If you read our weekly Friday Wrap (and if you don’t, you can register for it here), you know that there’s a new book out called Al Davis: Behind the Raiders Shield. It’s written by Bay Area sportswriter Steve Corkran along with two men who knew Davis well: former Raiders scouts Jon Kingdon and Bruce Kebric. Also, Gary Peterson served as editor.
I’ve known Jon since the late ’00s in my days running all-star games, but only recently met Bruce (and his friendly and engaging wife, Liz). They’re both promoting the book around the Bay Area and nationally, so I took the opportunity to ask both of them a few questions about past Raiders drafts, as well as the scouting business. They were kind enough to spend a little time answering those questions, and we’ll have them for our readers this week. Here’s the first excerpt.
Looking back to your four decades with the Raiders, which draftee’s success (or failure) surprised you the most?
Kingdon: The late-round picks that make it are always the most satisfying. Ron Wolf getting the team to draft (DT) Reggie Kinlaw, who had a very good career and (who was) dominating in the Super Bowl win versus Washington. La’Roi Glover, another defensive tackle, who we battled to draft and went on to a great career. Unfortunately, it was done with the New Orleans Saints. Another was Ronald Curry who was a quarterback out of North Carolina that we tried as a safety and then went on to become a very fine wide receiver.
Kebric: As stated in the book, the players that we did not draft (Brett Favre, Aeneas Williams, Steven Jackson, etc.) stand out more than the ones we did draft. During my early years with the Raiders, I lived in Houston and scouted the Southwest. Two players that I recommended who performed beyond my expectations were SS Vann McElroy (Baylor) and DE Greg Townsend (TCU). The biggest disappointment had to be (former No. 1 overall) JaMarcus Russell (LSU), who I had rated as my third best player for the 2007 draft (behind Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson). As the book relates, we told Al that JaMarcus needed a structured environment but such was not provided in Oakland. We basically gave a young man $30 million and let him roam the East Bay.
Is life better overall for scouts now than it was 10 years ago? 20 years ago?
Kingdon: There has been a great evolution in scouting. When I was first hired, scouts would be lugging projectors around to the schools to watch their film. Sometime you would have to watch the film against the wall in the bathroom of a locker room. Going from film to tape and finally to digitizing also makes things a lot easier. Now the teams have film on every school from the prior season and receive it as the season progresses. Scouts are now able to watch a team’s film prior to showing up at the school, enabling the scout to determine where the players he is scouting line up prior to arriving at the school, saving time and allowing the scout to go right into the evaluation process.
Kebric: Worse. The (Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones mantra of “hiring 25-year-olds and paying them $25,000 a year” seems to pervade the league. When I entered the NFL in 1968, the scouts were held in much higher esteem since the majority had been NFL players, NFL executives or NFL/college coaches. Of course, until the late 1970s, the draft was held in early February, which did not permit the coaches to be as involved as today.
Wednesday, we ask Jon and Bruce how Al Davis would look at the analytics wave in football, and how Davis evaluated his scouts and draft team. Don’t forget to check out the book on Amazon.