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Raiders offseason: McDaniels drops hints at combine

Head coach touches on BPA vs. need, prospects, philosophy, coaching staff and more

NFL Combine
Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels didn’t offer any specifics at the NFL Combine, but he dropped enough hints to give you insight on what he’s got planned for his team this coming season.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Josh McDaniels was never going to spill all the beans at the NFL Combine. No NFL head coach ever does. Plus it’s lying season now as teams deep dive into prospects in preparation for April’s NFL Draft.

But what the Las Vegas Raiders head coach did was drop hints this week in Indianapolis. First and foremost was the biggest dime he dropped regarding quarterback Derek Carr, saying the signal caller will ‘absolutely’ be Raiders Week 1 starter. That got the Twitter-verse talking along with what he said later in front of the podium in Indianapolis:

And therein lies the kicker with McDaniels, general manager Dave Zielger, or any other coach or personnel person: No one provides any specificity in late February/early March. But if you listen close, you can string together a few hints and get a general idea of the path forward.

Such as:

Drafting Best Player Available (BPA) vs. Need. McDaniels, unsurprisingly, follows the same path that his renowned former boss in New England — Patriots head honcho Bill Belichick — blazed on the East Coast. Drafting for need is a fool’s errand for both Belichick and McDaniels.

“We’re going to try and improve the team, and I think when you start doing position of need, you tend to start skipping over players that really might be better players. So I think the right thing to do in almost every situation is to draft players that make your football team as much improved as you can,” McDaniels expanded. “So whatever the position is, we hope it does improve the Raiders significantly. And over time if we make a strength stronger, that’s fine. Then we’ve got to find a way to try to add to a place of weakness. If it fits perfectly where we needed it and it’s the best player, then so be it and we’ll try to take him too.”

The combine gives teams the much-needed face-to-face in-person time with prospects. NFL teams invest draft picks and coin into collegiate players and in order to get the most return of investment, getting to know the person that a squad sinks assets into is an integral part of the process.

“You never want to draft a player that you really don’t feel like you know,” McDaniels said. “Having the opportunity to meet them, even though it’s a short window here in Indy, at least it starts the conversation. You just want to find out as much as you can. It’s like a job interview — you’re interviewing them, they’re getting to know you. You want to have a familiarity, you want to have a strong knowledge of their background.”

Combine performances are great but the tape doesn’t lie. McDaniels has seen his fair share of combine spectacles who wow those inside Indy while setting social media aflame when the video clips and tweets/posts hit the wire. It’s easy to get allured by performances at the combine but for the Raiders head coach, will the testing numbers match the tape?

“Probably more than I can remember where you see a guy do something really special,” McDaniels said when asked if he could name standout performers in Indy. “But off the top of my head, I’m very careful to overjudge what I see in these workouts. I usually rely on what I see on the tape more than what I do just on the workout for 20-25 minutes. I think you can get caught in that a little bit. There’s always going to be players that test really well, but what you want is the players that test well and it matches the film. That’s what makes you feel good about it.”

NFL: Scouting Combine
North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson clocked in an official 40-yard dash time of 4.36 at the NFL Combine this past week in Indianapolis. Watson’s test speed does match his play speed.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Players that fit McDaniels’ philosophy is similar to what Jon Gruden sought. Call Gruden a hackneyed coach who was out-of-touch and out-of-date — and deservedly so — but what the ex-Raiders head coach and chief personnel man wanted from players that wear the Silver & Black was a passion for the game and the business of getting better. McDaniels wants are very reminiscent of the coach who preceded him.

“We look for players that fit our overall philosophy, which is – we want guys that work hard and love the game of football and are willing to do all the things necessary to improve themselves,” McDaniels said. “These players are all young; they all need to get better. In order to do that, you’re going to have to be willing to put in the time and the effort, the sweat equity that’s required in the National Football League to eventually get to the point where you’re really a consistent contributor on a good football team.”

McDaniels talked to Belichick before hiring away Patriots coaches. But Mick Lombardi was a must-get. Lombardi will serve as the understudy as McDaniels’ offensive coordinator in Vegas, but it’ll be the latter who calls the plays. But don’t discount Lombardi’s addition as a “in-name-only” hire.

“Mick’s a really smart, young coach. Works really hard, he’s coached multiple positions on the offense. He’s well-versed in our system,” McDaniels said. “I have total confidence in him as a teacher, his ability to communicate with the players and the staff, and he’s a tireless worker. There’s nothing that I’ve given Mick to do that he hasn’t done better than I thought he would. Just a huge advantage for me.”