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“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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“Ken Stabler Leading Teammates in CTE Fight Even After His Passing; Should Kids Play Football?”

 

stabler
Ken Stabler Being Helped off the Field During Game

Friday it was released that several former Oakland Raiders had agreed to have their brains studied upon their death.  They did this through the encouragement of Ken’s longtime partner, Kim Ross-Bush.  They wanted to follow him in helping to further the study of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in the hopes of helping future players.  Still today, Ken still is the leader of the dynasty that was the 1970’s Oakland Raiders.

The Stabler Family Tells Their Story:

Kim Ross-Bush, the partner of Ken Stabler for over 16 years; tells the story of how Ken deteriorated over time.  His daughter Marissa also talks about the changes in her father.  ESPN’s Outside the Lines is a great show and I really enjoyed the piece it did a while back on Ken and his struggles with CTE.

You are already seeing players starting to retire at earlier ages in fear of the long term damage football may have on them.

http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/14703416/outside-lines-nfl-great-ken-stabler-diagnosed-cte-death

Eliminate Tackling in Practice:

In a groundbreaking move, the Ivy League coaches voted to eliminate tackling in practices.  Instead they use tackling dummies, bags, and even use tackling robots.  Coaches from around the country are limiting contact in College football.  What’s interesting is the Ivy league now says their tackling techniques are much better and more fundamentally sound and the list of injuries have dropped dramatically.

http://www.ncaa.com/news/football/article/2016-03-04/college-football-ivy-league-limits-tackling-football-practices

My Experience With CTE:

I remember in 2009 being asked to do a house call to check up on a patient who was really struggling with his sleep equipment and his quality of sleep.  I immediately remembered the name.  I’m a huge history guy and I did a check and found out it was the former NFL player that I thought it was.

When I walked into their house his wife was as kind as could be.  She offered me a piece of cake and coffee and I loved it.  Her husband was a little shocked I knew so much about him and it obviously made him feel good.  When I left his wife walked me out.  At the door she gave me a bottle of wine and was near tears.  “Thank you so much; you made him smile and that hasn’t happened much.  Please come visit again soon”.  I told her I would be by next week.

A week later I showed up and it was like a light turned off.  He sat in a somewhat dark room looking out a window; something he did for hours sometimes.  He was rude, irritable and he couldn’t remember a thing we discussed.  I laughed at the start because I thought he was teasing me but he wasn’t.  He talked about his headaches and his sleep being so intermittent that he would be exhausted all the time.  It was hinted he knew he was damaged and he didn’t want to know the truth.  CTE was barely known publicly in 2009.

His wife explained this was their life.  A tornado of emotions with little joy and hope at times.  I tried calling them once but their number had changed & was unlisted, so I never heard from them again and found out they moved. Even today the picture of him sitting in a darkened room alone can bring me to tears.

Owners Still Don’t Get It:

Jerry Jones was quoted last week that he was not convinced there was a link between CTE and concussions.  I’m sure many owners have their doubts especially when it may cost them money to take care of the problem.  Jerry Jones needs to read research and stop acting like a fool.  Another “my opinion is greater than facts” guy.  Money doesn’t make you smart.  It’s the same callousness the NFL showed during the 2009 concussion hearings at Congress.

In the 2014 settlement against the NFL, in a rare action, the Judge was so appalled at the NFL’s offer that he overturned it.  The NFL said to trust their math.  Most of what the NFL has done, they were made to do.

What Has the NFL Done to Help With CTE’s:

Many say I’m too hard on the NFL.  They bring up the 88 plan championed by CTE legend Gay Culverhouse, former President of Tampa Bay.  It’s true; it gives $130,000 a year to players that qualify but read the fine print because I did; the one disorder it DOESN’T cover?  CTE.

The Alumni Association is also working with corporations to set up retirement places catered to NFL players.  In the medical field the dirty secret is that many feel this is going to be a huge money maker in the future with so many NFL players having to deal with brain issues.  Soccer players are now having issues with CTE.  Brandi Chastain has agreed to donate her brain as well.

The owners have given money for research and also changed the rules protecting players more.  It has changed the game drastically allowing for huge numbers by quarterbacks and wide receivers but it had to be done.

The NFL also has adopted a much stricter concussion protocol but it’s already seen failures.  Rams QB Case Keenum hit his head on the turf against Baltimore last year and staggered off the field.  After talking to the trainer, he was shockingly let back in the game to finish it.  Afterwards he was diagnosed with a concussion.  NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to his credit admitted they made a mistake.  Damage done though.

I remember watching film of the 1976 Raiders year in review.  In week 9 the Raiders played at Chicago.  The astroturf there was like cement especially when it was cold.  Ken Stabler got a concussion and wobbled off the field.  Eventually he came back into the game leading the Raiders to victory.  You wonder how many times since he was a kid did that happen to Ken.

Breakthrough in CTE Testing?

The problem with CTE is that you can’t diagnose it while the player is alive.  When UCLA lead researcher Dr. Julian Bailes said they had a test that could diagnose CTE in living people, many questioned his findings.  The problem with anything in medicine is greed.  If this is true, they stand to make millions.  Some say that within 3-5 years it will be able to be done. The controversy continues but when they can test players, it can give them a better option into getting out of the game or staying in it.

Should Kid’s Play Football:

One of the key factors with CTE is the duration you take hits.  Usually the longer you play, the worse it is.  Ken Stabler; like many NFL athletes; played as a kid.  You have to limit the length, and the severity of the damage.  Some think teaching good fundamental tackling is the answer but it’s not.  When you hit the ground or get hit; good tackle or not; your head is going to jar.  Its’ like having a minor car accident several times a day.

I think that kids should not play organized tackle football until they are 13 years old.  I also believe that at the most, teams need to have only 1 contact day of practice per week; or 90 minutes.

The State of Texas that brought you “Friday Night Lights” and built a 60 million dollar stadium in the city of Allen, is surprisingly the leader in protecting players.  In 2013, the University Interscholastic League in Texas; the group that makes the rules for high school football; voted to limit contact in practices to 90 minutes a week.  Some said this would ruin Texas football but it hasn’t changed their dominance in any way.

Between 2005 and 2014, 92 high school football players died.  Some by direct contact, and others by things associated with football.  What’s shocking though is that almost ALL states have NO medical regulations mandating high school football teams to have ANY trained medical staff on the field at any time.  Some parents have sued school districts for having their kids lying on a field waiting long periods of time for qualified people to help their kids.  That HAS to change.  They don’t have to have an ambulance on staff, or a doctor or EMT’s or professional trainers.  Epic fail.  This has to change.

I remember in football crazy Napa, California where I grew up, (who ESPN voted had the #2 high school stadium in the country 6 years ago) they always had an ambulance in one of the end zones at Memorial Stadium and EMT professionals at the games.  It helped save one of my friends who actually broke his neck during a game.  He wasn’t paralyzed but he fractured his neck and the quality care on the field saved him.  I hope they still have that same support there now.

Final Thoughts:

The sad part is, we need to have a sure way of diagnosing players while they are alive, and we need to know how better to protect them.  Even if helmets evolved, the jarring of the brain from the hits and hitting the ground are still going to cause damage so it’s a difficult thing to fix.

What also is scary, is that ALS; or Lou Gehrigs disease has also been linked to long term head trauma seen in sports like football.  University of Alabama player Kevin Turner just passed away at the age of 46; of ALS.  He played 8 years in the NFL.

CTE is the scary ghost hiding in the closet that players and their families fear.  Fans and the media need to get involved.  Some didn’t support the cheerleaders fight to get minimum wage.  Many fans didn’t support referees wanting better training and to be full time employees.  The NFL said both were too expensive.  Add the lack of support to retired players by some as well.  In my mind it’s disrespecting the game and those that are associated with it by not respecting everyone that was in it.

All fans and media people associated with the NFL who really care about this wonderful game and the people in it need to act.  Some in the NFL media won’t because they feel backlash from their networks.  We need the NFL to know the lack of support is unacceptable.  The 88 plan needs to include CTE.  Support research and retired players rights.  Show compassion and kindness instead of saying, “well if they don’t want to die early then don’t play”.  The players gave their all; now we need to give ours.

The NFL has shown they will NOT do the right thing unless they are made to.  It’s time that fans now become the voices of the voiceless.  Ken Stabler and all of the players that suffered in silence; along with their families that experienced it; deserve our support.  No more Dave Duerson stories.  A man that texted family to let them know he wanted his brain studied after he shot himself in the chest.  He didn’t want others to go through the torment he did.  No more retired players holding their heads in pain or looking out windows in darkened rooms wondering in sadness what was happening to them.  We can’t expect the NFL to do the right thing to these fathers, son’s, grandfathers and brothers, if we don’t.  The NFL has shown it will listen but we have to speak.