- Bill Barnwell
If there's one surefire path to consistent success across all of American pro sports, it's identifying promising talent on draft day, then developing that talent into valuable members of your organization. Every sport has a team or two that is known for its consistency -- the Detroit Red Wings in hockey, the Atlanta Braves in baseball and the San Antonio Spurs in basketball -- and in football, well, it's certainly not the Oakland Raiders. In fact, the Raiders might be the worst team in the NFL at drafting and developing talent.
You have to go back to the 2003 NFL draft to find a first-round pick who actually worked out well for Oakland (Nnamdi Asomugha out of Cal). Although it took some time, he developed into one of the NFL's best corners. After the 2003 season, though, the Raiders fired coach Bill Callahan, brought in Norv Turner and began a string of drafts that have yielded little beyond disappointment.
It's too early to measure the development of players taken in the 2008 NFL draft or later, but guys who were selected between 2004 and 2007 should be the backbone of any championship-caliber team. Such a player is typically at his peak and is at the end of his rookie contract or about to sign a new deal to keep him on a roster through his prime. We addressed a few teams based on emerging players in our mid-July Organizational Rankings.
The Raiders ranked No. 26 out of 32 squads on that list. It's not a coincidence -- and it affects whether they could contend in the NFC West, as well, a topic of discussion on ESPN.Com today.
For Oakland to become elite again, it must improve its player development. Only five of the team's first-round draft picks from 2004 to 2007 will be starters in 2010; that's a lesser total than all 12 NFL playoff teams of last year.