What a draft the Raiders had in 2014. They got Khalil Mack who was last year’s Defensive Player of the Year and Derek Carr who led the team to a 12-3 record in 2016 and their first trip to the playoffs in 14 years — a season that earned him a new contract as the highest paid player in NFL history.
So, is it possible neither of them are the most impressive pick in that draft? Sure it is.
That year the Raiders had picks at 5th overall and 36 overall to begin the draft. They stayed put, resisting any urges to move up for the players they wanted.
As far as needs went, none were bigger than quarterback. But they had a lot of needs including wide receiver, pass rusher, defensive tackle, and guard.
The best pass rusher in the draft, and indeed the best player in the draft, was Jadeveon Clowney. He went number one overall to the Texans and thus was never going to be an option for the Raiders at 5.
The top quarterback was Blake Bortles. After that, there was little in the way of a consensus on the next best at the position. After the Rams went with Greg Robinson at two overall, Bortles was the obvious choice for the Jaguars at 3 overall.
By then, the Raiders were a pick away with Sammy Watkins and Khalil Mack on the board in what appeared to a win-win situation. Then the Bills traded up with the Browns at 4 overall to get Watkins, who was one of the best wide receiver prospects to come out in years.
So, while Mack was an outstanding pick, he was the most obvious, no doubt pick at that spot. To Reggie McKenzie’s credit, he didn’t get antsy and trade up, didn’t reach for a quarterback, and made the obvious pick of the best player available. He probably would have run it up to the podium himself if he could.
Quarterback was still a glaring need, but with no glaring next best among Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Derek Carr, it was a wait-and-see situation.
No more quarterbacks went until the Browns grabbed Manziel at 22. Then came the end of the first, when teams notoriously trade up to get a quarterback. That’s just what the Vikings did, trading with the Seahawks to get Teddy Bridgewater.
This left Derek Carr as the top quarterback on the board and the Raiders selection four picks away in the second round. Again, McKenzie didn’t get jumpy. He could have traded up to the top of the round — as he did with Connor Cook in the top of the fourth round in 2016 — but he stayed at 36, hoping Carr would be there. Carr was there and he again made the no-brainer pick, getting the quarterback the Raiders desperately needed.
Raiders fans get touchy when you say things like that Mack and Carr ‘fell into the Raiders’ lap’, but they did. It not an insult to the job McKenzie did. It’s just the fact of the matter. When each pick came up, I probably said out loud ‘It has to be Mack/Carr, right?’ McKenzie deserves credit for not trading up and not have a DHB-Mike-MItchell-Raiders-2009-draft-WTF moment.
After that, it got far less obvious what the Raiders should do.
First of all, they traded DOWN in the third round, so they didn’t even have the fourth pick in the round anymore. They didn’t pick until 81 overall.
When the 81st pick came around, they could have tried to fill their need at nose tackle. Arizona State’s Will Sutton and Notre Dame’s Louis Nix were both on the board. Both were highly rated and appearing worthy of the selection.
But nope. They went with the two picks immediately after the Raiders selection.
Mississippi State guard Gabe Jackson was the pick. He ended up being the third guard taken in this draft behind Xavier Su’a-Filo — who the Texans’ selected at the top of the second round instead of Carr — and Spencer Long who went to Washington at 78, just four picks before.
Three other guards were available that went in the round the Raiders could have taken — Chris Watt, Trai Turner, and Brandon Linder. Other top rated guards in this draft the Raiders could have selected included Stanford’s David Yankey (Round 5, Vikings), Baylor’s Cyril Richardson (round 5, Bills), and Zach Fulton out of McKenzie’s alma mater of Tennessee (round 6, Chiefs).
The only other guard in this group who has had close to the success Jackson has had is Trai Turner who went to Carolina at 92 overall. Turner has been a Pro Bowler the past two seasons for the Panthers.
That’s two great guards in an entire draft and the Raiders got one of them. In the third round. After trading down.
That’s impressive. One might even say the Raiders’ most impressive selection of that draft.
Jackson was performing at a near Pro Bowl level as a left guard his first two seasons and then was named a Pro Bowl alternate last year in his first season after switching sides to play right guard. He was one of just four starting guards in the NFL to not give up a sack last season and was a major force in the Raiders sixth ranked rushing offense.
Enjoy this highlight reel from our own Goro Burroughs:
Gabe Jackson 2016 highlight reel
Big Smooth doing the work that earned him his big payday.Posted by Silver & Black Pride on Saturday, July 1, 2017
All of that had him officially signing an extension today, making him the third highest paid guard in the league and keeping him a Raider until 2022. It’s his time to shine and he deserves it, especially after three seasons of doing the dirty work in the shadows of draft classmates Khalil Mack and Derek Carr.