Who Will the Raiders Draft?
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 26, 2006

THE RAIDERS have so determinedly been leaking the “information” that they have their eyes on Texas quarterback Vince Young that the natural inference is that they won’t take Young in the first round of the NFL draft, which starts Saturday.

Young is a superb athlete, but he doesn’t make sense for the Raiders. I think we can conclude that Al Davis, who will have his 77th birthday before training camp and has health issues, is not dedicated to a rebuilding process. Young’s future is uncertain. He may remain at quarterback, or he may eventually be shifted to running back. It will take at least a couple of years for him to develop as a quarterback. Running back? It’s hard to argue that a running back who isn’t named Reggie Bush should be drafted that high.

The one bit of information drifting out of Raider camp that I believe is that Young was assured he wouldn’t be sitting behind Aaron Brooks for three years if he came here. I don’t think Brooks will even be here for three years. In fact, I think he’ll be gone after one season.

Misinformation and wild speculation are staples of the period immediately before the draft. There was even one rumor that the Raiders would be involved in a three-way trade. Of course, that would require finding two clubs whose executives would actually talk to them.

Here’s what I believe: The Raiders will not trade up. They will not take Young. They’ll draft for need, which probably means they’ll take Texas safety Michael Huff.

Ordinarily, I don’t believe in taking a safety that high, but Huff is a special player with cornerback speed. Some think he could even play corner in the NFL. Historically, the Raiders have looked for defensive backs who were able to play corner but were later shifted to safety, as early as Dave Grayson and George Atkinson in the ‘60s, up through Charles Woodson. In this case, I think they’d keep Huff at safety, which is their bigger need.

The Raiders have been unusually quiet during the first spell of free agency, except for the puzzling signing of Brooks. Perhaps they realize that a vast turnover of the roster isn’t working, because the players they bring in have an allegiance only to themselves, not the team. When things go wrong, they go south – as in the six-game losing streak at the end of last season.

Perhaps they also realize that what they need is not so much better talent but better play. This is a team which should have had a much better record last year. Art Shell is a standup guy who doesn’t make excuses. If he can instill a sense of accountability in his players, that will make more difference to the Raiders than any players they can bring in, through the draft or through free agency. Please, let’s hear no more about a conspiracy by NFL officials.

THERE IS one reason the Raiders might be tempted to draft Young: to have a marquee player who could inspire their fans to buy tickets.

Both the 49ers and Raiders will have serious problems selling tickets this year, but the problems are different and their approaches to their problems will probably also be different.

Last season the 49ers bought up thousands of tickets for each game so they could officially sell out and keep their games on home television. Apparently, they did this by diverting money from corporate sponsors that was supposed to go into advertising, but they won’t be able to do that this year.

The 49ers have had an unusual ticket policy, mostly because they have to get approval from the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department, of pricing each seat the same, whether it is on the 50-yard line or in the upper end zone. This year, the better seats will be priced higher, the lesser seats lower. That’s the way it’s done by other teams, but the effect for this season is punishing those who have been most loyal to them, by staying with them during the lean years.

Why did they do that this year? I think they reasoned that, if they’re going to have to buy up tickets to get sellouts, they’d rather buy up cheaper tickets. They will sell those 50-yard line tickets; if those who have had them drop out, others will take their place. The ones which will not be sold are the end zone seats, which will be cheaper.

The 49ers have a built-in advantage with their fan base, which is much bigger than any other team in the area, even during this bad period. It is also easily the most loyal group in the area. The 49ers are selling hope right now, hope that Mike Nolan will turn it around, hope that he and Scot McCloughan will find the players in the draft to fill their many holes. Season ticket sales have fallen off considerably, but if the 49ers play well in early season, ticket sales will show an immediate surge, I’m sure.

The Raiders once had that kind of loyal following, too, in their first period in Oakland. For years, they sold out, and there was relatively little turnover among season ticket holders. Then, Davis moved the team to Los Angeles, and when the Raiders returned, the dynamic was much different.

To buy season tickets when the team returned, fans had to buy PSLs, as well, and they had about 31,000 season tickets. Now, the PSLs have expired, and the Raiders are selling their own tickets, concentrating on season tickets, and good luck on that.

Fans have learned that, aside from those 50-yard line seats, you can buy tickets for any game, even the most important. My guess is that the Raiders will sell maybe 20,000 season tickets for the best seats, but everything else will be single-game tickets. It will be even harder to reach the sellout stage, and the Raiders have never been interested in buying up tickets to get sellouts, though TV stations carrying their games locally have sometimes done it to get the home games on local TV.

So, the Raiders need success and they need spectacular players, to get people to buy those single game tickets. The 49ers might be able to get legitimate sellouts again if they just got to .500, but that won’t be near enough for the Raiders. They have to get back to the playoffs to have sellouts. Even then, it won’t be for the season, just for some games.

THERE IS A question who the 49ers will draft first – the choice will probably be between linebacker A. J. Hawk and tight end Vernon Davis – but there is no question about their approach. They’re building through the draft and hoping the loyalty of their fans will bring them back to the games if there is hope for the future.

The Raiders can’t afford that. They need to get the attention of their fans immediately. They may try it by drafting Young, but the sensible way would be to draft Huff. Sensible? Raiders? Ah, well.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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