Rolando McClain retired today, at the age of 23, after a host of off the field problems and after being drafted by the Oakland Raiders. To put that in some perspective, McClain is younger today than Joey Harrington was when he threw his first pass (presumably into the ground) for the Detroit Lions.
McClain was the 8th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and with his career coming to an end* we can put a nice bookend on what turned out to be almost certainly the worst drafting era in football history in the first round. In 2003, the Oakland Raiders were coming off a Super Bowl appearance and selected Nnamdi Asomugha at the end of the first round (along with Tyler Brayton). Solid picks.
*[until he tries a comeback.]
The next season, the old, crafty Raiders just turned old, with Rich Gannon getting hurt and the rest of the team declining. The 2004 draft brought a high draft pick and the hope of a turnaround. When the team selected Robert Gallery, many thought he was a sure-fire lock to be a dominant lineman. It didn’t work out that way, and Gallery joined Tony Mandarich as failed tackles taken at the top of a draft who would bounce around as decent guards later in their careers.
The next year, the Raiders selected Fabian Washington, who started only 28 games in Oakland before he was sent packing (to Baltimore, which is apparently the Island for the Raiders’ misfit toys). In 2006, Michael Huff was the pick, arguably the most successful of the era, since he did manage to start most of seven seasons in Oakland, intercepting 11 passes in 108 career games at safety. 2007 was the apex of the era, with #1 overall pick Jamarcus Russell. A year later, Darren McFadden was the pick, and he has flashed talent, on those occasions when he is healthy. He turns 26 this year and has never played in more than 13 games in a year. Darrius Heyward-Bey was the surprise selection at #7 in 2009, widely panned, though by Raiders standards, a solid first round pick. He is now gone as well after starting parts of four seasons.
Add in the Carson Palmer trade, and Rolando McClain is the most recent first round pick to play for the Raiders, and he is now retired. It has been over a decade since the Raiders drafted a player in the first round who would be selected for a pro bowl.
Seven picks, no career pro bowls, and depending on how you want to grade such things, the best first round pick is either Darren McFadden (because he has the most upside when healthy) or Michael Huff (because he started the most games for Oakland).
I tried to look back at all other drafts since 1970, and look at eight year periods of first round picks. The pro-football-reference website has a career approximate value for players. It is very approximate, but decent enough for an exercise like this. None of the Raiders’ first round picks since 2004 have reached a career value of 40, despite six of them being drafted in the Top Ten. To put that “40” in some perspective, the guys from the 2003 draft with a career value of 40-44 are Scott Shanle, Jon Stinchcomb, Chris Crocker, Nate Burleson, Cory Redding, and Ty Warren.
The only way a Raider gets there from this era is if McFadden has a later career surge.
There are only three other franchises that have had at least five draft picks in the first round in an eight year period, and none of them have a career approximate value of 40 or more (excluding those that are very recent where no players have played at least six years). Given how many top picks the Raiders had, they are clearly the most underperforming team of the modern era in the first round. It took a combination of bad drafting, bad development and organizational decay, and bad luck to put up the worst of the worst. Interestingly, two other teams over the same span, Indianapolis and Jacksonville, may very well be in the conversation once we look back at the drafts from 2004 to 2011 in a decade. Here are the others that are at least in the conversation.
- Philadelphia from 1990 to 1997. Mike Mamula, workout warrior, was part of this era, though he was arguably one of the better picks. That honor goes to Jermane Mayberry, who is the only first round pick to make a pro bowl, at guard in 2002. Three of the seven picks during this era ended up starting 16 or fewer games in their careers.
- New York Giants from 1971 to 1978. None of the Giants picks started more than four seasons, and none made a pro bowl. Three of them were top ten picks.
- San Francisco from 1971 to 1978. The 49ers traded away their first round picks in 1976 and 1977 for Jim Plunkett in a move that didn’t work out, but it is not like the rest of their picks did them any good. None of the eight picks ever made a pro bowl, and the most notable is probably Dan Bunz, just because he was a starter on the two Super Bowl teams.
There are other teams that had some pretty rough stretches, with only one or two notable players saving a dreadful run. Atlanta from 1970 to 1977 would have challenged Oakland except Steve Bartkowski was much better than JaMarcus Russell. Dallas was horrible in the first round from 1978 to 1987, with the exception of getting Jim Jeffcoat, though almost all those picks were at the end of the round. The Giants of the 1990’s didn’t have a whole lot of success, with Rodney Hampton being the best pick. Washington made only three first round picks from 1970 to 1990, and they were all good ones (Art Monk, Mark May, and Darrell Green). From 1991 to 1997, the only pro bowler for Washington, with seven picks, was Desmond Howard as a return man one year.
The good news for Oakland is that those horrific eras for other teams came to a halt. San Francisco went from one of the worst drafting eras to the dynasty of the 1980’s. The Giants selected Phil Simms, Mark Haynes, and Lawrence Taylor in the next three drafts. The Eagles went through the successful Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb era. This too, will end, and it likely can’t get any worse. It’s already been the worst there was.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]
Related: Worst Draft Picks, AFC Edition
Related: Worst Draft Picks, NFC Edition