Day one is in the books in the most anticipated draft for the Raiders perhaps ever. At the start of the day, they had picks at 4, 24, and 27 and that’s exactly what they had at the end of the day. Despite Mike Mayock talking a lot about the possibility of moving around with trades, the Raiders stayed put and made their picks.
At 4 overall, they grabbed Clemson pass rusher Clelin Ferrell. At 24 overall it was Alabama running back Josh Jacobs. And finally, at 27, they got Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram.
There were some common themes with their three selections. On the surface, the one that is obvious was need. There may have been better overall prospects on the board when they made their pick, but it was clear that filling a need was of utmost importance.
Their biggest need far and away was defensive end, so they got one with their top pick. Though not who many thought they would select at 4th overall. Mayock had different ideas of who the top pass rushers were in this draft. For him Ferrell was on the same level as the consensus best prospect in this draft, Nick Bosa.
“There were flashier players, players that other teams may have had higher on their boards. On our board it was he and Bosa at that position. Right next to each other at that position,” Mayock said of Ferrell.
With neither of last year’s starting backs Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin returning, the Raiders had a gaping hole at running back. So, with their next pick they got the consensus best back in this draft in Josh Jacobs.
Gruden acknowledged that he doesn’t know if Jacobs can be the workhorse back they need him to be right now. Jacobs wasn’t a starter for he Crimson Tide and had just 120 carries last season.
“I think he’s going to be a centerpiece at some point. I’m not going to put any pressure on him, he’s got a lot to learn,” Gruden said of Jacobs.
“My expectation is for him, if you’re listening Josh, I encourage you to get some rest because we’re going to run you a lot. We’re going to give him a great opportunity.”
The secondary needed help. It got a couple cornerbacks in free agency in Lamarcus Joyner and Nevin Lawson. And with safety Karl Joseph coming on strong late last season, while doing his best work at free safety, the major need was clearly for a strong safety. So, they got arguably the best strong safety in this draft in Abram.
“He is like one of our old school safeties,” Gruden said of Abram. “He is a physical, sideline to sideline tackling machine in college. I hope it continues here. He has a passion for finding the guy with the ball and bringing him down.”
The other common theme was character.
In each instance, the conversations with the players they drafted it was clear they had strong character and great stories, including going through some adversity. Jacobs was homeless for a time when he was kid. Ferrell comes from a family of nine kids and his father passed away when he was 13. And yet he is what Mayock calls a “ball of positive energy” — an attitude I can confirm from speaking with him over conference call after he was drafted.
And in each instance, the player said when they met with the Raiders staff, they talked more about their personal lives than they did football.
“We didn’t talk so much about football,” said Jacobs. “We spent a little time about football then they got to now who I am. They said a lot of feedback when I was telling my story and the things I’ve been through and things like that. They were wow’ed by it all and happy for me.”
These themes would figure to be important to a rebuilding team like the Raiders. Teams that are already built can add frills and luxuries. This team, coming off a 4-win season with an historically bad defense and an often toothless offense is still early in its building process and still looking to find its identity.
“We’re building our football team . . . and we need building blocks,” said Gruden. “We have some in place and we needed these three first rounders to come in here and inherit that responsibility. This is a tough job. This franchise is moving to Las Vegas. It’s very, very challenging. You got to have a lot of maturity. And we wanted guys that weren’t only great football players and talents, but guys who could handle the circumstances of being frontline players, leaders, and also having a lot of maturity . . . so we did a lot of work on their character and Mayock and I truly believe that that’s the winning edge in all the great players that we’ve been around.”
That identity comes from its young players mostly because they are the ones who will be here for the long haul. They are the ones who will carry over from Oakland to Las Vegas. So, their maturity presence in the locker room is vital. So is adding talent to deficient positions on the field to improve from their 4-12 finish last season.