Raiders

Cliff Branch leaves lasting NFL legacy, earned Hall of Fame induction

Cliff Branch leaves lasting NFL legacy, earned Hall of Fame induction

The Raiders mounted a massive marketing and promotional campaign a few years back aimed at one overdue objective.

Get Cliff to Canton.

It quickly became a hashtag, with #clifftocanton representing a full-scale push to get the legendary Raiders receiver inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Many believe he deserves a gold jacket -- and that he should've received one years ago.

The Raiders wanted one on his shoulders, and decided to launch an offensive. They produced videos extolling Branch’s virtues during an illustrious 14-year NFL career, with testimonials from teammates and opponents alike. Raiders representatives stumped for him. They pitched voters, reminding them of his dominance and one inarguable point.

Cliff Branch changed the game.

The world-class sprinter could out-run anyone, and he was at times unstoppable pushing the vertical Raiders offense downfield.

“When you were across from him, there was fear there,” former 49ers and Raiders safety Ronnie Lott said in a video promoting Branch’s candidacy.

The "Cliff to Canton" movement gained steam, but ultimately didn’t get him in the Hall of Fame despite an argument that’s as persuasive now as ever.

If it wins out next year or at any time after that, Branch won’t be around for enshrinement. He died at the age of 71 on Saturday, the Raiders announced.

That’s an unfortunate turn, considering how deserving he seems to be. He has a real shot at getting in next year, with an expanded Hall of Fame class honoring the NFL’s 100th anniversary that will include 10 seniors, or players who have been retired for over 25 seasons. Branch falls into that senior category, and typically only one or two are inducted each year. 

Branch was an active part of all three Raiders Super Bowl championships. He was a three-time First-Team All Pro. He went to four Pro Bowls while representing the Silver and Black from 1972 through 1985.

Branch recorded 501 catches for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns, with a whopping 17.3 yards per reception.

His speed and outgoing personality fit the Raiders perfectly, especially with how late owner Al Davis preferred his offenses push the ball down the field.

“He changed the way the game, and the way the game was played as a wide receiver,” Hall-of-Fame Steelers cornerback Mel Blount said in a Raiders video production. “People started going out looking for speed, and looking for guys like Cliff Branch.”

[RELATED: Branch on Raiders' golden era, Hall of Fame candidacy]

Branch was a constant throughout different chapters of a true Raiders golden era, where they won three Super Bowl titles. He was a feature player in all of those championship runs, and always was at his best in the postseason.

He leaves a lasting legacy with the Raiders organization and the NFL as a whole that is certainly deserving of enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Henry Ruggs, Chase Claypool among combine stars Raiders should target

Henry Ruggs, Chase Claypool among combine stars Raiders should target

We know two things for certain about the 2020 NFL Draft: The wide receiver class is deep and stocked with talent, and the Raiders need a lot of help at wideout.

With five picks in the first 92, it should be a match made in heaven.

General manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden have spent all week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and Thursday they got an up-close look at the best the class has to offer. 

While the class is insanely loaded, six receivers dazzled Thursday during drills and testing, no doubt shooting up the Raiders' draft board.

Chase Claypool, Notre Dame

Teams asked Claypool to work out at tight end during the combine, not knowing if he had the athleticism to play wideout at the NFL level.

At 6-foot-4, 238 pounds, the Notre Dame product was a touchdown machine in college. Any doubts about his athleticism and fit should have been put to bed Thursday with his testing.

Running a 4.43 at 6-foot-4 is some alien-type stuff.

In fact, only one other receiver in history has run a sub 4.45 40 at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds or more.

Calvin Johnson.

In the age of positionless football, just put Claypool on the field and let him go to work.

Henry Ruggs, Alabama

Much like Lamb, Ruggs only solidified his position as one of the top-three wideouts in this loaded class.

Have you ever seen a cheetah run on two legs? Here you go.

An effortless 4.27.

In a freaky class, Ruggs is at the top of the class.

Denzel Mims, Baylor

You want to talk stock up? Look no further than Denzel Mims.

The 6-foot-3, 207-pound receiver had the best three-cone time of the night at 6.66, he broad jumped 10' 11'', had a 38.5-inch vertical and ran a 4.38 40-yard dash.

Freaky.

He also looked fluid in pass-catching drills, showing he's not just a workout warrior.

Mims dominated the Senior Bowl and continued his rise in Indianapolis.

CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma

This is going to be short. I've long believed Lamb is the best receiver in the class and the Raiders should jump at the opportunity to draft him if he's available at No. 12.

He did nothing Thursday to dispel that belief. He just spent it showcasing why he'll be highly coveted in the draft.

Another look?

Your WR1.

[RELATED: Hurts' talent entices, but should Raiders take chance on QB?]

Justin Jefferson, LSU

Despite Jefferson lighting the world of college football on fire this past season, Jefferson entered the combine with some questions about his speed and overall athleticism. Those now are gone.

And since catching the football is the name of the game, he put on a show in The Gauntlet.

Jefferson might have had the best overall combine performance. Don't be surprised if the Raiders snatch him up at No. 19.

Raiders inform NFL draft prospect of parking-ticket history at combine

blacklockcombineusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Raiders inform NFL draft prospect of parking-ticket history at combine

NFL Scouting Combine interviews can be harsh, inappropriate and even downright weird. Ross Blacklock's interview with the Las Vegas Raiders this week in Indianapolis was revelatory. 

The TCU defensive tackle told reporters Thursday that the Raiders informed him he had 37 parking tickets he didn't know about during his time in Fort Worth. 

Blacklock offered a compelling reason for his lack of knowledge on the subject: He claimed the TCU athletic department handled each ticket on his behalf.

"I don't know how they get that," Blacklock shrugged. 

Thirty-seven of anything is a stunning number, let alone when you're counting parking citations. It clearly took the Mike Mayock-led Raiders brain trust aback enough to prompt them to bring it up in an interview, one of 45 they're allowed to conduct during the week in Indianapolis. Those interviews are limited to 18 minutes, so you wonder what question(s) didn't make the cut if Blacklock's ticket history did.

[RELATED: Hurts' talent entices, but should Raiders take chance on QB?] 

Those citations made the Raiders scratch their heads, as you might find yourself doing, too. Alas, it's difficult to envision Blacklock's previous fines dampening teams' enthusiasm for the 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive lineman. NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah ranked Blacklock No. 19 in his Top 50 and The Ringer's Danny Kelly slotted Blacklock at No. 38. The prospect didn't crack the first round of NBC Sports Bay Area's latest mock draft, but Blacklock likely won't have to wait longer than a day to hear his name called at the NFL draft in Vegas this April. 

Blacklock has talent, but the Raiders simply have bigger needs than along the interior of their defensive line to draft the former Horned Frog with one of two first-round picks. If the Silver and Black passes on the D-lineman, it won't be because of the parking tickets.