Now that all the excitement over Jon Gruden being hired as Raiders head coach has subsided, it’s time for the work to kick into high gear.
In fact, the work started months ago, when Gruden first had an inkling that this might be the year that he came out of early retirement, and that the Raiders just might be the reason that he left the confines of a film room in a Tampa strip mall and the stuffy broadcasting booth after nine years.
The work began in earnest soon after owner Mark Davis, general manager Reggie McKenzie, tens of former Raiders players and numerous fans fawned all over Gruden at his introductory news conference last week.
As Gruden said, once the festivities ended, it was time to “lock the doors” and get to work. Part of that entails getting in synch with McKenzie and the scouts between now and the time the Raiders take part in the NFL draft in April.
Regardless whether Gruden wanted McKenzie around, they are teammates once again – they spent time together at the Green Bay Packers in 1994 – and it’s of the utmost importance that they coexist in harmony.
As detailed by colleague Bill Williamson last week, Gruden’s draft history is far from impressive. http://raiderssnakepit.raiderbeat.com/2018/01/11/a-look-at-jon-gr…ns-draft-history/
Same goes for McKenzie, whose best picks in his first six drafts with the Raiders are defensive end Khalil Mack, wide receiver Amari Cooper, guard Gabe Jackson and quarterback Derek Carr. There’s a precipitous decline beyond that quartet, and none of the 16 players drafted the past two years has proven to be an impact player from the outset.
So, it’s obvious that both can stand a little help. Gruden has blown out Jack Del Rio’s coaching staff and systematically brought in guys that he has eyed for years. However, he’s stuck with McKenzie and the scouting staff because those guys were hired or approved by McKenzie.
To underscore the importance of how just one draft can change a team’s fortunes, let’s take the 2010 draft and do a little revisionist history.
This isn’t to criticize anyone, it’s simply to show that Hall of Fame-, All-Pro and Pro Bowl-type players are available in just about every round, it’s just a matter of identifying them. That’s the same for every team, which is why this isn’t meant to poke fun at any team. Every team whiffed on one or more of the great players about to be discussed.
In this exercise, we’ll provide the player selected by the Raiders in a particular round and offer one or two players that they could have taken instead. The latter had to have been drafted in the same round.
In the first round, the Raiders selected middle linebacker Rolando McClain. They could have taken defensive end Brandon Graham, free safety Earl Thomas or wide receiver Dez Bryant. McClain is out of the game. The three other players are at the top of their game eight years later.
The Raiders drafted defensive lineman Lamarr Houston in the second round. Current Cowboys standout linebacker Sean Lee was available.
It’s hard to fault the Raiders for taking offensive tackle Jared Veldheer in the third round that year. That is, unless you consider that they could have had tight end Jimmy Graham or linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
Oakland whiffed twice in the fourth round, when Al Davis reached for offensive tackle Bruce Campbell and receiver Jacoby Ford. Tight end Aaron Hernandez and defensive tackle Geno Atkins would have yielded far greater returns.
Cornerback Walter McFadden went to the Raiders in the fifth round in 2010. Defensive tackle Arthur Jones or safety Reshad Jones would have been the wiser pick.
Retreat to a padded room before reading this one. The Raiders picked linebacker/long-snapper – sorry, I couldn’t resist tacking on that second position – Travis Goethel with the 190th pick, in the sixth round. Hall of Fame-bound receiver Antonio Brown went to the Steelers five picks later.
No need to discuss the seventh round. You get the point. The more in synch Gruden and McKenzie are, the better the likelihood of the Raiders ending up with one or more gems that otherwise might have slipped through the cracks, as happens to every team each year.