Oakland Raiders Swing for the Fences in 2016 NFL Draft

These aren’t your daddy’s Oakland Raiders or even your younger self’s Raiders. If anything, these are your newborn’s Raiders or your puppy’s Raiders. These are the Raiders we’ve never seen before.

Indicative of the freshness of the franchise was their 2016 NFL Draft. No longer slave to a high draft pick and desperate needs, the theme of the draft for the Raiders was upside.

It’s as if general manager Reggie McKenzie got so used to hitting his draft picks out of the park that he started swinging for the fences. We’ll have to wait a couple of years before we know if he struck out or if he’ll continue his Ruthian ways.

First, McKenzie boldly went with a safety at No. 14 overall. Kyle Joseph is coming off a torn ACL and fills a major need, but safety isn’t a premium position. Only a handful of safeties have been drafted in the first 14 picks in the last 15 years and include names like Earl Thomas and Eric Berry.

Joseph needs to be a star safety for the pick to be a success. He needs to help the Raiders slow down tight end Travis Kelce and the slew of other top receiving tight ends in the league. Joseph must be a dynamic playmaker like he was in college at West Virginia.

Unlike Joseph, the Raiders are counting on their second-round pick to produce more in the NFL than he did in college. Defensive end Jihad Ward is relatively new to football having outgrown safety and wide receiver before finding a home on the defensive line.

Ward possesses the size and athleticism to be a plus NFL player, but he’s still learning. He needs coaching to fulfill his potential. In the most basic terms, he has a ton of upside. He’s a pick for the future that could easily be a giant swing and a miss with the 44th overall pick or a home run.

The Raiders tripled down on upside in the third round with Michigan State edge rusher Shilique Calhoun. Calhoun didn’t put it all together in college, but he has the bend and short area quickness to be a great pass-rusher in time.

While it’s true that every prospect needs to develop in the pros and to some extent all of them have upside, the Raiders didn’t settle for average athletes as they have in the past. They didn’t settle for known commodities in exchange for more predictable results.

The Raiders drafted a quarterback. A quarterback in the fourth round! Plus, they traded up to get him. The head-scratching pick was grounded in two basic principles. One, let the board determine how you draft. Two, always draft a quarterback because they have the most value of any position in football.

Value equals upside when it comes to Connor Cook because he checks just about all the physical boxes. If he develops, that’s a good problem to have. If he develops just into a backup, well, that’s still good value.

The Raiders started filling needs in the fifth round–or so it seemed from the fact they selected a running back. Deandre Washington is a 5’9″ jitterbug to complement Latavius Murray, but you never really know when a jitterbug is going to be a jitterbust or a jitterboom. The Raiders didn’t necessary draft him to be more than a complementary player, but he certainly has potential to be more.

In the sixth round, the Raiders selected outside linebacker Cory James. While it might seem like a pick for need, James needs a ton of development before he sees the field. However, he possesses a ton of raw ability and flew under the radar because he played at Colorado State and is undersized at just 6’0″ and 229 pounds.

He needs to develop both his game and his body, but he makes enough plays to be something special if he does. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and head coach Jack Del Rio are both former linebackers that have turned little-known linebackers into productive starters in the past.

The seventh round brought mammoth offensive lineman Vadal Alexander to the Raiders. The 6’5″ player tips the scales at 326 pounds. Yet another physical specimen that needs to refine his game to stick in the NFL, but if he does could become something really special.

Upside. Upside. Upside.

It’s also become clear in the last two years just how much Del Rio and his coaching staff influence the draft. It’s also clear that the scouting staff has the confidence to draft athletes and let the coaching staff turn mere lumps of athletic carbon into football diamonds.

Time will tell which draft picks pan out, but the times have changed in Oakland. The Raiders are now drafting players for what they could be in a couple years and not what the franchise needs them to be today. The Raiders are swinging for the fences instead of trying to string together a few singles.

It’s the clearest sign yet the team has enough hitters that they no longer need every draft pick to play immediately. We may not have seen the 2016 Raiders on the field, but for the first time in a long time, it seems like the front office feels pretty good about the roster.

Posted in 2016 NFL Draft Tagged with: , , , , , ,

The Raiders aren’t who we thought they were….they’re better

The Oakland Raiders are tired of being the team that will be good in a year or two. The team expects to win now and it is winning now.

We thought the Raiders needed more talent. We thought that being in the playoff hunt was a year away for this team, but we were wrong. This isn’t the team we thought they were, they’re better.

On Sunday, they moved to 3-3 on Sunday with a 37-29 win over the San Diego Chargers that wasn’t close until the final minute. It was also the Raiders second road win of the season. The last time the Raiders had two road wins by their sixth game was 2011. Before that, a five-year streak from 1998-2002.

The Raiders went 8-8 in 1998, 1999 and 2011 and narrowly missed the playoffs each year.  They made the playoffs in 2000, 2001 and 2002. They didn’t have a losing record in any of those seasons because teams that can win on the road are usually pretty good.

As the season matures, there is more and more evidence that some of the “best-case scenarios” for the Raiders are coming true. The AFC West also isn’t as strong as it has been in the past.

We already have the answers to many of the questions we had about this team. The questions that had us worried that they were a year—or two—from even competing on a weekly basis.

  • Quarterback Derek Carr has genuinely improved.
  • Rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper is a difference-maker.
  • Veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree is better than advertised.
  • Running back Latavius Murray wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
  • The offensive line has been a cohesive unit.

The defense has issues, but young players are also maturing. As a whole, the unit has been playing better after some early growing pains. Even Raider Nation’s whipping boy—cornerback D.J. Hayden—is starting to turn the corner. Claiming cornerback David Amerson off waivers has also solidified the cornerback group and allowed T.J. Carrie to play more safety in place of the injured Nate Allen.

By no means have the Raiders arrived. They’re 3-3—not 6-0. They’ll still have to scratch and claw their way to the playoffs, but it’s no longer insane to think they can make it. It’s no longer just wishful thinking that this is finally the year the long playoff drought ends.


One obvious fact is that the Raiders need to stay healthy. This team doesn’t have the depth to lose key players. Rookie Linebacker Neiron Ball has been the solution to the team’s inability to cover tight ends, but he left the game Sunday with an injury.

Even a series of injuries to players like Ball could put on a cap on the Raiders’ potential in 2015. Ball starting over Ray-Ray Armstrong is one example of the new coaching staff’s willingness to adjust, but that also ignores the fact that they’ve made their fair share of mistakes. The coaching staff has some great qualities, but they are far from perfect.

There will be some that question the coaching staff getting too conservative too early against the Chargers, mostly due to it being something that has been a recurring theme. The broader criticism is certainly valid, even if the most recent example is hooey. The coaching staff has giveth a lot, but they’ve also taketh away.

The depth, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s insistence on calling hand offs to fullback Jamize Olawale and the offense routinely playing for field goals are prime examples of reasons to temper the expectations of this team. Just don’t grind the expectations into the crumbling concrete at O.co this time around.

Sunday’s win was actually worthy of a small celebration. The Raider Nation should be enjoying this time and not criticizing the coaching staff for letting off the gas with a 31-point lead.

The future is definitely bright for the Raiders, but the now doesn’t look too bad either. For once, fans can say with confidence that more wins are on the way.

Posted in 2015 Regular Season Tagged with: , , , ,

Final 53-Man Roster Prediction

The Oakland Raiders will trim their roster to 53 players today. Expect them to make at least two waiver claims Sunday to address needs at defensive back and on the offensive line. As such, there are a couple guys on this final roster who could be waived on Sunday and could subsequently find their way onto the team’s practice squad.

As is, I’ve included a list of players who are candidates for the practice squad. There is some positional imbalance on the 53-man roster as I expect the Raiders to balance it out with a few waiver claims.

Carrie, TJCBDB532
Hayden, DJCBDB533
McGill, KeithCBDB532
Thorpe, NeikoCBDB533
McDonald, DexterCBDB53R
McDonald, TevinFS/SCBDB530
Allen, NateSDB536
Asante, LarrySDB534
Ross, BrandianSDB534
Woodson, CharlesSDB5318
Autry, DenicoDEDL532
Edwards, Mario Jr.DEDL53R
Harris, ShelbyDEDL531
Mayowa, BensonDEDL533
Tuck, JustinDEDL5311
Mack, KhalilDEDL532
Ellis, JustinDTDL532
Lumpkin, RickyDTDL531
Williams, DanDTDL536
Armstrong, Ray-RayLBLB533
Heeney, BenLBLB53R
Lofton, CurtisLBLB538
Smith, MalcolmLBLB535
Ball, NeironLBLB53R
Alexander, LorenzoOLBLB539
Hudson, RodneyCOL535
Jackson, GabeGOL532
Barnes, KhalifOLOL5311
Feliciano, JonOLOL53R
McCants, MattOLOL533
Webb, J'MarcusOLOL535
Howard, AustinTOL536
Penn, DonaldTOL5310
Carr, DerekQBQB532
McGloin, MattQBQB533
Reece, MarcelFBRB536
Helu, Jr., RoyRBRB535
Jones, TaiwanRBRB535
Murray, LataviusRBRB533
Janikowski, SebastianKST5316
Condo, JonLSST539
King, MarquettePST534
Rivera, MychalTETE533
Smith, LeeTETE535
Walford, CliveTETE53R
Holmes, GabeTETE530
Butler, BriceWRWR533
Cooper, AmariWRWR53R
Crabtree, MichaelWRWR537
Holmes, AndreWRWR534
Roberts, SethWRWR531
Streater, RodWRWR534
Chekwa, ChimdiCBDBCut4
Mays, TaylorSDBCut6
Wilkins, GaryDEDLCut0
Wilson, C.J.DLDLCut6
McGee, StacyDTDLCut3
Bergstrom, TonyOLOL534
Ponder, ChristianQBQBCut5
Olawale, JamizeFBRBCut3
Tavecchio, GiorgioKSTCut1
Leonhardt, BrianTETECut2
Durham, KrisWRWRCut5
Wylie, DevonWRWRCut2
Edwards, SaQwanDBDBPS0
Valles, MaxDEDLPSR
Orr, LeonDTDLPS0
Hadley, SpencerLBLBPS1
Shirley, JoshLBLBPS0
Bell, MitchGOLPS0
Kistler, DanTOLPS1
Morris, AnthonyTOLPSR
Atkinson III, GeorgeRBRBPS1
Dyer, MichaelRBRBPS0
Posted in Predictions, Preseason 2015 Tagged with: ,

Oakland Raiders’ Studs and Duds From Preseason Week 1

The Oakland Raiders finally look like a competitive football team again. That should be the biggest takeaway from their preseason rout of the St. Louis Rams.

Quarterback Derek Carr and the offense looked significantly improved from a year ago, thanks in large part to some of the studs listed below.

The starting defense was still a little shaky, but there were still a few bright spots. Overall, the Raiders can feel good about their first live action of the year, especially since there appeared to be no significant injuries to come out of it.


Rodney Hudson

Of all general manager Reggie McKenzie’s offseason acquisitions, he committed the most money to center Rodney Hudson. Offensive linemen rarely get the praise they deserve, but a great offensive line as anchored in the middle can be huge for an offense.

Hudson was very solid in his debut against a very good defensive front. If Hudson and the offensive line can consistently protect Carr and get push in the run game, Oakland’s offense will be vastly improved in 2015.2

Perhaps one of the more underrated additions the Raiders made in the offseason may pay off in a big way. Crabtree has mostly been a No. 2 wide receiver in his career, but he’s shown flashes he can be more.

Crabtree really appears to have a chemistry with Carr, as has been reported during training camp and was evident against the Rams. It doesn’t hurt that Crabtree is playing for a big contract and will have rookie Amari Cooper to draw attention away from him.

Khalil Mack

It would be easy to just put him on this list after every game. In this case, Mack dominated Greg Robinson and created opportunities for his teammates.

It will be on Mack and the defensive front to protect the secondary and linebackers all season like they did Friday night. Mack is the lynchpin that this defense simply can’t do without.


Gabe Jackson

For all the hubbub about how great Jackson looked in training camp, his first preseason performance wasn’t very good. Jackson struggled to contain Aaron Donald and missed a key block.

Specifically, Jackson whiffed on a block at the goal line in which running back Trent Richardson took the blame for the result. The internet blames Richardson for not cutting back, when in fact there was no lane and he made the right decision following his pulling guard. Jackson also really struggled to keep Donald from creating penetration with his speed off the line.

D.J. Hayden

There was a miscommunication on the first drive that resulted in a big gain on a pass to tight end Lance Kendricks. It’s impossible to know if Hayden was responsible for the coverage, but even not counting it against him, he had a subpar performance.

At least two seperate times Hayden followed the wrong man and had to make a recovery. He was lucky to not have allowed more catches.

Keith McGill

McGill is Hayden’s main competition at the cornerback spot, but he didn’t play particularly well against backups either. Although his feet seem to be improved, he struggled to stick with speedier defenders and his stiff hips were apparent when he couldn’t get his hands on his him.

McGill must use his length to his advantage or he’ll struggle, but it was a good sign to see his improved footwork. The poor showing from Hayden and McGill got Neiko Thorpe first-team practice reps on Sunday per Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Other notable performers include Seth Roberts, Benson Mayowa and Matt McGloin. Cooper made a mistake on Carr’s interception, but nothing to worry too much about. Ray Ray Armstrong, Curtis Lofton and Charles Woodson all took poor angles and over pursued on Tavon Austin’s big catch and run.

Posted in Preseason 2015

Preseason Week 1 Players to Peruse

The Oakland Raiders season officially kicks off Friday night. Unfortunately, it’s preseason. Fortunately, there are still plenty of things to watch.

It seems like this every year, but this truly is one of the most interesting Raiders teams in years. For starters, there is a lot of young talent. Unlike past years, there is also plenty of veteran talent that isn’t over 30.

While all eyes will be on first-round pick Amari Cooper, there are at least a half-dozen other players Raiders fans should keep a close eye on during the game.

D.J. Hayden

He hasn’t been able to stay healthy, nor has he been particularly awesome when he is healthy, but cornerback D.J. Hayden still has a lot of talent. General manager Reggie McKenzie will take his lumps if Hayden doesn’t pan out this year, but more importantly the Raiders will also be dangerously thin at cornerback.

The Raiders need Hayden to solid, even if he doesn’t live up to the potential he had coming out of the University of Houston. Even if he ends up as the No. 3 cornerback, he’s still essentially a starter with defenses using the nickel defense almost 70 percent of the time last season.

Hayden’s biggest problem appears to be that he’s reacting too slowly, which could improve with more experience. The preseason is a good time for Hayden to gain that experience before the Raiders need to rely on him. Don’t be surprised if the Raiders give him extended playing time for that reason.

Keith McGill

In many ways, Keith McGill is the anti-Hayden. He’s long and a little stiff in the hips, but there is room for both types on the Raiders and in the NFL. McGill didn’t see much action as a rookie, but he made a big enough impression that the Raiders didn’t feel the need to bring in another cornerback this offseason. That means the Raiders expected McGill to at least be the nickel cornerback.

The Raiders really doubled down at cornerback this offseason as they need Hayden and McGill to both be solid contributors. If McGill can build on his start to training camp, which by most observations has been a net positive, he has a chance to start opposite T.J. Carrie. If McGill plays well, it could soften the sting if Hayden isn’t anything more than a No. 3 cornerback.

Nate Allen

As a veteran starter, he might not play extensively, but the Raiders could sure use some highlight plays from one of their top additions in free agency. A lot of eyebrows were raised when the Raiders gave Allen a contract befit a star safety, so fans will be expecting impact plays from him.

Can you tell that one of the biggest question marks on the team is the secondary?

Menelik Watson

Like D.J. Hayden from the same draft class, right tackle Menelik Watson needs to become a solid contributor in 2015. He is loosely hanging on to the starting job at right tackle over veteran Austin Howard, but his preseason performance will go a long way in determining if he holds onto it.

The Raiders have a solid line from left tackle to center, but the right side needs to prove they won’t be a problem this season at the very least. Offensive line coach Mike Tice will rotate through a few players at right guard, but right tackle is Watson’s spot to lose.

Ben Heeney

The other signing that raised eyebrows this offseason was the Raiders picking up linebacker Curtis Lofton. The veteran may be the starter at middle linebacker, but he’s clearly not a long-term answer. For that reason alone, rookie middle linebacker Ben Heeney is worth keeping an eye on Friday night.

Heeney has also made his share of plays during training camp and will see extended playing time. Heeney didn’t have elite measurables, but he was a top performer in college. If he keeps making plays against backups, the Raiders may have to consider getting him some snaps against starters to see if he can keep it up.

Posted in Preseason 2015 Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

2015 Offseason Preview Podcast

In the long-awaited return of the Raidersblog podcast, I discuss the completed coaching staff and preview free agency and the draft.

Posted in 2015 Free Agency, 2015 NFL Draft, Free Agency, NFL Draft, Podcast Tagged with: , , , ,

Podcast Episode 30: Start the Carr & 53-Man Roster Discussion

In the long-awaited return of the podcast, I discuss starting Derek Carr and predict the 53-man roster as well as discuss various roster scenarios.

Posted in Podcast Tagged with: ,

2014 53-Man Roster Prediction (Final)

Quarterbacks (3): Matt Schaub*, Derek Carr, Matt McGloin

Backs (5): Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, Latavius Murray, Jamize Olawale, FB Marcel Reece

Wide Receivers (6): Rod Streater, James Jones, Denarius Moore, Andre Holmes, Greg Little, Brice Butler

Tight Ends (3): TE David Ausberry, MTE Mychal Rivera, BTE Jake Murphy

Offensive Line (8): LT Donald Penn, RG Gabe Jackson, C Stefen Wisniewski, RG Austin Howard, RT Menelik Watson, G/C Kevin Boothe, G/T Khalif Barnes, OT Matt McCants

Defensive Line (8): DE Justin Tuck, DE LaMarr Woodley, DT Pat Sims, DT Antonio Smith, DE Shelby Harris, DE C.J. Wilson, DT Justin Ellis, DT Stacy McGee

Linebackers (6): SLB Khalil Mack, MLB Nick Roach*, OLB Sio Moore*, WLB Miles Burris, MLB Kaluka Maiava, OLB Kaelin Burnett

Cornerbacks (6): Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers, TJ Carrie, Neiko Thorpe, Keith McGill, Chimdi Chekwa*

Safeties (4): FS Charles Woodson, SS Tyvon Branch, FS Usama Young, S Jonathan Dowling

Specialists (4): K Sebastian Janikowski, P Marquette King, LS Jon Condo, ST Taiwan Jones*

Total: 53 *Denotes Injured Players

Surprise cut candidate: Kevin Boothe

PUP (1): D.J. Hayden

Practice Squad (Up to 10): RB George Atkinson, LB Carlos Fields, OG Lamar Mady, OT Erle Ladson, TE Brian Leonhardt, WR Seth Roberts, LB Bojay Filimoeatu, DT Ricky Lumpkin, OG Tony Bergstrom, DE Ryan Robinson

45Reece, MarcelFBBacks53
20McFadden, DarrenRBBacks53
28Murray, LataviusRBBacks53
32Stewart, JeremyRBBacks53
21Jones-Drew, MauriceRBBacks53
49Olawale, JamizeFBBacks53
75Harris, ShelbyDEDL53
98Wilson, C.J.DEDL53
91Tuck, JustinDEDL53
57Woodley, LaMarrDEDL53
94Smith, AntonioDTDL53
78Ellis, JustinDTDL53
92McGee, StacyDTDL53
90Sims, PatDTDL53
50Maiava, KalukaLBLB53
56Burris, MilesLBLB53
52Mack, KhalilLBLB53
55Moore, SioLBLB53
53Roach, NickLBLB53
95Burnett, KaelinLBLB53
61Wisniewski, StefenCOL53
66Jackson, GabeGOL53
67Boothe, KevinG/COL53
69Barnes, KhalifG/TOL53
73McCants, MattTOL53
77Howard, AustinTOL53
72Penn, DonaldTOL53
71Watson, MenelikTOL53
14McGloin, MattQBQB53
4Carr, DerekQBQB53
8Schaub, MattQBQB53
35Chekwa, ChimdiCBSec53
39McGill, KeithCBSec53
31Thorpe, NeikoCBSec53
38Carrie, TJCBSec53
23Brown, TarellCBSec53
27Rogers, CarlosCBSec53
26Young, UsamaFSSec53
24Woodson, CharlesFSSec53
41Dowling, JonathanSSec53
33Branch, TyvonSSSec53
11Janikowski, SebastianKSpec53
59Condo, JonLSSpec53
7King, MarquettePSpec53
22Jones, TaiwanSTSpec53
81Rivera, MychalTETE53
82Murphy, JakeTETE53
12Butler, BriceWRWR53
18Holmes, AndreWRWR53
15Little, GregWRWR53
17Moore, DenariusWRWR53
89Jones, JamesWRWR53
80Streater, RodWRWR53
30Sheets, KoryRBBacksIR
48Asante, LarryDBSecIR
88Kasa, NickTETEIR
10Jenkins, GregWRWRIR
86Ausberry, DavidTETEIR (Return)
40Williams, KarlFBBacksPS Eligible
34Atkinson, GeorgeRBBacksPS Eligible
99Crawford, JackDEDLPS Eligible
58Robinson, RyanDEDLPS Eligible
96Autry, DenicoDEDLPS Eligible
93Lumpkin, RickyDTDLPS Eligible
44Fields, CarlosLBLBPS Eligible
47Filimoeatu, BojayLBLBPS Eligible
51Hadley, SpencerLBLBPS Eligible
63Mady, LamarGOLPS Eligible
79Cornell, JackOLOLPS Eligible
70Bergstrom, TonyOLOLPS Eligible
74Shaw, JarrodOLOLPS Eligible
68Ladson, ErleTOLPS Eligible
65Kistler, DanTOLPS Eligible
37Casey, ChanceCBSecPS Eligible
29Ross, BrandianSSSecPS Eligible
36Giorgo TavecchioKSpecPS Eligible
87Leonhardt, BrianTETEPS Eligible
83Simonson, ScottTETEPS Eligible
85Roberts, SethWRWRPS Eligible
25Hayden, DJCBSecPUP
Posted in 2014 Training Camp, Predictions

Training Camp Day 1 Audio 7/25

Dennis Allen
Khalil Mack
Matt Schaub

Posted in 2014 Training Camp Tagged with: , ,

Reggie McKenzie’s Seminal Moment

When Reggie McKenzie was hired in January 2012, the Raiders had a myriad of salary cap issues, a dearth of draft picks and no elite players. Nearly two and half years later, two of those three issues have been alleviated, but the most important remains; the Raiders have no elite players.

Most look at the Raiders barren cupboard of talent as an indictment against McKenzie, which to a degree is foolish. Team building is about trade-offs. Pre-McKenzie, Al Davis traded in continuity, long-term stability and salary cap flexibility year after year in his futile attempts to win now. He signed mediocre talent to mega-deals and continually swung and missed on high draft picks. His failure had significant long-term ramifications and everybody knew it. When he passed away, Hue Jackson ascended to power and traded 843 draft picks for Carson Palmer, who came fully equipped with pick-sixes aplenty and yet another terrible contract.

The pre-McKenzie Raiders were kind of like hoarders. Their house was a mess of colossal proportions and under Davis they never did anything about it. They needed a sensible person to come in and clean out the giant piles of garbage and rat feces, which is exactly what McKenzie’s done. He has purged the Raiders of bad contracts and has set them up to have cap flexibility and draft picks moving forward. And when he was hired, everybody agreed that was what he needed to do.

The third and final step of the rebuild is to add talent. Coming into this offseason, expectations were high, but unrealistic. The Raiders had a ton of cap space, but very little capital in free agency. Again, there are trade-offs. It’s nearly impossible to bring in blue-chip free agents after two seasons of losing and purging salaries. It doesn’t help that the Coliseum is the worst venue in the league. But for all the obstacles he’s had to overcome, McKenzie certainly isn’t devoid of criticism.

He hit rough waters at the onset of free agency. The Raiders lost Jared Veldheer and LaMarr Houston, two fan favorites who ended up with Arizona and Chicago, respectively, on reasonable contracts. For a team that needs talent, it was tough to see them let two of their best players walk. They overpaid for Roger Saffold, a move that was almost universally scoffed at, before losing him too after he failed a physical. McKenzie wasn’t able to reel in any of the biggest fish, though it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The Raiders had interest in Darrelle Revis, but he shockingly (not shockingly) didn’t want to play in Oakland. They also had interest in DeSean Jackson, who signed with Washington.

Free agency isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon and McKenzie overcame a turbulent start to add some nice talent with Oakland’s abundance of cap space. He added solid veterans the defense in LaMarr Woodley, Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith to bolster the pass rush, as well as cornerbacks Carlos Rodgers and Tarell Brown to man the secondary. On offense, they made one of the better signings of the off-season in prying receiver James Jones away from the Packers. Throw in a few competent offensive linemen – Austin Howard, Donald Penn, Kevin Boothe – and two cheap, low-risk running backs in Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, who have potential to yield high reward. McKenzie also dealt a sixth round pick to Houston for embattled quarterback Matt Schaub.

McKenzie was patient and didn’t hand out any egregious contracts. This is what smart teams do. They build through the draft and pick their spots in free agency. Fans wanted the Raiders to be like the Redskins or Dolphins and throw giant contracts at the biggest free agents, but McKenzie was never in position to do that. He shouldn’t have anyways.

Now, it’s time to build through the draft. Last season, McKenzie’s top picks failed to live up to expectations, though they were seen initially as long-term investments anyways. Rarely are rookie defensive backs good (see Kareem Jackson), and DJ Hayden was no exception. The book on Menelik Watson was that he was a raw talent that needed to be molded. Both players battled injuries and failed to make positive impacts. McKenzie also stuck out badly on fourth rounder Tyler Wilson.

But the 2013 draft was by no means a failure. McKenzie’s reputation as a great evaluator of talent became apparent in some of the Raiders’ latter picks. He grabbed linebacker Sio Moore in the third round and found a pair of solid sixth rounders in Mychal Rivera and Stacy McGee. Undrafted free agent quarterback Matt McGloin came in and showed some modest promise as a long-term backup.

The Raiders have accumulated a decent mix of veterans and young guys with upside, but it’s not nearly enough. They need elite players. They’ve got to get them through this draft.

The nice thing about this year’s crop is that there’s a lot of talent at the top of the board. When the Raiders pick fifth, there will be impact players available. Last year’s draft was problematic in that it was seen as being deep, but there weren’t many guys worth taking at the third pick. McKenzie traded down – to get Hayden at 12 – and may do so again tonight.

Yesterday, Vox had a good piece (maybe there is hope for the Raiders!) about how teams should trade down more and trade up less. It’s a philosophy I’ve been committed to for a while now. Evaluators put a ton of effort into scouting hundreds of players every year, but in the end it’s mostly a crapshoot. Teams are essentially making educated guesses with their picks. Why not give yourself as many chances as possible to get good players? Even the best coaches and talent evaluators miss on guys – Bill Walsh called Rick Mirer the “next Joe Montana.” Not only does stockpiling picks give teams more chances at hitting on an impact player, but also gives them added trade collateral.

It looks like the Raiders may have options to move down from number five, if they so choose. Maybe Johnny Manziel falls past the Browns and a team gets greedy. Sammy Watkins is seen as the best receiver in a really deep receiver draft. If he’s there at five, maybe the 49ers move some of their 956 draft picks to get him. If I’m McKenzie, the 49ers are a team I’d want to be talking to. They have a lot of picks and the Raiders have a lot of spots to fill.

The biggest question mark on the roster is obviously at quarterback. It’s increasingly harder to compete in todays pass happy NFL if you don’t have a franchise guy at that spot. The Raiders don’t, and need one. Schaub is a stopgap guy at best, and even those guys aren’t guaranteed to even be mediocre. Matt Flynn was atrocious last season. This draft boasts some really intriguing quarterbacks, but no sure-fire franchise guys.  I like Teddy Bridgewater best of the group, but he has small ankles and had a mediocre pro-day and has thus taken a tumble down draft boards. Blake Bortles has lot of talent, but is seen as more of a long-term project. McKenzie might not have time to wait on him.

The Raiders, along with half the league, reportedly love Derek Carr. They just don’t love him at the fifth pick. Maybe they look at the Jets at 18 as a potential trade partner. Moving up for a receiver in this draft isn’t a great idea, but teams seem open to it. It makes a lot of sense for the Raiders to draft Watkins, or Mike Evans, and then move him to another team.

And while trading down seems like the smart thing to do, it isn’t the only way to work the draft. We’ve seen teams like the Falcons and Redskins make huge moves to trade up and grab impact players. It’s a higher-risk, higher-reward strategy. The Raiders likely won’t move up from five, but it’s possible they end up trading back into the first round.

It’s all about value. McKenzie might pull the trigger on a deal that would allow the Raiders to move up from 36 into the late first round. Most would give McKenzie a standing ovation if he somehow came out of the first round with Watkins and Carr without giving up the kitchen sink to do it. Conversely, if he gets desperate to grab Carr and ends up overpaying, he’d be making the same type of mistakes that put the Raiders in this situation to begin with. Judging by his history though, McKenzie doesn’t seem likely to do that.

It’s hard to see him coming out of a third straight draft without an impact star; he needs to grab at least one. McKenzie is out of excuses and seemingly out of time. Another 4-12 season won’t be acceptable and would almost certainly result in him looking for other employment. Whatever he decides to do in the draft, it’ll be his way. I still believe in the Reggie McKenzie way. Unfortunately for him, I seem to be in the minority.

Follow Taylor on Twitter @tarmosino 

Posted in 2014 NFL Draft, NFL Draft Tagged with: ,


  • RT @SBNationNFL: Connor Cook is a victim of character overanalysis, which happens constantly with the NFL Draft https://t.co/qXCthQkokX
    about 1 hour ago
  • RT @greggrosenthal: Not picking up a fifth-year option is basically saying 'we regret taking you': Joeckel, Mingo, Warmack, Hayden, Sylvest…
    about 1 day ago
  • May not be actual value. Like stock prices on Wall St., they are often influenced by media. https://t.co/mkswYhAagH
    about 1 day ago
  • @nestah_ I could. Weak division
    about 1 day ago
  • I applaud Gase for trying something different.
    about 1 day ago