson DT Knoxville College: 6th Round 1997
Talk about a space eater... and everything else eater. Weighing in at a generously low 362lbs, Grady is... well... let's just say big. He played 13 years in the NFL, retiring after the 2009 season. Grady played 5 seasons for the Raiders and in his last season in Oakland (2001) he had 69 tackles. The year prior he had 8 sacks which is exceptional for a defensive tackle. Especially at his size. He has had some trouble staying healthy over the years but when he is healthy, he is a beast. In the 5 seasons he played all 16 games he averaged 50 tackles. And to think Darrell Russel was our 1st round pick that year. The only thing those two have in common is they both played DT. You couldn't find two more different character guys than Grady Jackson and Darrell Russel. Grady is from a large, poor, Southern family raised by a single mother and went to little known Knoxville College. He worked hard on a very long road to earn what he got. While Russel (what is it with Raiders with the last name Russel?) a crybaby (God rest his soul) who went to the University of Spoiled Children and chose to get high over having an NFL career. He was the number two overall pick and had tremendous talent and physical gifts and everything going for him and he squandered it.
Bo Jackson RB Auburn: 7th Round 1987
He was a first round draft pick in 1996 by the Buccaneers but opted to play baseball instead. The next season he was eligible for the draft again but, worried he would opt for a baseball career, no one drafted him until the Raiders took a chance on him in the 7th round. That decision paid off. Bo Jackson remains one of the greatest all-around athletes in sports history. He practically invented the two sport star. He defied gravity on baseball outfield fences and ran all over defenses in football. He holds the top 2 longest rushing plays in Raider history and 3 of the Raiders top 4 longest rushing plays: 88, 91 (the running into the tunnel "all the way to Tacoma" run) in 92. If his career had not ended prematurely, there is no telling what he could have accomplished, along with the Raiders.
LaRoi Glover DT San Diego State: 5th Round 1996
This was a steal in the draft but the catch is that the Raiders weren't the team that realized it. The unfortunate thing is that Glover's true potential was realized by another coaching staff. He appeared in two games as a rookie but was released before the following season and picked up by the Saints for whom he was a starter for five years including amassing 17 sacks in 2000. He later played for the Cowboys for 4 years and the Rams for three seasons, before retiring after the 2008 season. From 1998 to 2007, he played in and started all but four games. From 2000 to 2005 he made six straight Pro Bowls including one All Pro. In his 11 seasons as the full time starter, he averaged 50 tackles and nearly 8 sacks per season. Too bad none of those great years were with the Raiders. But they had their chance.
Marv Hubbard FB Colgate: 11th Round 1968
Hubbard played seven seasons for the Raiders and was named to the Pro Bowl three times. In the four seasons from 1971-74, he averaged nearly 1000 yards per season. His last year was the year just before the Raiders finally broke through for their first Super Bowl. Otherwise, he would have been far more well known among fans.
Roderick Coleman LB East Carolina: 5th Round 1999
Coleman played nine seasons in the NFL with the Raiders and Falcons. In the seven seasons between his rookie season and his injury plagued final season, he averaged 38 tackles and 8 sacks per season. He also (and most importantly) had 38 tackles and 11 sacks in the Raiders 2002 Super Bowl year. After five seasons with the Raiders, he finished his final four seasons in Atlanta. His first two seasons with the Falcons, he had 11.5 and 10.5 sacks respectively, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in the latter of those two seasons.
Eric Barton LB Maryland: 5th Round 1999
The Raiders really nailed it with their two round five picks in '99. They found a starting middle linebacker and defensive tackle (Rod Coleman) both in that round that year. Although, Barton's rise to starter wasn't immediate. It took until his third season in Oakland to earn a starting spot but when he got his chance, did he ever make the most of it. He had 125 tackles and 6 sacks in 2002 to help the Raiders win the AFC championship and followed it up with 132 tackles in ‘03 . In fact, in all but one season in which he was healthy and the starter, he had over 100 tackles. Not too shabby for a 5th round pick. Especially when you consider the Raiders drafted a scrub like Tony Bryant in the 2nd round that same year.
George Atkinson DB Morris Brown 7th Round 1968
I will preface this by saying, in 1968 there were 17 rounds to the draft which means a round seven pick was not technically "late" in the draft. But it was close and plus, Atkinson was the Raiders second pick in that round so I am making an exception. Atkinson shot out the gates to make the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons as a return man and defensive back. He would go on to an 10 year career with the Raiders, culminating in helping them win their first Super Bowl following the '76 season. He remains one of the favorite Raiders of all time as he is always in or around Raider events as well as a television personality for local Oakland Raider telecasts.
Shane Lechler P Texas A&M: 5th Round 2000
Ok so drafting a punter in the 5th round is not a steal by any means. Some might say for punters the 5th round is sort of like the 1st round. But Lechler is arguably the greatest punter in NFL history so I had to throw him in here. In the same year, the Raiders used their 1st round pick on a kicker too (Sebastian Janikowski).
Mervyn Fernandez WR San Jose St: 10th Round 1983
Now, putting Mervyn Fernandez on this list may be a reach but drafting him in the 10th round certainly wasn't. Mervyn really only had about four good seasons for the Raiders after all and he was drafted in 83 and didn't make the team until 87. He was a classic "hometown boy makes good" being that he was from Merced California and went to San Jose State (even though the Raiders were in L.A. at the time he was drafted). In just his 2nd season with the team he had over 800 yards (805) and averaged a whopping 26 yards a catch. Then the next season he had over a thousand yards receiving (1069). The following year he had over 800 yards again. He held the spot for Tim Brown until he was ready for his legendary career to take off.
Ronald Curry QB North Carolina: 7th Round 2002
Not only did Curry become a clutch possession receiver for this team but that classic leaping catch he made in the back of the end zone, reaching up, one handed, turning back behind him, in the snow, in Denver to beat them was pretty much the greatest catch I have ever witnessed. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. For becoming the receiver he became after nearly being drafted Mr Irrelevant certainly earns him a spot here. And speaking of Mr. Irrelevant, the Raiders' first pick of that same year was CB Phillip Buchannon so that means the top pick was one of the worst in Raider history and the very last was one of the best (relatively speaking).
Tyvon Branch SS Connecticut 4th Round 2008
Branch flew under the radar mainly because he wasn't a safety coming out of college. He was a cornerback... and he was fast. The Raiders saw his speed and his hitting ability and they saw their next safety. They traded up to get him in the fourth round and by his second season, he was the fulltime starter. He has never let go of the starting job even with the team grabbing Mike Mitchell in round two the year after. Branch has been the team's leading tackler each of his three seasons as starting strong safety. The Raiders placed the franchise tag on him this offseason and hope to sign him long term very soon.
Michael Bush RB Louisville 4thRound 2007
He was on the Heisman watch list heading into his senior season at Louisville but broke his leg early in the season and was lost for the year. The fracture was severe and it meant a long rehab stint. Without the broken leg, he would have been a surefire first round pick. But with the probability that he would have to sit out his entire rookie season, teams passed on him through the first three rounds. But come the beginning of the fourth round, Al Davis saw this future thoroughbred and took him. He did have to sit his first season out but come his second year, he was everything the Raiders had hoped he would be. He was fast, powerful, and most important, durable. The team needed his durability to spell the oft injured Darren McFadden. In relief of McFadden, Bush increased his rushing total every single season in the NFL, nearly reaching 1000 yards last season in just ten starts. He ran for 2642 yards with 21 touchdowns over four seasons in Silver and Black. He became a high priority free agent this offseason and joined the Chicago Bears.
Jacoby Ford WR Clemson 4th Round 2010
Ford may have only been in the league for two seasons but he has already shown his supreme athletic ability and nose for the ball. Midway through his rookie season, he burst onto the scene as the Raiders here when he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and had several amazing catches. He returned another kickoff for a touchdown last season although his overall numbers were down due to being out injured through most of 2011.
Denarius Moore WR Tennessee 5th Round 2011
It may seem early to call him a draft steal but with just one season in the NFL, Moore has already shown abilities far beyond a fifth round pick grade. He was one of the best rookie receivers in football last season and has emerged as the Raider number one receiver.