The Raiders are will pick the next player to wear their colors with the 24th selection of the first round in the 2017 NFL Draft. The pick is the latest pick the Raiders have had in the first round since 2003, when the Silver and Black selected cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha at No. 31 overall.
Who will the Raiders pick? Will they continue their trend under Jack Del Rio and go with a defensive player? Will they fill a desperately needed spot at right tackle? It is too early to tell but it isn’t too early to look back on the history of the Raiders and the 24th pick of the first round. The Raiders have picked four players at that same spot and this article will kickoff a series of four articles that will take a look at all four players.
TE Raymond Chester (Morgan State, first round, No. 24 overall in 1970)
Throughout his football life, Al Davis had a love affair for tight ends and Raymond Chester was one of the earlier stars of the Davis regime at the position. Chester had rare talents for the time period with a 6 foot 3 inch frame and excellent hands to compliment his 232 pounds. He was also one of the most underrated blocking tight ends in NFL history. Throughout his career he showed that he was a highly effective run blocker and pass blocker. He also possessed that rare blend of both size and speed that made him extremely difficult for both linebackers and defensive backs to cover. During his 12-year NFL career he caught 364 passes and 48 touchdowns which might not seem like much to fans today that are used to players like Rob Gronkowski. However, during most of Chester’s career, NFL teams relied on running the football and only using the pass when it was really needed. The pass-happy days of today’s NFL were still years away.
Born in Cambridge, Maryland he was the fourth of ten siblings and the competition that he faced among family later translated into a love for sports. During his time at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, he excelled as a star on the track team, wrestling team and football team. Morgan State saw enough to grant Chester a full scholarship in football and he responded with a solid collegiate career that included becoming a member of the 1970 College All-Star team. Moreover, Chester caught Morgan State’s only touchdown in a 9-7 victory over the Grambling Tigers in 1968. In those days there was no NFL Draft combine; teams had to rely on scouts to find out everything they could about college players. At some point Al Davis heard about Chester and in the 1970 draft he was eager to make him a part of the silver and black. However their interaction began, a friendship would later blossom between Chester and Davis that would last until Al Davis passed away in 2011.
With veteran Billy Cannon coming up on his 11th season and backup Roger Hagberg having died tragically in an auto accident, the Raiders were in the market for a tight end. They took Chester in the first round of the 1970 NFL draft (24th overall), impressed with the speed and size he brought to the position. Cannon was promptly cut and Raymond Chester assumed the starting position.
He responded by winning the NFL’s coveted Rookie of the Year award in 1970 and helping Oakland into the NFL playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Chester’s best game came at the expense of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ageless wonder George Blanda was filling in at quarterback for an ailing and struggling Daryle Lamonica and Chester responded by catching 5 passes for over 100 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Raiders won the game 31-14.
In 1971 and 1972 Chester was elected to the Pro Bowl after two more solid seasons in silver and black. In 1973 Al Davis shocked Raymond Chester by trading him to the Baltimore Colts for an aging defensive end named Bubba Smith. The trade rocked the football world, Smith was an aging player and Chester had caught 104 passes for 22 touchdowns during his first three years in the NFL. Chester played five years in Baltimore, helping them to the playoffs in 1975, ’76 and ’77. Ironically, Chester’s final game in a Colts uniform took place in the infamous “Ghost to the Post” game in which the Oakland Raiders defeated the Baltimore Colts 37-31 in double overtime.
In 1978 Al Davis made another surprise trade by sending reserve wide receiver Mike Siani to the Colts in exchange for Raymond Chester. The Raiders already possessed an All-Pro tight end in Dave Casper and the move led to some animosity between the two men in the Raider locker room. Chester’s playing time didn’t help matters, he spent most of his 1978 season on special teams and on offense he caught a career low 13 passes for just 146 yards. Chester was frustrated and angry over his role with the team and a refusal to discuss the issue with the press helped the team but Chester later admitted he struggled with the situation. At one point he even walked out on the team in silent protest but both Al Davis and Tom Flores were able to convince him to return.
In 1979 the Raiders adapted their offense to suit their two All-Pro tight ends by incorporating a two-tight end scheme in which both Casper and Chester could be starters. The animosity between Casper and Chester now turned into competition and Chester responded with the best season of his career with 58 receptions and 8 touchdowns. Casper finished with 57 catches and 3 touchdowns. However, the Raiders record on the field was not up to the standard that Al Davis had set a decade before. The 1979 Raiders finished with the same record as their 1978 predecessors with an 8-8 finished. Quarterback Ken Stabler was deeply engrossed in a feud with both the media and Al Davis. Snake was aging and Davis felt that Snake’s partying lifestyle was at odds with the hard work necessary to win on the field. To solve the problem, Davis sought to trade Stabler and when the Houston Oilers came calling it was a no brainer. Snake was dealt to Houston in 1980 and later tight end Dave Casper would follow. Raymond Chester then assumed the role as the number one tight end.
The Raiders ended their two-tight end offense in 1980 with a strong-armed quarterback named Dan Pastroini (acquired in the Stabler trade) at the helm. Pastroini went 2-3 as a starter before breaking his leg in the fifth game and he was replaced by journeyman Jim Plunkett. The 1980 Raiders could not foretell the future at the time but they had just planted the roots that would life them to their second world championship.
Chester helped lift the Raiders to the wildcard playoffs even though his receiving numbers took a nose dive during the 1980 season. Other players of offense had stepped up but Chester’s 28 receptions were still good enough to finish fourth on the team. He would nearly equal those totals in the 1980 playoffs.
Raymond Chester and the Oakland Raiders entered the 1980 playoffs with an 11-5 record as a wildcard team. Over the course of the next four playoff contests, Chester contributed 12 receptions for just over 200 yards and a touchdown down, which included a Super Bowl XV victory. The following season, Chester played in all 16 games but his skills had diminished and he decided to retire after the season.
Over the years he has appeared at numerous Raider functions and is still active in charitable organization in both Oakland and his home city of Baltimore. Over the years fans have petitioned the NFL Hall of Fame to induct Chester in Canton but those efforts have failed as of this writing.
During his 12-year NFL career, Chester had 364 pass receptions for 5013 yards (13.8 avg.) and 48 touchdowns. His postseason numbers are 23 receptions for 397 yards and 1 touchdown. He also earned four Pro Bowl berths (1970, 1971, 1972, and 1979) and three times he was named First Team All Pro (1971, 1972, and 1979). For his career he recorded 131 starts and 172 game appearances.
Without a doubt, Raymond Chester is the most successful of any of the four players that the Raiders have acquired with the 24th overall pick. We will explore the remaining three in future posts.