Every year around April, the NFL draft frenzy reaches its peak. It’s inevitable that franchises reach on future busts and pass on future superstars in every draft class. In recent years, the Oakland Raiders have specialized in reaching on players (their 2019 draft excluded).
The franchise’s 2016 class was particularly off the mark, as only two players from that class are still on Oakland’s roster. 2016 happens to be the same draft that the Raiders passed on now-New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas in favor of defensive end Jihad Ward. Ward was picked three spots before Thomas, which is a franchise-altering mistake. But what if then-general manager Reggie McKenzie had made the right choice and selected Thomas?
It’s nearly impossible to play out this scenario, but we could have a decent idea. During the 2016 season directly after the Ward/Thomas draft, Oakland made a trip to the playoffs. Ward had thirty total tackles with zero sacks, and no other stats of note while starting for much of the season. He had very little impact on a defensive line and on a defense that only had three players register a sack.
Thomas, on the other hand, actually contributed to his team. He had 1137 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Adding him to the 2016 Raiders would have given them the receiving trio of Thomas, Amari Cooper, and a decent Michael Crabtree. The three combined would have been near unguardable and given the Raiders one of the most explosive offenses in the league. While quarterback Derek Carr did get hurt to end any and all Super Bowl hopes, maybe things would have been different if Thomas pushed the team to a first-round bye.
Now let’s look at the long-term effects of that horrible drafting mistake. Ward is currently with the Baltimore Ravens after being cut from the Indianapolis Colts. He has one sack and doesn’t have a starting role. Thomas is the highest-paid receiver in football as well as the best receiver in football. Oakland would not be struggling without a number one receiver and probably would have avoided the whole Antonio Brown debacle. They would probably be in the AFC’s sixth playoff seed right now instead of on the outside looking in.
Instead, Oakland is stuck looking for a capable top option in the passing game. The answer has to come in the upcoming 2019 draft. This class is loaded with wide receivers, so look for Oakland to take a chance on one of them.