Since their inception in 1960, the Oakland Raiders have been one of the proudest and most storied franchises in NFL history. The Silver and Black own three Super Bowl titles, and have been the home of some of the NFL’s most elite players and coaches. Through it all, the Raider Nation fan base has remained some of the most loyal and rabid in the entire world, and the Black Hole is one of the more historical seating locations in sports history. The last 56 years have been a whirlwind, and, up until recently, the franchise had seen better days.
Since their defeat in Super Bowl XXXVII to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the franchise slowly spiraled out of control, and the team became the laughing stock of the league. One of the biggest reasons for the struggle was poor drafting. Over those thirteen dreadful years, the Raiders drafted some of the biggest busts of all time, including Jamarcus Russell, who may in fact be the worst first round pick of all time. However, things have taken a turn for the Raiders, who, thanks to some incredible drafting, are currently having themselves a fantastic season.
With the emergence of rookie first round pick Karl Joseph, the Raiders roster is filled with contributors on both sides of the ball that came to the team through their recently discovered drafting prowess. While I’ve only highlighted the bad picks, the Raiders have had the unique distinction of finding gems in the later rounds. However, a closer look would have you see that they have managed to strike gold in the opening round as well. While some names on this list may bring back fond memories of the old days, some newer names will have you looking ahead to a bright future. So join us, as we list “The 15 Greatest First Round Draft Picks in Oakland Raiders History.”
15. Amari Cooper, 4th Overall (2015)
Kicking off our list is a player who is incredibly young in his NFL career, yet has made a huge impression after just one season. A product of Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide, Amari Cooper was selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft with high expectations, and boy did he deliver. After becoming one of the most prolific receivers in school history, Cooper was ready to shine in the NFL. He became the first Raider receiver to eclipse the 1,000 yard barrier in nearly a decade, and was the first Raider rookie wide receiver to achieve the milestone. Toss in six touchdowns for good measure, and you have yourself a truly talented player who made the Pro Bowl in his rookie year. Fully underway into season number two, Cooper has looked great thus far, and it will be interesting to see where his NFL career takes him, and where he will eventually place in the pantheon of Raider greats.
14. Sebastian Janikowski, 17th Overall (2000)
Taken in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft, Sebastian Janikowski has manned the kicker position for the Raiders for 16 NFL seasons. The Florida State standout was a two-time Lou Groza award winner, and is one of only three kickers who have been selected in the opening round of the NFL Draft. The one-time Pro Bowl selection and one-time All-Pro selection is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, and is tied for the second longest field goal in NFL history. Janikowski is also the last remaining player from Oakland’s 2002 Super Bowl squad. While some still scoff at the selection, the fact remains that Janikowski has been a Raider mainstay, a fan favorite, and has provided continuity at the position.
13. Don Mosebar, 26th Overall (1983)
After earning All-America honors while playing at USC, the towering Don Mosebar was selected by the Los Angeles Raiders with the 26th overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, just ahead of a certain Miami Dolphins quarterback who played at the University of Pittsburgh. Mosebar was a stalwart lineman who anchored the offensive line of the Art Shell coached Raiders. He earned three Pro Bowl nods throughout his career, and played for the Raiders for over a decade. After thirteen years, Don Mosebar hung it up after the 1995 NFL season. Despite his achievements, Mosebar’s name is usually associated with the player that he was taken before. As for that Miami Dolphins quarterback, well, he turned out to be a pretty damn good player. He held nearly every quarterback record known to man, and went on to be one of the better actors in a little movie called Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
12. Raymond Chester, 24th Overall (1970)
The Morgan State tight end was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the 24th overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft, and the pick of Chester proved to be a fruitful one for the team. Over the course of his career, Chester had to separate stints playing for the Raiders with a five year term playing for the Baltimore Colts sandwiched in between. Chester was a four-time Pro Bowl selection, and was one of the better tight ends of his era, amassing an impressive 48 career receiving touchdowns. After ten years of professional football under his belt, Raymond Chester won his one and only Super Bowl ring at Super Bowl XV with the Oakland Raiders in his eleventh year. After playing one year in the USFL for the Oakland Invaders in 1983, Chester called it a day, and retired with a career that any football player would have been lucky to have.
11. Khalil Mack, 5th Overall (2014)
Sometimes, one draft is all it takes to change the look and culture of an NFL team. In 2014, the Oakland Raiders made major strides by selecting Khalil Mack in the first round, Derek Carr in the second round, and Gabe Jackson in the third round. Khalil Mack has been an absolute force in his first two years in the NFL. Mack has notched 19 sacks, including a five sack performance against heated divisional rival Denver. That performance helped launch Mack into the stratosphere, and put the league on notice. In 2015, Mack became the first player in NFL history to be selected as an All-Pro at two separate positions in the same season, and earned his first Pro Bowl selection. Despite having only played for two seasons, Mack is one of the best overall defensive players on the planet, and expectations are through the roof for the young defensive captain.
10. Darrell Russell, 2nd Overall (1997)
In his prime, Darrell Russell was an absolute beast on the defensive line. He was selected number two overall by the Oakland Raiders in the insanely loaded 1997 NFL Draft, right after Hall of Fame offensive lineman Orlando Pace. After a modest rookie campaign, Russell showed the world why he was selected so high. Between 1998 and 1999, Russell played like a man possessed, securing 19.5 sacks as a defensive tackle, and was a two-time Pro Bowl selection for the Oakland Raiders. During those two seasons, Russell was also selected as an All-Pro. In 2001, things began to take a turn for the worst for the former USC Trojan. Russell garnered himself a four game suspension for a drug test violation, and would end up being suspended for the entire 2002 season as well. As a fan, it was crushing to see a young man who couldn’t seem to get out of his own way. In 2005, Russell died in a car accident at just 29 years old. It was a tragic end to a once dominant player’s life.
9. Chester McGlockton, 16th Overall (1992)
Selected out of Clemson University with the sixteenth overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft, Chester McGlockton was another Raiders interior defensive lineman who made big things happen during his time with the Silver and Black. McGlockton made the Pro Bowl for four straight year from 1994-1997, and tallied nearly 30 sacks during that time. Counting the three All-Pro selections from 1994-1996, it’s easy to see that McGlockton was one of the best interior lineman in the NFL during the mid-1990’s. After six years with the Raiders, McGlockton would wind up playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, and with the New York Jets before leaving the game following the 2003 NFL season. Overall, McGlockton tallied 51 career sacks, and was a fan favorite during his time with the Raiders. Sadly, McGlockton passed away in 2011 due to an enlarged heart, but his legacy endures throughout the Raider Nation.
8. Terry McDaniel, 9th Overall (1988)
In 1988, the Raiders picked two incredibly talented players with their first round picks in the NFL Draft. We will check in with their first pick in that draft a little later on the list. At the number nine spot, the Raiders selected the Tennessee Volunteer cornerback who would be a mainstay on the team for the next decade. Along with Chester McGlockton, the Raiders had some serious talent on the defence when they returned to Oakland in 1995. McDaniel made the Pro Bowl every year from 1992-1996, and was an All-Pro for four of those years. In 1994, McDaniel had a career year, tallying 7 interceptions, and would amass 27 total interceptions in his Pro Bowl years. McDaniel would finish his career with 35 interceptions, 6 of which he returned for touchdowns. After spending one season with the Seattle Seahawks, McDaniel called it a day after an impressive eleven year career.
7. Jack Tatum, 19th Overall (1971)
To this day, “The Assassin” Jack Tatum remains one of the scariest players in NFL history. The Ohio State safety was picked by Oakland in 1971; the same draft that included future Raiders great, and criminally underrated quarterback Jim Plunkett who was selected first overall by the Patriots. Tatum played the game with utter brutality, and many defensive backs to follow including Brian Dawkins, Kam Chancellor, and Oakland Raiders rookie Karl Joseph owe a lot to the man who pumped the fear of God into opposing players. Need proof? Look no further than his hit on Sammy White in Super Bowl XI. The hit is violence incarnate, and was a perfect representation of the game itself as the Jon Madden coached Raiders destroyed the Vikings. Despite his legend, Tatum was more than just a hitter. He grabbed 37 career interceptions, and was a Pro Bowl selection from 1973-1975. Tatum’s style of play has helped raise awareness over the safety of NFL players through the years. After a collision that left Darryl Stingley paralyzed in 1978, the NFL has steadily tried to make the game safer for players. It remains one of the scariest incidents in football history, and one can hope that no other player has to live through that type of tragedy.
6. Nnamdi Asomugha, 31st Overall (2003)
With two picks in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft, Oakland decided to shore up their defense, and Nnamdi Asomugha was their first selection. The California Golden Bear’s career began slowly, but, once he blossomed, Asomugha became one of, if not the best defensive back in the NFL. In 2006, Asomugha posted a career high 8 interceptions, and emerged as a top-tier player that was capable of leading a defense. While his stat line may not jump off of the page, it doesn’t tell the full story. Asomugha was one of the least-targeted defensive backs in the NFL due to his ability to shut down the game’s best receivers. Simply put, quarterbacks wanted no business of #21. In the prime of his career, Asomugha was selected to three consecutive Pro Bowls, two First-team All-Pro selections, two Second-team All-Pro selections, and was included in the NFL All-Decades Team of the 2000’s. After a brief stint with the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers, Asomugha returned home to the East Bay, signing a one day contract, and retired with the Oakland Raiders.
5. Ray Guy, 23rd Overall (1973)
Never a team to shy away from making a head-scratching pick, the Oakland Raiders selected punter Ray Guy in the first round of the 1973 NFL Draft. While selecting a punter in the first round would get most GM’s fired, the selection of Guy turned out to be absolute gold for the Raiders. Arguably the greatest punter to have ever lived, Guy helmed the position for fourteen years. During his time with the Raiders, Guy was a member of all three of the franchise’s Super Bowl winning teams. He was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times, and made First-team All-Pro on six separate occasions. As if those credentials aren’t impressive enough, Guy is a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, and is also a member of the NFL 1970’s All-Decades Team. Finally, after years of waiting, Ray Guy became the first and only pure punter selected to the Hall of Fame in 2014.
4. Charles Woodson, 4th Overall (1998)
How does someone drafted in the same first round class as Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, and Alan Faneca stand out? Easy. You only need to be one of the best defensive backs to ever play the sport. Taken number four overall, #24 would go on to have one of the more spectacular careers in NFL history. Woodson turned heads early on, making the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Overall, the former Heisman Trophy winner was a nine-time Pro Bowl pick, and made First-team All-Pro four times. Not good enough? Woodson was also the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year (the first cornerback since Deion Sanders to earn the award), and was part of Green Bay’s Super Bowl winning team. During his time with the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers, Woodson snatched 65 interceptions, and over 1,000 tackles in his career. In 2015, Woodson played his final season in the NFL with the Silver and Black. He finished in the top-ten in interceptions, and earned Pro Bowl honors. It was an incredible season to cap off an incredible career.
3. Tim Brown, 6th Overall (1988)
In 1987 “Touchdown Timmy” Brown won the Heisman Trophy while playing for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and, in 1988, the Raiders jumped at the chance to take Brown in the first round. Selected ahead of future Hall of Fame players Michael Irvin and Randall McDaniel, Tim Brown became one of the most consistent and prolific receivers in NFL history. Finishing his career with over 14,000 receiving yards and over 1,000 receptions, Tim Brown was one of the greatest receivers in the NFL, despite playing in an era that also harbored legend Jerry Rice. Brown was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, and amassed over 19,000 all-purpose yards in his career. For 16 years, Tim Brown was the face of the Raiders, and holds virtually every Raider receiving record. After spending one season in Tampa Bay, Brown retired as a Raider, and, in 2015, Brown was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
2. Marcus Allen, 10th Overall (1982)
Six years before the Raiders selected Tim Brown, they selected another future Hall of Fame player in the top ten. Taken at the number ten spot, Marcus Allen proved to be a pivotal piece for the raiders on their path to greatness, and was one of the best running back the game of football has seen. The man was a touchdown machine, rushing for double-digit touchdowns in three of his first four seasons in the NFL, including a career-high 13 in 1984. The 1983 season saw the Raiders winning Super Bowl XVIII, with Allen being named Super Bowl MVP. In 1985, Allen was selected as the NFL MVP, after rushing for over 1,700 yards and 11 touchdowns. In total, Allen was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, and was awarded the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in 1993 while playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2003, Allen was inducted in the Hall of Fame, and his legacy was forever cemented.
1. Gene Upshaw, 17th Overall (1967)
For fifteen years, the Oakland Raiders would lay claim to having one of the greatest players of all-time donning the Silver and Black. Upshaw was more than just one of the best players at his position; he was one of the best player ever. Selected in the 1967 NFL/AFL Draft, Upshaw’s fifteen year career saw him playing in a rapidly changing league. He was an AFL champion and an AFL All-Star before becoming a Super Bowl champion and a Pro Bowl pick. An absolute bully on the line, Upshaw, along with Hall of Fame player Art Shell, would go on the form one of the greatest offensive line duos fans have ever had the pleasure of watching. Upshaw is only the second man on this list to be named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, and is also part of the NFL 1970’s All Decade Team. Given his play, his accolades, and his legacy, it’s quite clear that Gene Upshaw is the greatest first round draft pick in the history of this storied franchise.