Try Again: A Raiders Draft Redo For 2019 and 2020

Jon Gruden’s second tenure with the Las Vegas Raiders will forever be remembered for his e-mail scandal, and rightfully so. However, there is another aspect to his disastrous return that will haunt this team for years: his drafting.

Going back to his Tampa Bay days, Gruden never excelled at drafting talent. A rash thinker, he often trusted his gut/instincts more than sound logic when it came to selecting players.

This strategy was evident in his time with the Raiders. While nailing his first pick back with the team in 2018 (Kolton Miller), he proceeded to reach and whiff on the remaining selections of that class; only Brandon Parker remains from that nine man group.

Then, for two drafts, Gruden was armed with oodles of picks and draft guru Mike Mayock by his side. We all know how that’s played out.

So, to make ourselves more depressed than we naturally are as Raiders fans, who could those choices have been instead? That’s take a closer look, and make the correct (but realistic) picks instead.

2019 Draft 

Round 1, Pick 4

  • Original selection: DE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
  • Re-do selection: DE Brian Burns, Florida State

Every fan, football analyst, and their grandmother knew the Ferrell selection was the wrong one the moment it happened. I don’t need to remind you of one specific fan’s reaction in Nashville that dreadful day. The obvious truth is, Gruden and his staff were desperate to replace Khalil Mack on defense (as if that’s possible). They were humiliated by the production, or lack thereof, from their defensive ends in the 2018 season, and decided they must fix it immediately. Ferrell was/is the prototypical size of a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, he came from a powerhouse school, and gave defensive coordinator Paul Guenther his next Carlos Dunlap. 

Or so he thought. As it turns out, Ferrell was not the best edge rusher on the board. I know, I know- who knew?! Well, everybody. Ferrell is quickly on his way out of Vegas, and the team has already replaced him with Yannick Ngakoue. 

So this time around, Mayock steps in, tells Gruden he’s drunk, and makes the call for Brian Burns. First-Team All-ACC in 2018, the junior out of Florida State becomes the Raiders’ next top-flight pass rusher, a job he was terrific at in college (10 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss in his final season). Today, now into his third season, Burns is a captain on a talented Panthers defense, having already racked up eight sacks and two forced fumbles in 11 games. He’s a game-wrecker and the foundational piece the Raiders believed they were getting in Ferrell.

*Note: Devin White and Josh Allen would have been outstanding for the Raiders too. However, when this draft took place, Guenther had old friend Vontaze Burfict in place to man the middle of his defense; White was not on his or Gruden’s radar. And Allen, bless his soul, was simply not big enough in Guenther’s eyes to fit into his scheme that relied on tough, well-built linemen to set the edge. 

Round 1, Pick 24

  • Original selection: RB Josh Jacobs, Alabama
  • Redo selection: RB Josh Jacobs, Alabama

From the second-coming of Marcus Allen to requests that he be traded to free Kenyan Drake, Josh Jacobs is a polarizing talent. Yet from a sheer talent level, the dude is unreal. Great vision, elusiveness, hands, and speed allow No. 28 to hang with the best of them.

Unfortunately, injuries have slowed his production and have frustrated Raiders fans everywhere. This is understandable, and yet so silly. No player taken after Jacobs would have trumped the impact he had on this team in either 2019 (he was, at times, their entire offense) or 2020. And in 2021, despite missing two and a half games, he’s tallied 420 yards on the ground, 198 yards in the air, and scored six touchdowns. All that while sharing reps with his Alabama buddy, Drake, and third-down back Jalen Richard.

Do I believe Jacobs deserves an extension? Not at all. Those tend to backfire on teams when given to injury-bitten running backs (see: Christian McCaffrey). But does he remain an integral part of this Raiders offense, especially when he’s at full strength? Without question!

This pick stays the same, and we all keep this awesome memory against the Chargers. 

 Round 1, Pick 27

  • Original selection: S Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State
  • Redo selection: CB Byron Murphy Jr., Washington

There were like a million talented receivers on the board when this slot came up. Deebo Samuel, DK Metcalf, AJ Brown, and Terry McLaurin were all sitting by their phones waiting for that life-changing call.

But the Raiders had splurged that offseason on receivers. With Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams at the top of their depth chart, they had no need for any of those guys. And in the effort to keep this exercise authentic, as if the picks were being made on April 25th, 2019, none of them fit here.

A star cornerback from Washington University though? That will play. Murphy Jr. has really come into his own in 2021. Big-bodied and ball-hawking, Murphy Jr. fits the mold of a modern cornerback, while also giving youth to a position of need (both then and now) for the Raiders.

Imagine a tandem today of Murphy Jr. and Hayward, with Nate Hobbs in the slot? No disrespect to Trayvon Mullen, but that’d be a dream.

– 2020 Draft

Round 1, Pick 11

  • Original selection: WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
  • Redo selection: WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma

This redo would be unnecessary if not for the events of November 2, 2021. Ruggs had taken off this year, proving to be a trusted target for Derek Carr and a deep threat that constantly scared defenses.

Hard to predict tragic events like that. In fact, it’s impossible. So this draft gaffe gets a pass from me. However, if it could be done all over, the Silver and Black instead go with Mike Mayock’s guy, CeeDee Lamb. A consensus All-American and back-to-back 1,000 yard receiver in his final two seasons at Oklahoma, Lamb drew comparisons to Chad Johnson coming into the league. Explosive, physical, and tremendous with the ball in his hands, Cedarian DeLeon Lamb is a three-level offensive weapon who create havoc playing alongside Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow. He’s also an exciting punt returner when given the chance, and can catch passes in bunches (74 receptions his rookie year).

Justin Jefferson is the best receiver from this class, so far. But realistically, Lamb was next on the Raiders draft board after Ruggs. This dude would have looked awesome in Silver and Black (wipes away tear).

Round 1, Pick 19

  • Original selection: CB Damon Arnette, Ohio State
  • Redo selection: S Xavier McKinney, Alabama

This is where I finally bash Mayock. Arnette was clearly the corner he wanted. The Ohio State product, older than most who enter the draft, turned out to be a bust. Worse than gas station sushi. Just a complete whiff. However, the Raiders had a need in the secondary and reached for someone who had the grit and attitude they admire.

With no Hayward yet in this reality, the team could still take a cornerback (i.e. Jaylon Johnson, who said himself he felt Las Vegas would select him), or they could pivot.

We will pivot. Come on down, Xavier McKinney! Remember too, there’s no Johnathan Abram in the picture, so this selection is a no-brainer. An Alabama kid with a strong pedigree, incredible versatility, and refined coverage skills, McKinney becomes the true deep safety Paul Guenther never had. Let’s not forget his playmaking ability either, which Raider Nation saw first hand in New York just a few weeks back. McKinney is all over the field, and plays with max effort. It’s no wonder the 22-year-old currently has a ridiculous PFF grade, and is tied for the league-lead with five interceptions (2 off Derek Carr).

Trevon Moehrig has been rock solid for the Raiders as a rookie. Yet McKinney in place of him, if not coupled with him, would truly be a spoil for Gus Bradley and this defensive squad.

Closing Thoughts

The Raiders are used to missing in the draft. It’s honestly become a trademark of this organization, especially this century. Considering the returns the Raiders received for Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack (two Pro-Bowl athletes), it was the hope of many that the team could spin those selections into multiple studs.

That didn’t happen. In fact, according to my own grading, they got one of those five picks correct- 20 percent success, and a big fat F. What saved this team, and possibly Mayock’s job, is the late round gems (Crosby, Renfrow, and Hobbs) and recent free agent hits (Ngakoue, Perryman *trade,* and Hayward). Those six have formed a strong backbone for this 2021 team that right now sits at 6-5, right in the thick of the playoff hunt.

But we are always going to wonder what could have been.

What could have been if Gruden had listened to Mayock more or had Ruggs not thrown his life away? Or, what could have been if the Raiders knew how to trade back?

What could have been… a team fighting for the top of the AFC, with young talent at each level. But hey, in Mayock we trust, right?

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*Top Photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

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