Emperor of :Raider Nation", Al Davis, has been the subject of ridicule since their Super Bowl run in 2002. I was among those critics at one time.
Davis did have some misses, but one must realize just how much Davis has had to endure.
In the world of sports, aging and injuries are considered natural disasters. The Raiders had plenty...at the same time.
Then, there were sudden departures of talented players. I consider those to be self-imposed disasters, but also happened right around the same time.
Look at the history of the Oakland Raiders and you'll see that rebuilding is something that Davis is not used to. Davis has always been able to get a few players to get right back into contention. This time, though, there were too many holes for a quick fix.
His first attempt at rebuilding happens to be his job of a lifetime. That may have caused him to panic, clouding his judgement on some of those players.
From 2002 to 2006, Davis missed badly on most of his personnel choices, digging "Raider Nation" an even deeper hole.
I believe that the panic caused these misses.
Just look at all the holes that needed filling at after the Super Bowl loss. Quarterback Rich Gannon suddenly suffered a career ending injury ; tantamount to the death of a King without an heir.
Then, huge holes were created on the offensive line with the departures of All-Pro's Lincoln Kennedy (tackle) and Barrett Robbins (center). Frank Middleton was also a key departure.
Robbins' departure, however, was most disturbing.
It started in early 2003, when he was missing in acton the week of the Super Bowl. From there, he had problems that trumped any blocking assignment he ever had.
Also, the running back position was gutted after Charlie Garner and Tyrone Wheatly, "Thunder and Lightning", were taken by father time.
Old age also wrecked havoc on the receiver position, when Jerry Rice and Tim Brown left.
There was also a disturbing departure on the defense when tackle Darrell Russell experienced off the field troubles. Those troubles took him away from more than just football ; they took his life in 2004. RIP Darrell.
At linebacker, the "heart and soul" of the Raider defense was Greg Beikert. No one would mistake him for Ray Lewis, but he was a key loss as well.
The Raider's secondary was the best in the league back then with Rod Woodson and Eric Allen, two of the best defensive backs in NFL history. However, age caught up with them too.
Charles Woodson is still one of the best cover corners in the league, but a turf toe injury convinced Davis that Woodson wouldn't be the same. Davis allowed Woodson to sign elsewhere.
By this point, the Raiders had what resembled an expansion team moving forward. All they had that would remain until now were punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski.
The Raiders have only a hand full of players drafted from 2002 to 2006 that are currently set to make big contributions this year.
Langston Walker was a promising second round 2002 pick that chased the money to Buffalo in 2006. Walker has since come back home to Oakland, and was reportedly "looking good" in minicamp. It appears that he has the the inside track to start right tackle this year.
Another pick still working for the Raiders is Nnamdi Asomugha. We don't need to talk about what he's done in Raider Nation.
Robert Gallery is a player from that time still in silver and black, who had heard whispers of being "bust" in the black hole. However, Gallery has bounced back and come a Pro Bowl caliber guard.
Michael Huff also went through his share of bust whispers. For whatever reason, he played strong safety and struggled in the box his first two years. Now, Huff now looks to be well adjusted at free safety, picking off three passes last year.
With such a small amount of draft picks panning out from 2002 to 2007, it is no wonder why the Raiders have the worst record in the league since 2002.
2007 is when the rebuilding process truly started, as Davis was able to make up a lot of ground fast by finding late round gems.
Jamarcus Russell was the first round failure of the 2007 draft, but the Raiders did better throughout that draft.
Zach Miller, now one of the best tight ends in the league, was a great pick in the second round. I can't wait to see what he does with a Jason Campell at quarterback.
Michael Bush was a late round gem in 2007 as well. Bush will be the "Thunder" portion of the Raider backfield this year after showing flashes, despite bad offensive line play, last year.
2008 first round pick Darren McFadden, meanwhile, is the "Lightning" portion of the Raider backfield. McFadden has blazing speed and good hands out of the backfield. However, he needs the offensive line to give him creases to run through , and keep him healthy.
Strong safety Tyvone Branch is a 2008 late round gem. At 6'0" 205 lbs., Branch is a much better fit in the box than Huff. He should soon see a Pro Bowl.
DE\OLB Trevor Scott is another 2008 late round gem, racking up five sacks in his first year without starting a single game. Last year, Scott had seven sacks in six starts, both of those totals tied for the team lead.
2008 gem Chaz Schilens looks every bit the part of a late round diamond. At 6'4", he has the size to go along with blazing speed, hands, and route running. After a promising rookie campaign, a broken foot took time away from Schillens last year.
2009 Has yet to be completely figured out.
First round receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey battled injuries, and struggled with drops when he did play. Although, not many receivers are first year sensations.
The jury is also still out on second round pick Mike Mitchell. His skeleton rattling hits in college reminded Davis of Jack Tatum, but he too battled injuries all last year.
Late round gem Louis Murphy was the Raiders most productive wide out in 2009. He struggled with drops last year, but improved in that area to become "Mr. Big Catch."
Should Heyward-Bey be a bust, Murphy will continue to make up for him.
2010 looks like the best draft the Raiders have had from top to bottom in years with needs met, and no reaches.
A home run was hit in the first round with Rolando McClain, the physical, instinctive middle linebacker the Raiders need to help fix their run defense. McClain played for a pro style defensive coordinator in college, no doubt easing his transition into the NFL.
Disruptive defensive tackle Lamarr Houston was taken in the second round. The early reports are that Houston will be moved to defensive end, but he will improve the run defense either way.
The 6'7" 315 lb. Bruce Campbell is a height, weight, and speed freak. This led many to believe the Raiders would reach for him in the first round.
Davis didn't reach and still got Campbell in the fourth round. Cable is looking to use Campbell at guard instead of tackle so he can make an immediate impact.
Khalif Barnes was resigned to solidify the Raiders offensive line. This will finally allow Bush and McFadden to shine.
The 2011 draft has already started for the Raiders with Richard Seymour as their first pick (trade). He has and will continue to make a bigger impact than anyone they could possibly draft in 2011.
Seymour's veteran leadership will show the younger Raider defensive lineman how it's done. His three Super Bowl rings give him instant credibility
The 2012 fourth round pick for the Raiders is Jason Campbell. He makes up for the 2007's mistake with Russell in more ways than one.
Campbell upgrades the position and is exactly where Russell should be now.
Campbell managed to improve each year despite being in circumstances worse than Russell's. Last year, His QB rating of 86 nearly doubled Russell's rating of 48.
All of this brings Raider Nation more hope than there has been in years.