Skeptics, Simplicity and a Solid Draft

I don’t really hear all the skeptics -Raiders head coach Jon Gruden

Typically a review of draft picks comes with a grade assessment and talk of how good or bad this draft was. Grading drafts accurately are impossible without the benefit of at least 4-5 years’ body of work to critique. What we can assess is what the team felt its largest needs were based on how they drafted and where. My grade is “wait and see.”

First Round: Trade pick 10 to Arizona for (15, 79, 152)

Pick 15, Kolton Miller, Offensive Tackle, UCLA

Offensive tackle was the number one priority given how massively impactful keeping quarterback Derek Carr on his feet and the field is for the Raiders. The cold, harsh reality of the business of the NFL is that the projected 35-years-old starter had two season-ending injuries in back to back years. In a division featuring the best edge rushers, protecting your quarterback is key.

With what most considered their top option off the board, many implored the Raiders to use their pick to trade down and acquire more early to mid-draft selections. General manager Reggie McKenzie followed this shrewd advice to a “T.”

We’re not playing seven-on-seven here. We don’t count steamboats or three Mississippi before they rush. We need guys who can block… Gruden


Round 2: Traded 41st pick to Tennessee Titans for picks (57,89)

Pick 57, PJ Hall, Defensive Lineman, Sam Houston State

Second order of business, an interior pass rush, eliminating teams abilities to simply game plan for Khalil Mack. The Raiders had 31 sacks as a team last year with 18 coming from Mack and Bruce Irvin. Contract negotiations with Mack are ongoing and nothing helps negotiations like an influx of talent around you.

Hall is a very active big man with a unique ability that few men half his size do. Over the course of his collegiate career, Hall has blocked 14 field goal attempts and running down a running back from behind, 55 yards downfield. Hall is a relentless force who starts the play on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage and yet consistently makes a home in the opposing backfield.

Round 3: Traded picks (75, 152, 212) to Baltimore for pick 65

Pick 65, Brandon Parker, Offensive Tackle, North Carolina A&T

Facing possibly having to start journeyman Breno Giacomini at right tackle, Gruden, McKenzie, and Cable collaborate to select another lineman to protect Carr and provide a brand new set of bookends for years to come.

Pick 79 Traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers for WR Martavis Bryant

While this occurred on the first day of the draft, due to its position, we waited to list it. Another box checked in Gruden’s great offensive overhaul, Bryant is everything that the Raiders needed out of a veteran wide receiver: size and speed. Bryant is a proven NFL commodity who fell victim to needing a change of scenery earlier than later in his career. Should Bryant be able to maintain the path of recovery he has traversed, it will be an extremely beneficial arrangement.

Traded picks (89 and 217) to the LA Rams for Pick 87

Pick 87, Arden Key, Edge/LB, LSU

Character flags be damned, Key isn’t a bad guy, just someone who has enjoyed the tasty green leaf buds found in nature’s swiss army knife. Some more harsh reality of the business of football, Bruce Irvin is slated to make $8.5M and played thru the majority of 2017 with a lower back injury. Key affords the Raiders a top ten physical talent at a draft discount with a chip on his shoulder. Irvin and Mack have been the Raiders pass rush for two years now, and Key should provide them another defender who must be accounted for.

Round 4, Pick 110, Nick Nelson, Cornerback, Wisconsin

Improving the secondary while adding quality, youth, and depth has been a constant theme all offseason long. Adding the NCAA leader in pass breakups was a perfect scheme fit for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Young corners who are strong and close on the ball are a need for a team who waited until week 11 to record an interception. The secondary of the future has been pieced together, now it’s time to learn under Derrick Ainsley and gel.

Round 5: Traded picks (159, 185) to Indianapolis for Pick 140

Pick 140, Maurice Hurst, Defensive Tackle, Michigan

For every fan who completely lost their mind during the beginning of the draft, it was a redemption of the scouting staff to select what many experts considered the best DT. Hurst checks so many boxes off for the Raiders, a clean medical bill will cement the tremendous thievery pulled off. The defensive line was a major area of need and with this pick, the Raiders got a helluva lot better, provided Hurst can, in fact, see the field.

Pick 173, Johnny Townsend, Punter, Florida

With Marquette King spending 8 games a season in Denver’s thin air, the Raiders needed a punter and they saved $3M against the cap.

Round 6 Pick 216, Azeem Victor, Linebacker, Washington

Linebacker and its depth in the middle have been a major point of contention for years. Guenther and McKenzie don’t believe in drafting linebackers early but Victor fits the profile. One thing has been made abundantly clear with this offseason’s acquisition of talent: they don’t care if you aren’t a “nice” guy. Explosive athletes capable of getting the job done is what they’re looking for.

Round 7, Pick 228, Marcell Ateman, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State

Competition at wide receiver got a lot stiffer. Dropping the football is going to get players dropped from the team and it absolutely should. Four years of frustration watching his receivers drop roughly 35% of all passes thrown (made up stat), Gruden is providing better hands.

What we learned about the Raiders thru the draft.

Trades were the story of this draft and, rightfully so, the “Fleece of the draft” went to McKenzie offloading Jihad Ward, a player who was most likely not in the team’s future despite being a second-round pick in the 2016 draft, to the Dallas Cowboys for special-teamer and slot receiver Ryan Switzer. Ward fell out of favor in Oakland and a trip to Big-D should help him start fresh.

Skeptics would give this draft an average grade but based on self-identified team needs, Raiders knocked this draft out of the park.

Most importantly, Coach Gruden doesn’t give a crap about the feelings of the media, the fans, or anything not directly helping his football team win games. Skeptics came down the Raiders’ road for what was purported to be reaches based on outside draft rankings.

The Raiders seek to mimic 1998 and having the biggest, baddest, and most physical lines of scrimmage on the field.  A simplistic approach, protecting the most important player on your roster and then providing the best edge defender in the game interior help, is logical. Making solid commitments to both lines, the Raiders got a couple first round worthy defensive talents and young bookends.

Carr breaking bones in each of the last two seasons bothers Coach Gruden. With Donald Penn’s uncertainty and a little-known clause in his contract about health, the Raiders took steps to protect themselves and their primary investment.

Martavis Bryant offers Carr an opportunity to unholster the tremendous cannon and blow the tops off of defenses. With Bryant, Amari Cooper, and Jordy Nelson, the Raiders finally have a respectable trio of wide receivers. Running back seems to be a set room and they are ready to move forward with what they have.

Linebacker wasn’t as big a need to the team as everyone else seemed to think. Suggesting at this point that coaching em’ up is a superior option to tearing it down.


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