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ALAMEDA

The NFL college draft is always a gamble but Saturday the Oakland Raiders made playing the lottery a sure thing in comparison. In the most remarkable display of either penetrating insight or abject stupidity, and the charitable pick is the latter, the Raiders with the seventh overall pick in the draft chose a wide receiver who was second on his college team in touchdowns.

Darrius Heyward-Bey was an honorable mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference, making Heyward-Bey at least the seventh-best pass receiver in a second-tier college football conference.

So if you are asking yourself right now: ?Why didn?t the Raiders at least draft one of those six ACC wide receivers picked ahead of Heyward-Bey on that postseason honors team? ? that?s a fair question.

There?s a lot of fair questions to ask about the Raiders? first-round pick but none of them cut to the chase quicker, sum up the shock more tightly than this one: ?Have the Raiders clearly lost their ever-loving mind??

It?s not just that Heyward-Bey was the third-rated wide receiver in the draft or, at the very least, that five other players were rated higher when the Raiders selected him.

It?s that Heyward-Bey appears to fit well in this sentence that Raider sportscaster Greg Papa is sure to utter this upcoming season: ?JaMarcus Russell throws it deep, the receiver is behind the safety, he?s wide open and, oh no, oh no, Darrius Heyward-Bey drops the ball!?

Yes, let the comparison to James Oops Jett begin.

There?s also another fair question to be asked: ?Tom Cable didn?t really say that, did he??

The Raiders? head coach said Heyward-Bey ?was a no-question pick. ... we targeted him a month ago ... the best wide receiver in the draft.?

Cable didn?t think 309-pound Eugene Monroe of Virginia, the second-rated offensive tackle in the draft, warranted even a sniff of interest from Oakland. Cable also said Heyward-Bey reminds him most of that celebrated knucklehead, Randy Moss, and there?s nothing that inspires run-for-your-life more than comparing anyone to Randy Moss.

It was astounding for Oakland to make this move because so many better options were available. Heyward-Bey was the first wide receiver picked in the draft and no one ? except the Raiders of course ? had Heyward-Bey rated higher than Texas Tech?s Michael Crabtree and Missouri?s Jeremy Maclin. Add Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo and Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji, and the Raiders took a gamble of remarkable proportions.

And with all that talent, Heyward-Bey was a no-question pick?

No draft pick is a sure thing ? see Ryan Leaf, Brian Bosworth, Tony Mandarich for further details ? but this pick puts enormous pressure and focus on the Raiders. Oakland is 24-72 since their 2002 Super Bowl appearance and in desperate need of a shaft of sunlight to split the darkness. That?s what a first-round pick is supposed to do, have people jumping crazy over the possibilities created by a spark-flying No.1. This pick didn?t do it.

This pick is made more delicious for inspection that will occur ? Crabtree was selected by the 49ers three picks later. So next season Crabtree and Heyward-Bey will be judged week-by-week by Bay Area football fans and medai. Watch for the side-by-side statistics charts.

Cable is asking you to ignore comparing them in college, and he should. The comparison is ridiculous. Heyward-Bey scored 13 touchdowns in three years at Maryland. Crabtree scored 41 in two years at Texas Tech.

?Crabtree played in the spread (passing offense),? Cable said, ?but Heyward-Bey played in a pro style. If Heyward-Bey played in the spread, he might have scored 50 touchdowns.?

All of which points to this conclusion: If Heyward-Bey is that good, then Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen should be fired. If you are a D-I college coach and you have the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft, you find an offense for such a talent so he can score 41 touchdowns, not 13. If Heyward-Bey is that good.

And Heyward-Bey is that good, he?ll make JaMarcus Russell better, Cable said.

?He will make the entire team better,? that?s what Cable said. Heyward-Bey?s the next Randy Moss, makes everyone better, is a force of nature, could have scored 50 touchdowns, shoot, for a minute there I thought Cable was talking about Jerry Rice.

Of course this is all about speed, particularly Al Davis? love for speed. Heyward-Bey had the fastest 40 time at the combine, a 4.28, and became immediately Al?s love interest. Ever since the days of burners Warren Wells and Cliff Branch, Al has been searching futilely for sprinters, and burning the offense in the process.

This has all the markings of another sprint to flames, especially with Michael Crabtree right across the bay to ignite the sparks. Considering the Raiders will be coughing up another hair ball this season, this will be the best entertainment the team can offer.

Still, though, you got to give the Raiders this. At least they didn?t pick a kicker.

For more on North Bay high school sports go to Bob Padecky?s blog at padecky@pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5490 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.