Oakland Raiders five-best NFL Draft picks

We start out this series with the five-best draft picks in Oakland Raiders history. 

There was a time, not too long ago, when the Raiders were a franchise that teams looked up to as a beacon for front office stability and success in the NFL draft. While this time surely has passed, they still have the following five picks to hang their hats on.

5.  Cliff Branch, Wide Receiver (Fourth Round, 98th Pick in 1972) 

Branch was the 12th receiver taken in the 1972 draft and none of the 11 selected before him had anywhere near the career that the former Colorado standout put up in 14 years with the Raiders organization.

He earned four trips to the Pro Bowl and was a three-time First-Team All Pro in his time with both the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders. Branch might have only put up two 1,000-yard seasons, but he did lead the league in touchdowns two times and averaged a ridiculous 17.3 yards per reception during his stellar career.

Branch helped lead the Raiders to three Super Bowl championships in his career, including a two-touchdown performance against the Philadelphia Eagles in a 27-10 victory in Super Bowl XV.

At the time of his retirement, Branch held the NFL record for career postseason receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns. He’s currently third in franchise history in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns. Despite this success, Branch has yet to hear his name called to Canton for induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was last a semi-finalist back in 2010. That’s an utter travesty.

4.  Ken Stabler, Quarterback (Second Round, 52nd Pick in 1968) 

Speaking of travesties, Stabler still hasn’t seen his bust erected at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Despite earning a Super Bowl championship and being named to NFL’s All 1970’s Team, this under appreciated former Pro Bowl quarterback just hasn’t received the respect that I think he deserves.

With Greg Landry, Eldridge Dickey, Gary Beban and Mike Livingston (who?) all selected ahead of Stabler back in the 1968 draft, he’s been dealing with this disrespect for a good 45 years. None of this stopped Stabler from leading every single major statistical category in route to a Super Bowl XV victory over the Minnesota Vikings, a game that saw him completed 12-of-19 passes for 180 yards and a score.

Stabler may have thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his career, but it’s important to note that he was playing in an era where that was commonplace. Just look at Terry Bradshaw’s and Joe Namath’s career statistics.

All Stabler did was win during his 10-year career with the Raiders. He won 72 percent of his career starts with the Raiders and led the NFL in touchdown passes two different times.

3. Howie Long, Defensive End (Second Round, 48th Pick in 1981) 

Finally a Hall of Famer in this article. Long earned eight trips to the Pro Bowl in his 13-year career with the Raiders. Selected in the second round of the 1981 draft, one year before the Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles, Long earned a Super Bowl ring when the Raiders defeated Washington 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII. In that game, Long helped anchor a defense that intercepted Joe Theismann twice and held John Riggins to 2.5 yards per rush on 26 attempts.

Long was named a member of NFL’s 1980’s All-Decade Team and earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1985.

While sacks weren’t an official NFL statistic during the early part of his career, Long unofficially put up 91.5 in his extensive NFL career. He ranks second in franchise history behind Greg Townsend in that category.

2. Bo Jackson, Running Back (Seventh Round, 183rd Pick in 1987)

At the height of his playing career, Jackson was the most exciting athlete in the United States. It was actually a rather long road to success for Jackson. He was originally selected No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1986 NFL draft. A visit by then Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse, which the owner indicated to Jackson was cleared by the NCAA, resulted in a violation and Bo was ruled ineligible for the remainder of the baseball season. This angered Jackson to no end, which resulted in him indicating he’d never play for the franchise.

True to his word, the Buccaneers had to renounce his rights prior to the 1987 draft. Jackson, who indicated he’d rather focus on football and was in Spring Training that March with the Kansas City Royals, was selected in the seventh round by Al Davis and the Raiders.

The rest if history.

Jackson never played a full season for the Raiders. His contract was designed to guarantee that he could finish out the MLB season with Kansas City before joining the Raiders. Despite only playing 38 games in four seasons prior to a tragic hip injury, Jackson was downright ridiculous when he took the field. He accounted for the three longest runs in the NFL during that four-year span and averaged a ridiculous 5.4 yards per rush during his career.

Jackson may not have had the long-term impact of others in this article, but his impact crossed the sports world and hit right into American culture during that time. The tag line “Bo Knows” created one of the most successful ad campaigns in the history of Nike. His ability to dominate both on the football field and the baseball diamond transcended what it meant to be an athlete.

There is absolutely no telling just how great Jackson would have been if it wasn’t for that gruesome hip injury. At his height, he was one of the most talented running backs to ever take the field.

1. Art Shell, Offensive Tackle (Third Round, 80th Pick in 1968)

Fox Sports: Shell has to be considered one of the five-best NFL draft picks in Oakland Raiders history.
Fox Sports: Shell has to be considered one of the five-best NFL draft picks in Oakland Raiders history.

My generation only knew Shell as the first African-American coach in the history of the NFL when he took over for Al Davis and the Raiders back in 1989 and then returned to the sideline for a disastrous 2-14 season in 2006.

Though somewhat successful as a coach, Shell is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame because he was one of the best offensive tackles to ever set foot on a football field. Selected in the third round of the 1968 draft out of Mid-Eastern Shore, Shell would end up earning eight trips to the Pro Bowl, including seven in a row from 1972-1978.

He won three Super Bowls as a member of the Raiders and was named a member of NFL’s 1970’s All-Decade Team. The dominance that Shell showed in going up against some of the great defensive ends in NFL history cannot be understated. While playing a less sexy position, Shell will always be remembered as one of the greatest Raiders of all-time.