The Detroit Lions are on the clock, but I’m more interested in what the Raiders and 49ers are going to do in the first round of the NFL draft on Saturday.
Here’s what I think they should do, starting with the Raiders, who have the No. 7 overall pick. Take the best wide receiver on the board. Not just the fastest wide receiver or the best combine workout warrior. The best wide receiver, someone who has good hands, runs good routes AND has good speed.
The Raiders invested the No. 1 overall pick and countless millions of dollars on quarterback JaMarcus Russell in 2007. They’ve got to get him a marquee receiver to catch his passes. You’re already starting to hear whispers that Russell is a bust. But it’s hard to tell if he is or isn’t when the Raiders’ receiving corps is so weak. I mean, when Chaz Schilens, Johnnie Lee Higgins and, if they can stay healthy, Javon Walker and Drew Carter, are the best of the bunch, you’ve got problems.
The Raiders haven’t drafted a wide receiver in the first round since 1988, when they chose Tim Brown out of Notre Dame. I’d say that pick worked out well. Certainly a lot better than some of the first-round picks since then, such as safeties Michael Huff and Derrick Gibson, cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Phillip Buchanon, tight end Rickey Dudley, offensive tackle Matt Stinchcomb and quarterback Todd Marinovich.
Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree could be a nice fit, if he falls to No. 7, although knowing the Raiders, they’ll probably be tempted by Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin’s blazing speed and maybe even Maryland wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey’s combination of size, strength, speed and potential, despite the red flag warnings that he’s a boom-or-bust risk.
Who knows? Maybe the Raiders can work a draft-day trade for disgruntled Arizona wide receiver Anquan Boldin. He’s probably not as fast as Al Davis wants his No. 1 receiver to be, but he’s a proven commodity, and one of the NFL’s most physical wide receivers.
Now for the 49ers at No. 10. If USC quarterback Mark Sanchez falls to them, the 49ers should take him and thank the football gods.
Quarterback is the most important position in football, and the 49ers have been searching for a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback ever since they let Jeff Garcia leave as a free agent after the 2003 season. Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, was supposed to be the answer. But he struggled early then battled injuries. This year he had to take a huge pay cut for the chance to stick with the 49ers and battle journeyman Shaun Hill for the starting job.
During their glory years, there was always one constant for the 49ers. They had a future Hall of Fame quarterback leading the team, either Joe Montana or Steve Young. The last time they went to the playoffs was 2002, when Garcia threw 21 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions.
If the 49ers draft Sanchez, Hill can keep the position warm until he’s ready to step in. They won’t have to throw Sanchez into the fray, the way they did Smith in 2005.
So what if Sanchez is gone when the 49ers pick, a very real possibility? If Crabtree slides that far, they should grab him. Same for Maclin.
The 49ers haven’t had a receiver who scared anyone since Terrell Owens forced his way out of town following the 2003 season. This is a franchise that has been known for its receivers, from the days of Dave Parks and Bernie Casey, to Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice, John Taylor and T.O.
Now they’re relying on Isaac Bruce, the ancient one, and youngsters such as Josh Morgan, Jason Hill and Brandon Jones, a free-agent pickup.
Here’s what the 49ers shouldn’t do. They shouldn’t pick an offensive tackle at No. 10. Yeah, I understand that coach Mike Singletary wants the 49ers’ to become more physical on offense, able to pick up a yards on the ground whenever they want, no matter how many defenders are in the box. A young, physical tackle would be nice to have.
On the other hand, the 49ers landed Marvel Smith, a veteran offensive tackle, in free agency. What’s more, since 2005, the 49ers have invested a first-round pick in offensive tackle Joe Staley, two second-round picks in guards David Baas and Chilo Rachal and a third-round pick in offensive guard/tackle Adam Snyder. Staley, Baas and Rachal are starters, while Snyder is expected to be the top backup at guard and tackle.
If the New York Giants have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need a stable of high draft picks to have a quality offensive line. The 49ers have invested enough for now in their offensive line. Besides, the top offensive tackles, Baylor’s Jason Smith and Virginia’s Eugene Monroe, will already be gone when they pick. Alabama’s Andre Smith will probably be gone, too, which would leave Mississippi’s Michael Oher as the top remaining offensive tackle.
If Sanchez, Crabtree and Maclin are gone by the time they pick, the 49ers might be better served to grab a pass-rushing defensive end/outside linebacker or a nose tackle (to protect linebacker Patrick Willis) than an offensive tackle.
Or, they could trade down and stockpile picks to use on say, a safety, a situational pass rusher and a cornerback to groom for the future – Walt Harris isn’t getting any younger.
There’s my free advice. We’ll see what happens on Saturday.