It wasn't that long ago that Raiders ineptitude put them in position for greatness. With four top-10 draft picks over four consecutive years, they were handed the recipe to build the core of contender.

We know how that worked out. Only running back Darren McFadden (2008, fourth overall) remains with Oakland.

One of those picks, quarterback JaMarcus Russell (2007, first) is out of football.

Another, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (2009, seventh) was a disappointment before being released last month.

And then there is linebacker Rolando McClain (2010, eighth), an ordinary player and deeply troubled soul, released two weeks ago, after which he signed with Baltimore, only to be arrested over the weekend for at least the third time in three years.

New Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie can't afford the 75 percent failure rate submitted by the administration led by the late Al Davis. Given how much the Raiders need as they approach the 2013 draft, McKenzie can't even afford a 50 percent failure rate.

"It's my job to do the research," McKenzie told me recently. "Whether we pick a dud or not, that remains to be seen. But I know we'll never hear the end of it.

"You'll probably be the first to remind us."

No, Reggie. Your long-suffering fans will be the first to remind you. They will do so with loud mouths, louder correspondence and very quiet checkbooks.

One thing that's impossible to conceive is McKenzie and his coach, Dennis Allen, compromising on character. They might take a risk, but a year with McClain has put them on high alert.


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Weeks before McClain was released, I asked Allen if he would provide at least a hint about the outcome. He paused for several seconds before looking me in the eye.

"There's right and there's wrong," he said. "I'm looking for guys that love football, that are willing to work and that will put the team first. Everybody that fits into that category, I'm trying to keep around here as long as possible.

"And I'm trying to eliminate guys that don't fit in that category."

Allen didn't mention McClain or anyone else by name. Not that he needed to.

McClain was drafted, like Russell and McFadden and Heyward-Bey, to be a leader. Any franchise investing in a first-round pick, and especially a top-10 pick, is looking for a Pro Bowl player with Hall of Fame potential -- guys who not only play well but provide proper direction for others and are essential to the foundation.

"Coaches set the mood, the tempo and the direction," Allen said. "But you have to have messengers that carry it out. There's a general in every army, but there also are colonels. They deliver the message. They carry out the marching orders."

That's what McKenzie has to do with the No. 3 pick Thursday, assuming he's not able to trade down in what most observers consider a mediocre draft.

"I understand the gurus and analysts are saying what this draft is and isn't," the GM said. "But opinions change on players daily . . . there will be five or 10 players that teams will love to have. (Trading down) is always a possibility. The question is whether you want to move back, or whether you want to grab that one player."

If the Raiders stay at No. 3, the logical move is a defensive tackle, either Florida's Shariff Floyd or Utah's Star Lotulelei, generally considered the two best D-linemen in the draft. Either would fill a glaring need.

What we know for sure is there will be no more high draft picks used on combine sensations, guys who were the fastest or the strongest.

"You have to go by what you see on tape in person," McKenzie said. "Take into account what you get in the interview process. Take into account the medical and psychological history.

"But you can't (punish) a guy you see on tape who plays well, understands leverage and do forth, but then goes to the combine and can't bench press worth a dime. And if a receiver can fly but can't catch a cold, he can't help much."

Expect those taken by Oakland this week to be football players first and physical specimens second. Except maybe their first pick. He needs to be even more than that.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/1montepoole.