ALAMEDA, Calif. — The NFL invited Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree to New York in expectation of his being selected within the first handful of picks Saturday in the NFL draft.
There he sat, resplendent in a shiny silver suit, smiling, appearing certain his name was about to be called by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Pick after pick passed without Crabtree being summoned.
The nation’s top receiver prospect was there for the taking when the Raiders picked at No. 7. Yet, the Raiders surprised many by going with Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.
“This is the guy we wanted all along,” Raiders coach Tom Cable said only minutes after Heyward-Bey became the newest Raider. “As I said probably about a month ago, there’s one guy in the draft who makes our entire team better. ... This was the choice that we thought we had to have to move this team to the next step.”
Crabtree said he wasn’t surprised when the Raiders passed on him at No. 7.
“No, not at all,” Crabtree said in a conference call. “They picked who they wanted, and the 49ers picked who they wanted.”
The Raiders added Ohio University safety Michael Mitchell with a second-round pick they acquired from the New England Patriots, along with two second-day picks, in exchange for their own second-round pick.
“When you see some highlights of this guy, you’re going to see a guy that ... has that Ronnie Lott, that Jack Tatum mentality,” Cable said. “He literally knocks people out. ... It allows you know to get back to Raider style of football, which is really the reason I wanted this guy so bad.”
Mitchell, 6-foot and 220 pounds, said he has a penchant for getting people’s attention on the football field.
“My dad and I would watch old films of Jack Tatum and Ronnie Lott, and he’d say, ‘That’s how you play football,’ Mitchell said in a conference call. “So, from a young age, I knew it was about hitting and being physical. I definitely model myself after those two individuals. I like to impose myself on other people.”
Mitchell prefers to knock out opposing players. The Raiders plain knocked it out of the park Saturday, based on their expectations coming in, Cable said.
“We got both of the guys that we targeted (Saturday),” Cable said.
Most pre-draft prognostications had the Raiders selecting Crabtree, Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, one of the four top-tier offensive tackles or Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji.
Somewhere along the way, the Raiders fell in love with Heyward-Bey. The courtship started when Heyward-Bey posted the fastest 40-yard dash time of any player who participated in the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February.
The relationship turned serious Mar. 12 when the Raiders watched Heyward-Bey work out in College Park, Md.
“This is a guy that I had targeted a month ago,” Cable said. “He’s the one guy who has made everyone better around him. We needed the ability to throw the ball over people’s head, and JaMarcus has obviously shown he can outthrow most everything. This is a guy now who can go run that down and catch it.”
Johnnie Lee Higgins was Oakland’s leading wide receiver last season, and he caught only 22 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns. The lack of production by returning receivers Higgins, Javon Walker, Chaz Schilens and Arman Shields made it apparent that the Raiders needed an infusion of talent.
Former NFL receiver and current ESPN analyst Keyshawn Johnson questioned the selection of Heyward-Bey during the network’s coverage.
“Al Davis loves speed,” Johnson said of Oakland’s managing general partner. “Fast receivers can’t catch anyways. ... You don’t have to be fast in this league to make plays. It’s a big mistake on their part passing up Crabtree. You got to catch the football! This shouldn’t happen. You should never be shut out when you’re the number one guy.”
Heyward-Bey, 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, had two games last season in which he failed to catch a pass. He averaged 46 receptions for 696 yards and four touchdowns in his three seasons.
Not to worry, Heyward-Bey said.
“At Maryland, what we do is, we run the ball to set up the pass,” Heyward-Bey said in a conference call with Bay Area media. “I’m the type of receiver, I catch, block, hustle and just work hard. So in college you didn’t see those numbers but, definitely, at the next level you’re going to see a little bit more.”
By comparison, Crabtree scored 41 touchdowns in his two seasons in a spread offense.
“The one great comparison that I did that really showed this was the right guy for me, if I put him in that same (spread) system, he might have been over 50 touchdowns,” Cable said. “He’s that talented.”
Cable’s called the Heyward-Bey selection a “no-question pick” and said the Raiders never considered any other player or trading down. He said scouts compare Heyward-Bey to former Raiders receiver Randy Moss.
For his part, Heyward-Bey said he patterns his game and work ethic after former Raiders receiver Jerry Rice, though the comparison to Moss is flattering.
“Randy Moss is the most talented wide receiver to ever play the game talent-wise,” Heyward-Bey said. “To be compared to him is great, but I have to go in there and just have to prove myself and make a name for myself, and that’s Darrius Heyward-Bey.”
And that’s Oakland’s first-round selection, regardless what others projected or felt about Crabtree and the others.