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Raiders struggle to find impact players in draft

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POSTED December 25, 2013 9:01 p.m.

ALAMEDA (AP) — For an organization seeking to rebuild through the draft, the Oakland Raiders have struggled to find impact players in the first two drafts under general manager Reggie McKenzie.

Whether because of injuries, a lack of enough premium picks or bad decisions, the Raiders have gotten only one starter from the last two grab bags.

Of the 16 players taken in McKenzie’s first two draft classes, five are no longer with the organization, three are on season-ending injured reserve, and most of the others are struggling to get on the field.

With the organization hampered by bad contracts from departed players that are still eating up salary cap space, the misses in the draft are more notable, a clear factor in another disappointing season in Oakland.

“Sometimes things don’t work out,” coach Dennis Allen said. “Sometimes mistakes are made. But, I’m very confident in Reggie McKenzie and the personnel staff of being able to evaluate football players: quarterbacks, offensive linemen, defensive lineman. I’m very confident in his ability to do that. I’m very confident in our ability as a coaching staff to do that.”

Allen said it is far too early to judge this year’s draft class, which has been mostly underwhelming from the top on down. The biggest disappointments have been first-round cornerback D.J. Hayden, who struggled before going on IR, and fourth-round quarterback Tyler Wilson, who spent most of the year on the practice squad before being signed by Tennessee last week.

Sixth-round running back Latavius Murray has also missed the entire season with an ankle injury.

McKenzie and the Raiders have had much greater success finding productive undrafted free agents, with the most notable being receiver Rod Streater and quarterback Matt McGloin.

But with little cap room to sign free agents, the Raiders could ill afford to miss on their top pick. They traded down nine spots to take Hayden 12th overall, despite a near-fatal heart injury that cut short his final season in college.

Hayden missed most of the offseason program and was not allowed to partake in contact for much of training camp because of the injury. When he did play, he struggled keeping up physically with NFL receivers and allowed opposing quarterbacks to have a 110 passer rating when throwing in his direction, according to Pro Football Focus.

After allowing two touchdowns on four passes against Philadelphia on Nov. 3, Hayden hurt his groin in practice and was shut down for the season.

“Unfortunately some of these injuries have limited what some of these guys can do,” Allen said.

By trading down, the Raiders got an additional second-round pick they used on offensive tackle Menelik Watson, who had played only two seasons of organized football. Watson also missed much of training camp and the start of the season with injuries and is mostly being used in six-linemen formations.

The highlights from the draft were third-round linebacker Sio Moore, who has been a starter all season and has 3½ sacks, and sixth-round tight end Mychal Rivera, who has 36 catches for 384 yards and four touchdowns. Sixth-round defensive lineman Stacy McGee has also shown promise.

Allen said he believes some of these rookies will be part of the nucleus of the organization when it ends a run of 11 straight non-winning seasons.

“It’s not a huge percentage where those guys come in and make a huge impact early in their career,” Allen said. “Obviously, you know about the ones that do, but rookies generally don’t make a huge impact in their first year. But there’s a lot of things that we see in these guys that we can develop where they can get better, where they can be the backbone of our team moving forward.”

McKenzie’s first draft class has produced even less, although he was hampered by not having a pick until 95th overall at the end of the third round.

His first pick, offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom, played sparingly as a rookie and has spent all of this season on injured reserve. The most productive player from that class was fourth-round linebacker Miles Burris, who started 15 games as a rookie but missed the first 10 games this season with a knee injury. He has played only 30 defensive snaps since his return.

Three of the six players are no longer with the team. Fifth-round defensive lineman Jack Crawford has played 126 defensive snaps this season and has yet to make a sack in his career.

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