The prevailing thought among those who follow the Raiders is that Reggie McKenzie has proven his worth as an NFL general manager. Two drafts which have yielded very positive results and franchise cornerstones are at the top of his resume. There was pressure to nail those picks and rebuild this team. But according to McKenzie, those previous successes only add greater pressure to do it again.
"Honestly I think it's more pressure," McKenzie said in his pre-draft press conference. "That's my approach. I really do. You guys write about how good Khalil [Mack], Amari [Cooper], and Derek [Carr] and all these guys are. How can that not put pressure on me to... we gotta continue to get really good players in here, so we're looking forward to build on that."
Much of this could be lip service, but there is some obvious truth to the pressure McKenzie would place on himself that would be raised this year.
He mentioned Mack, Cooper, and Carr - two of whom were chosen in the top five picks in the draft. How much pressure is there to have easily the best pass rusher in the draft available to you at fifth overall on a team desperate for pass rush? How much pressure is there to choose easily the best wide receiver in the class on a team desperate for wide receiver help?
For Carr, how much pressure is it to take by far the top remaining quarterback -- and arguably the best in the class - in the second round for a team desperate for a franchise quarterback? The only pressure there is to wonder whether they should trade up to get him, which luckily was a move they didn't have to make.
There is far more pressure when you consider the Raiders are some ten picks farther into the first round. There will be no glaringly obvious selections on the board the likes of Mack, Carr, and Cooper and therefore a much more difficult decision to make.
The last time the Raiders had a pick even close to this low in the first round was in 2013 and it was because they traded down from third overall to 12. They took DJ Hayden, which was definitely the wrong pick to make on a team that really needed to get that one right.
Add in the 2012 draft, which the Raiders didn't have their first selection until late in the third round, and don't have a single player still on the team from that draft, and you can see things haven't always been as rosy.
That draft, McKenzie was still working with the previous scouts. It was only after cleaning out the scouting department and filling it will scouts he chose himself that things started to look up. As McKenzie and Jack Del Rio have said since last year, this is not all on McKenzie alone, it's a "unified front". And doing their own homework instead of following the "hype" is important.
"I remind my scouts don't believe the hype," McKenzie continued. "You still scout hard, you scout them like we always have as far as that goes. We're still gonna grind. That's just the way we do it. Jack and I always talk about if we wanna get to the playoffs, [scouting] when the season starts. You wanna try to win the trophy. After that, let's win this division and that's when we want to start doing it. But it starts with the work. I mean, this whole offseason, we gotta work."
Winning the division requires beating the reigning Super Bowl champions. The Raiders beat them once last season, but still finished outside of the playoff picture. That Broncos team had an outstanding defense that was built mostly through the draft. Del Rio knows that firsthand because he was their defensive coordinator for three seasons and played a part in drafting some of them.
"It's not hard to remember who won the Super Bowl," said Del Rio. "The fact that they're out of our division. We've accomplished a lot in terms of the work that we've done and we know that there's a huge amount of work in front of us. It's continuing to put in the work, continuing to select good players, coach them up, become a good team, and there's no shortcut to that. It takes a lot of effort."
The foundation of this team is there and the key parts of it came through the draft. It will likely take another strong draft to take them to the next level, let alone to have sustained success.