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Gil Brandt guarantees Raiders got one of biggest steals in 2014 draft

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Mark A. Cunningham

Usually when a team is considered as getting a "steal" in the draft, it's because they took a player who was considered by many to be a high round pick but who was available in the low rounds. The Raiders have been generally lauded for their picks in the first four rounds but those picks were pretty much expected to go within a round of where the Raiders chose them.

Former personnel exec and current NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt went deeper into the draft in his praise of the Raiders' picks. All the way to their last pick which was the final seventh round pick prior to the compensatory picks -- pick 247 and the selection of Western Kentucky safety, Jonathan Dowling.

Dennis Allen appeared on Brandt's radio show on Siriuis XM Wednesday night and Brandt led out the interview with his feelings on the Dowling selection.

"First of all, I'm gonna open this way; you ought to be put in jail for stealing," said Brandt. "You got Dowling in the seventh round and I guarantee you he'll be your special teams demon and will be a good safety for you."

That's high praise from Brandt. Dennis Allen, who was a defensive back in his playing days and was a defensive backs coach prior to going on to defensive coordinator and now head coach feels pretty good about the find as well.

Dowling was considered by some to be a mid-round talent. Brandt was clearly among those. Dowling flew a bit under the radar at Western Kentucky but he began his career as a 4-star recruit at Florida. He was kicked off the team as a freshman for skipping class and a confrontation with an assistant coach. This of course raises character concerns that have followed him ever since, but it appears at this point that incident acted as a wake-up call.

Following being drafted by the Raiders on Saturday, I asked Dowling about what happened at Florida.

"Florida was in my past. I don't really like to speak on it too much anymore.," said Dowling. "I had a great career at Western [Kentucky] and I'm ready to split my page and get this clean slate started with the Raiders giving me a chance to really become a brand new person. I want to show people the type of role model I can be and the type of person that I am. I want to learn how to be a pro. I've never been a pro before, so I'm ready to just learn how to be a pro and act like a pro. I'm ready to do things the right way."

For two seasons at WKU, he has done things "the right way." His first season there, he pulled down 6 interceptions, 7 passes defended, and 68 tackles (40 solo). He followed up those number by raising his totals in nearly every category. His solo tackles went from 40 to 55, his had an impressive 6 forced fumbles which was up from 2 a junior, and he equaled his passes defended total (7). The only area he didn't improve was in interceptions but then again, that is known to happen when offenses focus on throwing where you are not.

The 6-3, 200-pounder played free safety primarily at WKU though the Raiders and the NFL have listed him as a strong safety. But as Brandt said, his value may just lie in his special teams abilities.

Dowling was a very consistent tackler in college and his forced fumble numbers show he has a knack for dislodging the ball as well. He also has decent speed to get downfield as a possible gunner on coverage teams.

The seventh round is where many teams look for special teams aces. The Raiders began the seventh round by drafting T.J. Carrie to return punts and finished the seventh round drafting the guy who would be asked to track down the return man. Special teams are an often overlooked part of the game but when a team finds a good one, that player can be a difference maker. Brandt is pretty adamant about Dowling being that kind of player. The Raiders feel the same way so they made sure they didn't leave the draft without him.

His work, along with the rest of the Raiders rookies begins Friday as they take the field for rookie minicamp.