ALAMEDA ? Wearied by six consecutive losing seasons, the Raiders crawled out on a limb Saturday. They will either pluck some golden fruit or crash hard to the ground.
The team that has made what were considered safe picks in recent years ? Robert Gallery, Michael Huff, Darren McFadden ? pulled not one, but two shockers on the first day of the NFL draft, selecting Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh overall pick and following up by taking Ohio safety Mike Mitchell in the second round, at No. 47 overall.
Both are impressive physical specimens ? big, fast and strong. And both seemingly came out of nowhere.
Heyward-Bey was generally slotted in the bottom half of the first round. Mitchell? Some analysts didn?t even think he?d be drafted. Mel Kiper Jr. had him tied for the 40th top prospect ? at the safety position alone.
In a way, it was a return to an older time for the Raiders, when they were seen as free thinkers who often proved the doubters wrong. Make no mistake, there are plenty of doubters this time around.
?To me this has bust written all over it,? ESPN?s Todd McShay said of Heyward-Bey. ?You can go vertically. ... But he does not catch the football consistently. If you?re going to draft in the top 10, you better draft a guy that can do it all. Michael Crabtree can do it all. Being obsessed with the 40 times is one of the reasons that Al Davis and the Raiders continue to pick at this spot.?
Crabtree, of Texas Tech, was available at No. 7, and so was Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Both had more than 95 receptions, 1,100 yards and 12 touchdown catches in 2008. Heyward-Bey had 42 receptions for 609 yards and five scores. Crabtree and Maclin both were expected to go ahead of him. And so was Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, a supposedly can?t-miss protector.
The Raiders bypassed them all and went for Heyward-Bey, the guy who ran the fastest 40 time at the 2009 NFL scouting combine, at 4.3 seconds.
?We targeted this one about a month ago and getting this team where it needs to be, and obviously that?s the ability to score more points,? said Tom Cable, playing point man for his first draft as a head coach. ?This was the no-question pick.?
Cable had an answer for every knock on Heyward-Bey.
Inconsistent hands? The coach said DHB showed perfect form during a workout in Maryland.
Route running? Cable insisted the guy they got was the best of the top-tier receivers in that regard.
The lack of production compared to the acrobatic Crabtree and the cat-quick Maclin? Those other two got to play in spread offenses.
?Different systems,? Cable noted. ?I think the one great comparison that I did that really showed this was the right guy for me, if I put him in that same system, he might have been over 50 touchdowns. He?s that talented.?
Heyward-Bey, who didn?t play football until the ninth grade, seemingly scores high on the character scale. He moved out of his mother?s home to attend a private high school, where he would receive better opportunities in both sports and academics. Coaches have praised his work ethic and attitude.