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THE NFL DRAFT : RAIDERS : No. 11 Choice Just Might Fill the No. 1 Need


Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for the Raiders, here comes the NFL draft.

It was their barren crops of 1985-86 that presaged their fall from grace. Except for bomb squadders Stefon Adams and Steve Strachan, not a single '85 draftee remains. Of the class of '86, only one player starts--Bo Jackson.

However, hidden from public perception, the effect dimmed by questionable trades, Al Davis has since begun digging himself out.

His 1987 choices included John Clay, Steve Beuerlein, Steve Smith and Bruce Wilkerson. Clay brought Jim Lachey in trade, although Lachey then was exchanged for Jay Schroeder, now on the bench.

In 1988, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown slid down to the Raiders' sixth overall pick. The Raiders traded for two more No. 1s, Terry McDaniel and Scott Davis, both starters. Promising wide receiver Mike Alexander came on a No. 8 pick. Last season, with the No. 1 pick gone in the deal for Willie Gault and another premium choice owed for Schroeder, Davis traded up to the top of the second round and nabbed Penn State guard Steve Wisniewski, generally regarded as one of the team's top linemen.

What to do this season?

This draft is linebacker-rich and the Raiders are linebacker-poor. Their 11th overall pick places them in position for several members of a pool of highly regarded prospects: Chris Singleton of Arizona, Percy Snow of Michigan State, James Francis of Baylor, Ron Cox of Fresno State and possibly even Keith McCants of Alabama.

The 6-foot-4, 255-pound McCants was projected as the top pick in the draft, but started sliding after a poor workout. The Raiders have traditionally been less impressed by the rise and fall of "workout warriors" and have a history of selecting the big name that everyone is suddenly off of--Marcus Allen in 1982, Brown in '88.

But Davis has never selected a linebacker in the first round. A top Raider aide says that Davis' philosophy has always been to start drafting for that position in the second round--Phil Villapiano in 1977 and Matt Millen in 1980--or to trade for standouts--Ted Hendricks and Jerry Robinson--or try to find gems late--No. 12 pick Rod Martin.

Indeed, Davis plunged heavily in the '89 off-season for Plan B linebackers: Otis Wilson, Emmanuel King, Jackie Shipp, Joe Costello and Thomas Benson. Ricky Hunley came off the waiver wire.

But only Benson and King are still Raiders, and only Benson started. The Raider need for linebackers remains. Another top team official says it's true, they've never drafted a linebacker in the first round, but that was just circumstance.

Since they're the Raiders, nothing they do can be a surprise. Also, since they need help in virtually every area except wide receiver and tight end, there are lots of ways they can go:

Quarterback--The organization seems happy with Steve Beuerlein and derides Andre Ware as just a run-and-shoot quarterback.

Halfback--With Marcus Allen aging and in Davis' doghouse, and Jackson unavailable half the season, this isn't impossible. Penn State's Blair Thomas is supposed to be long gone, and Seattle is supposed to have taken Florida's Emmitt Smith, but what happens if either slides? Have the Raiders fallen in love with South Carolina's Harold Green or Minnesota's Darrell Thompson?

Offensive line--There are Raider officials who consider reclamation project/left tackle Rory Graves shaky. If Texas A&M's 6-6, 290-pound Richmond Webb, thought the likely tab of San Diego choosing fifth, slides, the Raiders might pop up.

Defensive line--Bob Golic is old, Bill Pickel has been trade bait for years, and the promising Scott Davis didn't have the sophomore year they expected. An impact player here would be welcomed to take the heat off Howie Long and Greg Townsend, but this draft is thin. Miami tackle Cortez Kennedy is supposed to be gone. But what if West Virginia's pass-rushing end, Reynaldo Turnbull, slides past Seattle's second No. 1 pick?

Linebacker--Linden King was called out of retirement to play the left side. Robinson struggled in the middle after suffering a concussion at midseason, and he's 33, too. Benson was solid on the right side.

Secondary--It's OK, but RaiderBall means never having enough top cornerbacks.

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