“The Oakland Raiders All-Time Greatest Late Round Draft Picks & Steals”

cliff branch

When you look back at the history of the Oakland Raiders, it is a work of art on how to build an NFL dynasty.  Some drafts would get several starters and some even multiple HOF players.  Ron Wolf & Al Davis made it an art form to pick up late round talent and pick players that others had no desire to choose.

http://www.raiders.com/history/draft-history.html

Yesterday we talked about some of the worst picks; today lets look at the top 15 Oakland Raider late round picks of all time; 4th round on dow.

https://jimjax4.wordpress.com/2016/04/25/pimps-drugs-busts-the-oakland-raiders-top-10-worst-draft-picks-of-all-time/

Honorable Mention;  Bo Jackson; 

Even though Bo Jackson was originally drafted by Tampa Bay, he was put back into the 1997 draft and the Raiders took him in the 7th round so technically he wasn’t an original pick.  Al Davis was the only owner that allowed him to play both football and baseball.  Bo never had 1000 yards and only started 23 games and ran for 2782 yards in his career, but his long touchdown runs were fun to watch and will always be remembered.

#15 Reggie Kinlaw DL (1979; 12th round 320 overall)

At the University of Oklahoma, Reggie Kinlaw was a superstar using his great speed to dominate defenders. At 6’ 2” and 245 lbs. experts said he was a huge long shot to even make the NFL let alone be a quality player. He played for the Raiders for 6 years and started on two Super Bowl teams. Many Raiders have said Reggie is one of the unsung heroes in the history of the Raider legacy.

# 14 Shane Lechler P: (2000; 5th round 142 overall)

After a record setting career at Texas A & M, Lechler was selected in the 5th round by the Raiders. He has had a stellar career and is a perennial pro bowler. He currently kicks for the Houston Texans.

#13 Pete Banaszak HB: (1966; 5th round AFL Draft)

A solid player at the University of Miami, he was chosen in the 5th round of the AFL draft.   The Raiders were the first to employ a short yardage RB full time and for 13 years Banaszak played that role to a tee. In 1975; his best year; he ran for 16 touchdowns. In the Super Bowl against the Vikings he scored 2 touchdowns. Nicknamed the Rooster by fans and teammates, he could do anything in the clutch including catch the ball. He was a key element of the Raiders domination in the 1970’s.

#12 Charlie Smith RB: (1968; 4th round 110 overall)

A standout at the University of Utah, here is another unsung hero and my mom’s favorite player.   Charlie Smith was a classic change of pace back of the time that could do anything. He was a great pass catcher with speed and he was an integral part of the Oakland Raiders offensive machine. His most famous touchdown was never seen. He scored the go ahead touchdown in the famous Heidi game.

#11 Tony Cline DE:   (1970; 4th round 102 overall)

One of the great players from the great defenses of the early Oakland Raiders, Tony Cline was as good a pass rusher as there was in football. He has the unofficial rookie sack record in the AFL at 17 ½ sacks in 1970.   Some say due to the hate the NFL had with anything AFL, the NFL does not acknowledge the sack record. Officially the NFL didn’t record sacks until 1982 even though the AFL did. Tony’s son Tony Cline Jr. also played in the NFL. Raider fans will never forget Tony Cline.

#10 Marv Hubbard RB: (1968; 11th round 277 overall)

“Take it to the Cupboard Hubbard” and “Run Like a Mother Hubbard” were favorite signs of Raider fans in the 1970’s. The NFL yawned when Marv Hubbard was taken out of Colgate. Slow and not athletic, he was not expected by most experts to make the NFL. Boy did he ever. He became a 3 time pro bowler and helped lead the Raiders to 4 Western Division titles and 3 AFC Conference Finals.

Hubbard is ranked 4th all time in NFL history in yards per carry (4.8) for fullbacks and is 13th overall. “Marv was one of the toughest players to ever play for the Raiders. I’ve never seen anyone look for contact and then actually enjoy it”. The wars between Hubbard’s Raiders and the Chiefs and their bulldozer Ed Podolak were much awaited games for NFL fans everywhere. Hubbard had a knack of hitting holes perfectly and getting every yard that he could out of runs.

Marv never left the bay area and he had a lot of interactions with fans. He loved muscle cars and could always be seen waving to appreciative fans everywhere. His death last year was a sad end to an amazing life. He also released two music singles. Smart and outgoing, he will never be forgotten.

#9 Skip “Dr. Death” Thomas DB: (1972: 7th round 176 overall)

Another fan favorite, the USC product was a key member of the famous Soul Patrol defensive backfield of the Oakland Raiders. His physical play was as intimidating as any DB before or since. Thomas could play safety or cornerback but his play in the Super Bowl shutting out Vikings WR great Sammy White in the first half will always be remembered as one of the key’s to a huge Super Bowl win. He played his entire career in Oakland and he had back to back 6 interception years. No one will ever forget Dr. Death.

#8 Dave Dalby C:   (1972; 4th round 100 overall)

Another beloved Raider who left us too soon, he is on UCLA’s all century team. He played 14 seasons and NEVER missed a game. He replaced hall of famer Jim Otto and many feel Dave Dalby deserves that same honor. He made one pro bowl and he started on 3 Super Bowl winning teams.   I still see his friends talking about him at times online. A kind person who is really missed.

#7 Clarence Davis RB: (1971; 4th round 97 overall)

A 1969 All-American, Clarence Davis slipped through the cracks in the 1971 NFL draft. People forget that Davis was a part of the famous “All Black Backfield” at USC. With Sam Cunningham and QB Jimmy Jones, it was the first time in college history that a backfield purely made up of African Americans was created.

When USC went to Alabama in Tuscaloosa, they steam rolled the Tide beating them 42-21. This convinced Bama coach Bear Bryant to allow non-whites to play on the team. It also made the Alabama fan base insist on integration to keep up with the west coast schools.

Scouts didn’t think Davis was good enough to be an NFL starter and he was smaller than advertised (5’ 10”, 190 lbs.). Davis was the classic Raider RB of the day. He could block, catch in the clutch (didn’t have great hands though), and play special teams. He ran back kicks his rookie year.

Davis will forever be remembered for his catch in the “Sea of Hands” game and his clutch post season performances. His amazing record setting game in the Super Bowl win against the Vikings put an exclamation point on a great Raider career.

#6 Greg Townsend DE: (1983; 4th round 110 overall)

Greg Townsend was a standout player at TCU who was considered more of an NFL project than super star. He ended up being the all time sack leader for the Raiders with 107.5 sacks and is 16th all time on the NFL list at 109.5. He was a 2 time pro-bowler and a 4 time all pro. He also recovered 8 touchdowns in his career with 3 of them going for touchdowns. A great career for another later round pick.

#5 Rod Martin LB:   (1977; 12th round 317 overall)

The ultimate underdog.  After being drafted out of USC by the Raiders, he was cut. He then signed with the 49ers and was cut again. The Raiders then resigned him and the rest is history.   No one really gave Rod Martin much of a chance to make the NFL. With his weight fluctuating between 200 and 210 lbs., he was the classic tweener.   He was a linebacker trapped in the body of a safety. The Raiders had him gain 20-25 pounds and eventually he took over the starting OLB job.   He then became one of the best LB’s in the NFL.

He was on several all pro teams and made 2 pro bowls. His 3 interception game in the Super Bowl win against the Eagles is still considered by many as the greatest defensive game of all time in the Super Bowl. A clutch player, people forget he also had an interception and fumble recovery in another Super Bowl win against Washington. He also stopped John Riggins on a fourth and 1 in the third quarter when Washington was trying to get back in the game & he had a sack.

Rod Martin now works at USC and remains a beloved member of the great Raider teams of the past.

#4 George Atkinson DB: (1968; 7th round 190 overall)

Not much was known about Morris Brown standout George Atkinson at the 1968 draft. He was a good player at Morris Brown but he was not considered a top prospect by NFL scouts. Boy were they wrong.

In 10 years with the Raiders he played in 16 playoff games and won a Super Bowl ring. He still holds the punt return record in a game for the Raiders with 205 yards against Buffalo in 1968. He ended up with 30 interceptions and 13 fumbles. He was a key element of the famous Soul Patrol and many feel he and Jack Tatum were the greatest safety tandem of all time and that the Soul Patrol was the greatest defensive backfield of all time. The trash talker of the group, George was a mixture of great speed and toughness and will always be a big part of Raider lore.   He still works for the Raiders doing the pre and post game show for their home radio station.

#3 Lester Hayes DB:   (1977; 5th round 126 overall)

When the Raiders picked Texas A & M safety Lester Hayes in the 5th round, the NFL kind of shook their head. Many felt he wasn’t fast enough to play DB in the NFL and in pre-draft interviews many teams said that Hayes was not a very bright person. Most had little confidence in him due to his lack of social skills.

What teams didn’t know is that Lester Hayes had a massive stuttering issue. He also had severe nasal problems including chronic sinusitis.   As a child he had severe head and jaw pain and would wake up with apnea. After using nasal medications for years, he finally got surgeries to correct it after he retired; it took 3 of them. In an interview Hayes said, “As a young player I sounded like Cousin It in the Adam’s family. No one could understand me”.

When he was drafted he literally cried in front of Al Davis begging him not to move him to cornerback. He felt if he went there he’d be cut but Al Davis asked him to trust him and the rest was history. Hayes explained, “It was so much pressure playing CB in our glory years of the 70’s and 80’s. We had to be right in the face of the WR because we were obsessed with rushing the QB. Our defense would blitz constantly and you could see the fear in the QB. They had to get rid of the ball quickly and if we weren’t all over the WR we were going to get burned. The pass rush and our coverage though helped us win and play at a high level.”

In 1980 Hayes won defensive player of the year after his NFL record tying 13 interceptions. He is a 5 time pro bowler, 2 time Super Bowl champion and a member of the 1980’s all decade team. He shares the all time Raider record for interceptions with Willie Brown at 39. How The Judge is not in the Hall of Fame is a miscarriage of NFL and sports justice.   Ridiculous.

#2 Cliff Branch WR: (1972; 4th round 98 overall)

At 5’ 10” and 170 lb. Cliff Branch was a standout track star at the University of Colorado. He was also a 5 year standout in football running back an amazing record 8 kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career.   Many felt he didn’t have the size or the hands for the NFL and early on he struggled with drops. After a lot of practice and mentoring through the likes of Fred Biletnikof, Branch solved that problem and for 14 years was a top WR in the NFL.   He holds the record for the longest pass play in Raider history at 99.

When Branch retired he led the NFL in post season receptions (73) and yards (1289) for an average of 17.7 yards per catch, while scoring 5 TD’s. And remember this was in the time where DB’s could do anything they wanted to WR and get away with it. He remains the only Raider WR with 3 Super Bowl rings. He was a 4 time pro bowler and a 4 time all pro. He ended up with 501 receptions, 8685 yards and 67 touchdowns.   He was a semi finalist for the NFL Hall of Fame and him being omitted from the HOF is another ridiculous miscarriage of NFL & sports justice.

#1 Jim Otto C: (1960; 24th round AFL Draft)

If you look up Oakland Raider in the dictionary, a picture of Jim Otto will appear.  The epitome of what it is to be a Raider, he was undersized, undervalued and a pure winner.  A 9 time all star, 3 time pro bowler, 3 time all pro and a Hall of Famer.  He also was selected to the all AFL team.  In 15 years he never missed a game because of injury.  In his life he’s had 28 knee surgeries and 74 total surgeries.  In 2007 due to infection he had to have a leg amputated.

When he was eligible for the draft, no NFL team wanted him.  He finally was drafted by the Raiders in the 24th round.  At 6′ 2″ and 240-245, it was thought he was no way big enough.  Otto later stated it was a great chore to keep his weight at 250-255 lbs.  The NFL Network voted Jim as the 63rd greatest football player of all time.

Final Thoughts……….

It’s amazing to see how great the Raiders were at drafting good players late in the draft in the 1960’s and 1970’s. NO ONE was as good as Ron Wolf and Al Davis at evaluating College football talent. They remain the gold standard of the NFL draft and how to build a winner.

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