The Oakland Raiders are notoriously bad at selecting personnel.
Draft picks like JaMarcus Russell, Derrick Gibson, and Robert Gallery (although lately he is stepping up his game), or failed free agent experiments like Randy Moss, are just a few recent “bad” acquisitions that have doomed Raider Nation to a life of obscurity since their Super Bowl appearance in 2003.
But if I am going to criticize the poor choices that Oakland has been known for I must give credit where credit is due. And when the Raiders took Alabama’s standout linebacker, Rolando McClain, with the eighth pick in the 2010 draft, I had to tip my hat.
This wasn’t just a good selection by the Raiders, it was a GREAT one. McClain will be able to provide an immediate upgrade to the Raiders’ defense.
McClain was the defensive leader of the Crimson Tide’s national championship team. In addition to helping lead his team to the BCS Championship, his performance earned him the 2009 Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker, and garnered him a consensus first team All-American selection.
While at Alabama McClain demonstrated a very high commitment to his football team, and he held his teammates accountable to that same level of commitment.
Off the field he developed a reputation as a guy who was always in the film room, studying non-stop in preparation for the next game. During games he then applied that knowledge he learned from in the film room so well that Alabama head coach Nick Saban relied on McClain to call audibles and make on-field adjustments during games, directing his teammates based on what he saw from the opposing offense. Saban actually credited that contribution by McClain as being vital to the team’s success last season.
McClain was a coach on the field.
So, how will all of that collegiate success translate into success as a linebacker for the Raiders?
One of Oakland’s top priorities this off-season was to upgrade the rushing defense. Last season, the Raiders finished with one of the worst defensive performances in the league. On the ground, they allowed more than 155 yards per game, placing them at 29th out of 32 teams in rushing defense. They also allowed more touchdowns on the ground (24) than any other team in the NFL.
Rolando McClain should be the perfect antidote to that problem in 2010.
In addition to McClain’s great instincts and decision-making ability on the field, he is outstanding in defending against the run. Last season he recorded 105 tackles, 14 of which were for losses, and at 6-4, 258 pounds he should have no problem at all stopping running backs now that he has reached the next level.
The one criticism that has been raised about Rolando McClain has been his lack of speed, and many people were surprised that Oakland took McClain specifically because he appears to lack the natural athleticism that seems so prized by Al Davis’ Raiders. The Raiders are confident that McClain will be able to apply his football knowledge to compensate for that lack of natural speed, and he should still find himself in the right place at the right time.
Expectations are that McClain will start right away for the Raiders’ defense. He possesses the perfect combination of size, skill, leadership, and intelligence. He could quickly develop into a superstar that will be the anchor for the Raiders’ defense for many years to come.
I can’t believe I am writing this, but: “Nice job, Oakland. You drafted the right guy!”