ALAMEDA -- For what seemed an eternity, Jason Campbell tugged at Nnamdi Asomugha's ear in a semi-secluded area of the Raiders' locker room.Confused. Angered. Embarrassed.Sure, Campbell had to be feeling all of those emotions. At once.Wasn't he the one the Raiders traded for to bring some sanity under center in the wake of the disastrous JaMarcus Russell episode? No one had ever questioned Campbell's work ethic, his leadership.And yet, here he was, figuratively being talked off the ledge by Asomugha, who had seen his share of weirdness over the years in Silver and Blackdom. Campbell had been pulled at halftime of his home debut as Oakland's quarterback. In his second game with the team after being acquired in a 2010 draft weekend trade with Washington.Heading into his second home opener, it's amazing how quickly things have changed for Campbell, who no longer has to look over his shoulder after every incompletion. This, without a doubt, is his team."Definitely," he said. "I felt that way last year, until early in the season. You get pulled that early, it will kind of stall you for a little bit. But at the same time, I moved past that and once I got back in there, I have always felt that way since then."That's my standpoint. It's exciting to lead this team. We are a young team in a lot of areas, but we're also an exciting football team that is trying to go places, and I am just glad to be in the position to lead these guys."Keep in mind that current head coach Hue Jackson, then the offensive coordinator, actually endorsed the benching of Campbell against the St. Louis Rams in favor of Bruce Gradkowski. Then remember how badly then-coach Tom Cable mismanaged the situation until Gradkowski was shut down for good with a bum shoulder late in the season.SInce then, with no need to worry about getting yanked for a fan favorite, Campbell has been on a roll. He has a 97.3 passer rating in the seven games since reclaiming the gig while completing 64.9 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and three interceptions."He's a great quarterback," offered Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. "He can make all the throws. He has a strong arm. He can probably throw the ball 100 yards."Revis giggled, presumably at his own hyperbole."I mean, he has a big arm, he can make plays outside the pocket well," Revis continued. "So, you know, I have high respect for Jason Campbell."Jets coach Rex Ryan remembered scouting Campbell in 2005 when he was coming out of Auburn."I just see a guy that has a bazooka for an arm," Ryan said. "He can make all the throws. I rememberhe was sitting on a knee and threw the ball like 60 yards, and I was like, 'Golly.'"He has that kind of arm talent, he really does. He's got some mobility and now he's been in the league a long time, so I think he's at his best right now. This is probably the best I've seen of Jason Campbell."In two games this season, Campbell has a 99.7 passer rating in completing 65.5 percent of his passes, with three touchdowns and one interception, the Hail Mary into the end zone last week in Buffalo to end the game.He has an 83.1 rating for his career."Jason Campbell is as fine a quarterback as there in this league," Jackson insisted, "but his true measure is going to be winning and losing games. That was a tough one last week. He has to come out and go get after it this week. We got a very good opponent in our stadium, and he has to go play well."Campbell is 4-3 in his last seven games, and engineered the Raiders' near come-from-behind act in Buffalo through the air for a pair of scores when the run game stalled.And that went against the book on him throughout his career -- solid if unspectacular. He won't win many games for you, but he won't lose many on his own either."It's heartbreaking," Campbell said of the 38-35 loss to the Bills. "You look at it a day after the game, two days later, but at the same time you have to be able to put it behind you and move forward. I've been in games like that, at least four or five in my career, that happened like that and ended up pretty much the same way."It's tough because if you win that game, everyone is like, 'Oh, what a great comeback.' You lose that game, shove it out the window. Thats pretty much how it is."Especially for a guy finally comfortable in his own skin in Oakland.
Reggie McKenzie has owned three top 5 picks since becoming Raiders general manager. He used one on Khalil Mack in 2014, another on Amari Cooper a year later. McKenzie got a defensive player of the year and a two-time Pro Bowl receiver.
Pretty nice haul.
His first big draft pick came in 2013, when a 4-12 record the previous year earned the No. 3 overall selection. He turned that into the No. 12 and No. 42 overall selections – the Raiders didn’t have a second-round pick, and also gave up a fifth-rounder in the deal – that garnered cornerback DJ Hayden and Menelik Watson.
Both guys were beset by injury early on, setbacks that kept them from realizing potential identified during the pre-draft process. The Raiders got some quality players from the 2013 draft class – Latavius Murray was a two-year starter and Pro Bowl rusher -- but none of them remain Raiders after their rookie contracts.
Sixth-round tight end Mychal Rivera was the last leave, signing with Jacksonville on Wednesday. The Raiders wanted a few back – Watson and Stacy McGee, in particular – but all of them ended up elsewhere.
That’s not ideal. McKenzie prefers to draft, develop and reward. That didn’t happen for his 2013 draft class. While he didn’t have a first or second round pick, the 2012 draft class has been gone some time now.
He compensated well for that veteran talent void in free agency, bringing in Bruce Irvin, Kelechi Osemele and others of that age.
McKenzie’s draft record after 2013 has improved dramatically. A 2014 group that includes Mack, Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson was franchise altering. The 2015 bunch stands strong, and 2016 has talent but can’t be evaluated quite yet.
Let’s take a look at the 2013 draft class and why it didn’t work out:
CB DJ Hayden (No. 12 overall)
Current team: Detroit (1 year deal, $3.75 million; $2.25 million guaranteed)
Comment: The Raiders didn’t pick up Hayden’s fifth-year option, proof their first-round pick didn’t work out as planned. Hayden was drafted despite a heart condition stemming from a practice injury in college, but a series of soft-tissue injuries slowed him down. He was ineffective at times, though he played better in his final season as a nickel back.
OL Menelik Watson (No. 42 overall)
Current team: Denver (3 year deal, $18.3 million, $5.5 guaranteed)
Comment: Watson was an athletic, nasty offensive lineman the Raiders hoped to keep, someone who showed real potential when healthy. Those moments didn’t come often for a player who lost 2015 to injury and never made it through a full season.
LB Sio Moore (No. 66 overall)
Current team: Free agent
Comment: Moore made an instant impact as a rookie working off the edge. He started on the weakside in 2014, but never seemed to recover from a late-season hip injury. He didn’t fit in well with new head coach Jack Del Rio, and he was traded to Indianapolis before the 2015 season began, he has bounced around ever since, playing as a reserve and special teams player. He remains on the open market.
QB Tyler Wilson (No. 112 overall)
Current team: Out of football
Comment: Tyler Wilson never fit in at the NFL level and didn’t give the Raiders anything for a mid-round selection. Wilson lost his No. 3 job to undrafted rookie Matt McGloin, spent most of 2013 on the practice squad, and was signed by Tennessee late in the year. Wilson was the highest 2013 draft pick to not make the opening day roster.
TE Nick Kasa (No. 172 overall)
Current team: Out of football
Comment: The converted defensive end struggled with injury, and suffered a season-ending knee injury during the 2014 preseason. He spent the year on injured reserve and didn’t return to the active roster.
RB Latavius Murray (No. 181 overall)
Current team: Minnesota Vikings (Three year deal, $15 million, $3.4 million fully guaranteed)
Comment: Murray was the most productive player in the draft class. He missed his rookie year with an ankle injury, but assumed the starting spot by the end of his second season. Murray exceeded 1,000 yards and made the Pro Bowl in 2015, and had nearly 800 yards and 12 touchdowns the following year. He wasn’t a perfect scheme fit for the Raiders, who didn’t pursue him once he hit the open market. Murray signed with the Vikings, and should be a major contributor in that offense.
TE Mychal Rivera (No. 184 overall)
Current team: Jacksonville Jaguars (Two year deal, worth up to $6.75 million)
Comment: Rivera was a vital receiving option on bad Raiders teams, but fell out of favor under Jack Del Rio. That cut his opportunities way down, giving way to 2015 third-round pick Clive Walford. Rivera has receiving skill but isn’t much of a blocker, and his exit was no a surprise after he was a healthy scratch several times in 2016.
DT Stacy McGee (No. 205 overall)
Current team: Washington (Five year deal, $25 million, $9 million guaranteed
Comment: McGee flashed interior talent when healthy in 2016, and cashed in with Washington on the first day of unrestricted free agency. The Raiders hoped to bring him back, but he got far more than they were willing to pay. McGee developed well during his time in Oakland, which ultimately priced him out of town.
WR Brice Butler (No. 209 overall)
Current team: Dallas Cowboys (One year deal, $1.1 million, $300,000 guaranteed)
Comment: Butler was an occasional contributor during two seasons with the Raiders, though the athletic pass catcher was a bit too inconsistent. He finished the 2015 as the fifth receiver, and McKenzie got something for him via trade. Butler remains a Cowboy, and signed a new contract with them this offseason.
DE David Bass No. 233 overall)
Current team: Free agent
Comment: Bass was cut after the 2013 preseason, but he hung on during the next four seasons with Chicago and Tennessee as a reserve and special teams player.
STANFORD – Todd Downing has long been responsible for intently analyzing college quarterbacks entering the NFL Draft. He certainly did so during two seasons as Raiders quarterbacks coach, adding input to personnel department evaluations on young signal callers.
This offseason, he’s using a wide-angle lens. Downing is the Raiders offensive coordinator now, promoted to the position after Bill Musgrave was allowed to leave on an expired contract.
Coaches enter the draft evaluation process relatively late – they have a season to coach, after all – but Downing prides himself on working hard in evaluating talent. Working with general manager Reggie McKenzie’s staff, coaches feel like their voice is being heard.
That’s important to a coordinator especially, who must make a scheme work with talent around him.
“Reggie and his staff have always done a tremendous job of listening to our vision for the offense or the defense,” Downing said Thursday at Stanford’s pro day. “It’s been a joy to work with those guys over the past three years.
“(Head coach Jack Del Rio) really expects us to be accountable for our position group. Now that I’m the coordinator, there’s more of a broad scope when looking at offensive talent in the draft. When you work that hard (evaluating players), I think the scouts know that your opinion is well grounded, and that validates it a little bit.”
Downing is always on the lookout for weapons, especially while making tweaks to the Raiders offense. The Silver and Black found a few, adding tight end Jared Cook, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, offensive lineman Marshal Newhouse and quarterback EJ Manuel.
Quarterback Derek Carr helped him get some. The full-time East Bay resident has been active recruiting free agents, trying to improve an already strong Raiders offense.
“You guys know how passionate he is about this game, and about this team and backing up this franchise,” Downing said. “(His involvement in recruiting) didn’t surprise any of us. He’s pretty hands on when it comes to football. He lives in the area, so he hopped in when we needed it and it paid off.”
Cook and Patterson especially could add dimensions to a well-rounded Raiders attack. Cook has made some big plays in the past, and should be a reliable receiving tight end the Raiders have lacked in recent seasons.
“He has a skill set that will be fun to play with (schematically),” Downing said. “We’re excited to see what he can do, and I know Derek is excited to add him. He has a history of making plays in this league, and that’s something we’re excited to have.”
Patterson’s primarily known as a kick returner – he’s a two-time All Pro on special teams – but the Raiders hope he’ll be active on offense.
“With guys like that, you just find a way to get them the rock and let them do the rest of the work,” Downing said. “They make me look good. I can call a simple play and he takes it the distance and it looks like I designed something special.”