Dave Ziegler, Josh McDaniels Las Vegas Raiders free agency

‘Fielding The Best 11’: Drafted or Undrafted, That Matters Little For Raiders Head Honcho Josh McDaniels

You know it’s the slump of the NFL offseason when the NBA Finals are brought up during a post-mandatory minicamp media session. Such was the scenario for Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels this past Tuesday after the Silver and Black’s initial mandatory minicamp day.

It’s that time of the year for the Raiders…

Yet, the mention of the NBA wasn’t some trivial affair during the media session. It was a solid inquiry for McDaniels, as it was an attempt at equating roster building in the hoops world to the gridiron. McDaniels was asked if he’s been paying attention to the Miami Heat, a team that is built with undrafted free agents (UDFAs) contributing to a championship run. Considering Las Vegas had a slew of UDFAs play snaps (substantial at certain spots, even) in Year 1 under McDaniels’ watch, and that’s likely to be the case again heading into the second season in 2023, the question wasn’t a random nugget drop coming out of left field.

“First of all, there’s no way to put your roster together and have 80 first, second, and third round draft picks,” McDaniels began, “so your team is going to consist of a lot of different players that got on your roster in different ways. So, we tell them from the beginning, ‘We’re all Raiders now. This is 2023; we’re all Raiders; it doesn’t matter how you got here. What matters is what you do once you’re here.’”

Does Josh McDaniels have a “best 11” from this roster?

McDaniels’ comments belabor the point of roster building. The draft and the mad dash that is signing UDFAs immediately after the seven-round affair are prime for laying a foundation. Now, time will tell if McDaniels was being facetious when he added more to his answer about not looking at where players were taken but fielding the best 11, but it’s a proper course to chart.

“The best thing for us as coaches is to put the best 11 out there, not look at their status, how we acquired them, what round they were drafted in, or what their salary says, because if we’re always trying to put the best 11 out there, then we’re doing the right thing for the Raiders,” McDaniels said. “If we’re looking at other factors and playing the political game—that can get real—you’re just not always putting the best team on the field. It might end up that way, but obviously, this league has a long history of players that were drafted in the fifth, sixth, seventh, or beyond when the draft was longer and undrafted. And like I said, we have a number of players on our team that have had good early careers but weren’t drafted.”

Josh McDaniels highlighted veteran running back and special teamer Brandon Bolden as an example of an undrafted player who goes on to have a long career.

“I mean, he wasn’t drafted.”

“So, everybody has the same opportunity; everybody is going to get reps, and we’re going to coach them all the same, and I think that’s a good thing,” McDaniels added. “If you’re a player, you want to hear that, ‘Hey, the opportunity is the same for me as it is for somebody that was drafted a lot earlier than I was.’ And hopefully we do the right thing and pick the right players.”

As I’ve said before, picking the right players relies on a combination of factors. First and foremost, general manager Dave Ziegler (who has final say on the roster), assistant GM Champ Kelly, and the entire scouting and player personnel department scouting, vetting, and then selecting players. Second, and integral to the process, is Josh McDaniels and the rest of the Raiders’ coaches development of the players. That isn’t a habitual Raiders habit—in the McDaniels/Ziegler era and before. But this early into Year 2, the optimism is there and will continue to be present. Where will that switch up?

Training camp.

When the pads come on, that’ll be the demarcation line between shorts warriors and legit 2023 contributors.

*Top Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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