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Raiders optimistic about draft despite no first-round pick

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- From JaMarcus Russell to Darrius Heyward-Bey to Derrick Gibson, the Oakland Raiders have had a run of first-round picks who have provided little production for the team.

They don't have to worry about that this year, having traded their top pick back in 2009 for New England defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who already has given the Raiders a Pro Bowl season.

Instead of picking 17th overall, the Raiders head into Thursday's draft with the 48th overall spot. Barring a trade, it will be their first time without a first-rounder since 1989.

They have no regrets for what they did with that pick.

"Obviously, we don't have a first-round draft pick, quote-unquote, what the record books say, even though we think we have one. We think we have a pretty good one," coach Hue Jackson said. "He plays for us already, so we're excited about him."

The Raiders have gotten more production out of Seymour in two years than they have gotten out of many recent first-round picks. Since drafting Charles Woodson fourth overall in 1998, the Raiders have made 14 first-round selections, with only cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha making it to the Pro Bowl out of that group.

With Asomugha, Robert Gallery and Michael Huff all possible free-agent departures once the lockout is lifted, the Raiders could go into next season with just four of those first-rounders on their roster: Heyward-Bey, kicker Sebastian Janikowski, running back Darren McFadden and linebacker Rolando McClain.

That's despite having six top-10 picks in the past seven years.

"That's a lot of pressure, in my opinion, when you're in the top half of the draft," Jackson said. "Because you got to be right. You take an opportunity, you make a decision on a player and the expectation on that player goes through the roof."

While the first round has not always been good to the Raiders, they have done better in later rounds. They came out with a big haul last year in the those rounds to go with McClain.

Second-round pick Lamarr Houston stepped in as a starter right away at defensive end. Third-rounder Jared Veldheer showed signs of being the effective left tackle Oakland has been lacking for years. Fourth-rounder Jacoby Ford was a game-breaker on kick returns and as a receiver. Seventh-rounder Stevie Brown played well in nickel packages as a safety and on special teams.

Among the other good later-round picks in recent years are starting defensive tackle Matt Shaughnessy (third round) and top wide receiver Louis Murphy (fourth) in 2009; leading tackler Tyvon Branch (fourth) and key pass rusher Trevor Scott (sixth) in 2008; and Pro Bowl tight end Zach Miller (second) and running back Michael Bush (fourth) in 2007.

While there can be many gems found in the later rounds, those players often come with more questions than some of the polished first-round picks. That puts an even bigger premium on scouting.

"Is the guy fast enough, big enough, strong enough to play a certain position? Do you take a chance on a player that maybe doesn't have as much skill, but has a little bit more of this, and then you make that decision," Jackson said. "The key to it all still goes back to preparation from the beginning so that when you get to that pick, whether it's the sixth, seventh round, that you're making the best pick that you can based on the information that you have."

Oakland's biggest draft need is on the offensive line, where Jackson is looking for more power blocking than the zone blocking former coach Tom Cable preferred.

The Raiders also could use some help in the secondary, especially if Asomugha and Huff leave as free agents, and possibly a young quarterback to groom for the future.

"There's some things to fix, but there's not a ton," Jackson said. "I feel very comfortable. We have a veteran quarterback, we have a veteran defensive football team, we have a very young but talented offensive team. We need to be much stronger in the offensive line."

Jackson has spent one draft with the Raiders as offensive coordinator under Cable a year ago after being a part of drafts in Baltimore, Cincinnati and Washington earlier in his career.

He said every team approaches the draft differently. In Oakland, the room is run by owner Al Davis rather than a general manager or coach.

"He makes the pick and he should. He's the owner of the team," Jackson said. "But the bottom line, he takes a lot of information from us all. And he does take that information in, and he makes a very calculated decision based on what we say and what we think. So it's not like it's just him. He really and truly listens to what we have to say, and I truly appreciate that. But at the end of the day, he's going to make that decision, and we all support that."

One thing Davis always covets is speed. He has drafted the players who posted the fastest combine times in the 40-yard dash the past two years (Ford and Heyward-Bey) and the second fastest in 2008 (Branch).

"We love fast guys. I don't run from that," Jackson said. "I want them as fast as I can get them, but we also want them to be the best players when they get ready to play."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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