ALAMEDA (AP) — The approach Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie takes into the NFL draft is no different with Jon Gruden as coach than it was in previous years with Jack Del Rio and Dennis Allen at the helm.
“The board will still be doing the talking,” McKenzie said. “It really will.”
Trusting the board paid off handsomely back in 2014 when Oakland ended up with 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack and starting quarterback Derek Carr with its top two picks.
It hasn’t worked out as well the past two years when the Raiders haven’t added any impact players, with last year’s top two picks, cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu, barely even getting on the field as rookies because of injuries.
“We’re not going to beat up on some of these guys who physically were not able to get out there and play,” McKenzie said.
“Hopefully some of these guys from the past drafts, we can get them out there, keep them healthy and see what they can do. Hopefully this is the year. Even the guys we draft this year, we have no idea if they can make it through OTAs or training camp and preseason healthy. You just hope and pray they can be there for us and see what they can do during the season.”
After dropping from 12 wins in 2016 to just six a year ago, the Raiders fired coach Jack Del Rio and are looking to rebound under Gruden. The team has made many additions so far this offseason mostly to add depth and role players.
The hope is Oakland can add a potential impact starter with the 10th overall pick and fill other key spots with players who fit Gruden’s system with its 10 other selections .
“It’s all about coming together and feeling each other out and getting all the information from the coaches,” McKenzie said. “Getting the information from the scouts. Then we set the board. Guys, it’s not rocket science. It really isn’t. It’s just trying to get a feel for a new system. New coaches, what they like and what they don’t like. That’s the process.”
Here are some other things to look for in the draft:
The most glaring holes on the Raiders after free agency are on the defensive side with cornerback, inside linebacker and defensive tackle at the top of the list.
There should be options there available to No. 10 with players such as Ohio State CB Denzel Ward, Georgia LB Roquan Smith, versatile Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Virginia Tech LB Tremaine Edmunds and Washington DT Vita Vea all possibilities.
If the Raiders are targeting a specific player on day two or three of the draft, they have plenty of draft capital to move up. Oakland has two fifth-round picks and four in the sixth round that could be used to add depth to the roster or to move up a few spots after the first round.
“Teams always want picks, especially when they don’t have any in those later rounds,” McKenzie said. “It would help. If we would like to move up, we can use that as trade bait.”
While McKenzie has never traded up in the first round in six previous drafts with Oakland, he did move down nine spots in 2013 to get an extra pick before taking cornerback DJ Hayden.
The Raiders could be a candidate to move down this year, especially if there’s a quarterback on the board desired by a team picking later in the first round. Oakland could target help on the interior pass rush or at offensive tackle, both positions where the top players may not be projected to go in the top 10.
McKenzie struck it big in 2014 when he drafted cornerstones Mack and Carr with his first two picks and starters at guard (Gabe Jackson) and defensive tackle (Justin Ellis) the next two rounds. The 2016 draft wasn’t nearly as productive with second, third and fourth-round picks Jihad Ward, Shilique Calhoun and Connor Cook struggling even to get on the field. DT Treyvon Hester, a 2017 seventh-round pick, showed promise as a rookie and could be a key contributor this year.
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