There have been questions as to how much say Jon Gruden will have in personnel decisions. And with the way the Raiders have drafted under Reggie McKenzie, that may not be a bad thing.
To begin this discussion, let’s talk about the 2014 draft class. Because it was an amazing class, by any standard. Khalil Mack in the first round, Derek Carr in the second, Gabe Jackson in the third, Justin Ellis in the fourth, and TJ Carrie in the 7th highlight that class.
Say what you will about Mack being the no-brainer pick at fifth overall (he was) or how lucky the Raiders were that Derek Carr was still available in the second round (they were); McKenzie and the Raiders nailed that draft. And their foundation is built upon it.
It was such a good draft that it elevated McKenzie God-like status among many fans. Literally, they replace God with his name in saying “In Reggie we trust”.
But the farther we get from that draft class, the shakier that status becomes.
McKenzie took over the team in 2012. There isn’t a single player still on the team from his first or his second class prior to 2014.
In the three full drafts since 2014, the team has compiled just three regular starters – Amari Cooper (2015), Mario Edwards Jr (2015), and Karl Joseph (2016). Coop and Joseph were top picks and Edwards a high second round pick.
All three of those starters took steps back this past season where steps forward were expected. Coop’s 2017 numbers were nearly half of his 2016 totals in both catches (48) and yards (680). His double digit drops were a big factor in those poor numbers. Edwards has never played a full season in the NFL due to various injuries and has started just 24 of the team’s 48 games over his three seasons. Joseph had better numbers in his second season in 2017, but not nearly what was expected being that he was finally all the way back from the major knee injury he said was holding him back as a rookie.
Other than the aforementioned TJ Carrie, what late round gems are there to speak of? Cory James maybe? He started 9 games last season, mainly due to the fact that the Raiders had basically no one else at linebacker and James was ultimately outplayed by undrafted rookie Nicholas Morrow. And NO undrafted finds don’t make up for poor drafting because there’s simply no excuse not find talent both in the later rounds and after the draft.
As for the other day one and two prospects the Raiders have selected the past three drafts, the results have been far worse.
Third round tight end Clive Walford dealt with injuries his first two seasons and has not developed into the talent he was expected to be out of Miami.
The pair of 2016 defensive ends Jihad Ward (2nd round) and Shilique Calhoun (third round) have looked like one of the worst day two picks this team has had in some time. Both have been practically irrelevant.
Not to mention quarterback Connor Cook who they traded up to get early on day three of that draft has not earned his way out of third on the depth chart.
It’s tough to fully judge a rookie class, but after one season the returns have not been good. The only regular starter was third round pick Eddie Vanderdoes and that was for lack of better options. He struggled most of the season in every facet of the game. Then he tore his ACL in the season finale which casts doubt on his availability going forward.
Top pick Gareon Conley missed all but two games with a shin injury while second round safety Obi Melifonwu was twice placed on injured reserve, appearing in five games.
Not helping with the draft criticisms was waiting until the 5th round to try and fill the gaping hole at middle linebacker, going with Marquel Lee out of Wake Forest and, like James, starting him for lack of options until they were able to sign NaVorro Bowman after week 6.
Probably the most promising looking rookies, though they started just two games between them, were 7th round picks safety Shalom Luani and defensive tackle Treyvon Hester. But to say they are late round steals at this point would be getting way ahead of yourself.
Now we wait to see if the team will keep TJ Carrie from walking as a free agent and if Gareon Conley and/or Obi Melifonwu will pan out once they can get healthy and return to the field next season.
Developing and retaining drafted players is always key. Without many other picks to hang their hat on, the above three DB’s could be standing between the success or near complete failure of that ideal and, ultimately, the success or failure of this team under McKenzie.