When the Oakland Raiders had their end-of-first-round introductory press conference, it was clear that something was different. This fledgling group hasn’t played a down and yet, what was consistently touted for their selections was character strength and high talent floors.
This is an important turn for Raiders brass as head coach Jon Gruden took big swings in the first two rounds in 2018 by drafting offensive tackle Kolton Miller and defensive tackle P.J. Hall. At that moment, it was clear there was disconnect with then general manager Reggie McKenzie, but things seem to be different now and McKenzie’s replacement, Mike Mayock, has been able to overcome some of those same issues. The ensemble on display Friday was the clearest view thus far that the team is putting last season’s lack of unity behind it.
After a brief silence while they took their seats, the unquestioned leader appeared to be defensive end Clelin Ferrell, who was drafted fourth overall. He was featured the most prominently (in the middle), the last to take his seat, and the first of them to directly address the media crowd. Hard hitting safety Johnathan Abrams, the 27th overall pick, was the next to talk and it was also immediately clear that his charismatic style makes him easy to root for. The quietest of the group was running back Josh Jacobs, the 24th overall pick, who usually needed to be directly addressed before he spoke up.
They each discussed the nature of team building, something that is not typical for such a young group of players. However and unlike most groups of incoming rookies, this group will be expected to become clubhouse leaders from Day 1. In Ferrell’s case, he will be leading a group of rookies that has already shared a locker room with. Abrams for his part, was clearly excited about his chance to become the lighting to Ferrell’s thunder and making accountability, dedication, and commitment to his teammates points of emphasis.
Even the more soft-spoken Jacobs ended up joining in and talked about the nature of relationships helping to determine how one projects leadership while citing the need to lead by example. They even made sure to collectively crush the Las Vegas move question and ended up spinning it as a positive chance for branding, character development and general team cohesiveness.
As the press conference continued, you could see the rookies gaining confidence in their expectations for themselves even as the questions continued. They even had a moment or two of genuine comradery considering they have played against each other and ribbed each other for playoff losses and who picked what hat first. “We beat them, so he can’t talk” or “he didn’t run to my side,” and “he remembers when I hit him” forced each of the new Raiders into full-toothed smiles boding well for the Raiders who look to recapture what they once had in the 2014 class’ commitment to each other.
What may have been the most impressive theme amidst the entire presser was that each new Raider, one after the other, spoke about their level of preparation, commitment to character, and the importance of looking out for their teammates. While these platitudes are standard when introducing new players to the media, these players seemed to genuinely mean it. They offered examples in their college careers, personal lives, and off the field as to how they have been prepared for this and that there isn’t anywhere else they’d want to be.
Raider Nation should be very excited. It is unlikely that each of these picks will work out in their favor and it’s plausible that just one pick will be considered a hit. Regardless, fans should still be excited because it is rare that so many young people appear so suited for the heavy lifting required to lead adults who are older than them, have had more years in the game, and probably don’t want to hear it from rookies.
These young player’s character and leadership coupled with the pre-existing status of quarterback Derek Carr should seal the vacuum that was created via the mid-season departures of defensive end Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper. Even if these players don’t pan out, fans should expect a disciplined and committed crop of young players that is willing to step up to the plate and shoulder the unexpectedly heavy load that comes with probably being the teams most important draft class in many years.