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Raiders Draft: Testing their mettle

We’ll see just how good Dave Ziegler, Champ Kelly and Raider scouts truly are in their initial draft

NFL Combine
With the Raiders not selecting until pick No. 86 in the third round, we’ll get to see how good Dave Zielger, Champ Kelly and the rest of the team’s personnel department is in terms of scouting.
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With his first pick not arriving until the No. 86 overall selection in the third round, Dave Ziegler is going to be playing the waiting game during the NFL Draft. But this is a situation the Las Vegas Raiders general manager is accustomed to.

He did spend a bulk of his time with the New England Patriots, a team that didn’t always have a first-round pick during the annual event.

“Our first pick is in the third round, and we’ll see if that’s where we end up,” Ziegler said at the NFL owners meeting. “I have had some experiences in New England where we didn’t have a first-round pick. The fact that I have experienced it won’t make it that strange. If that is how it ends up and we don’t pick until the third round, there is a little more time to prepare. You will see where things fall and have a clear picture of what’s available and what’s not.”

Two things: Familiarity and “if that how it ends up”.

First, Ziegler finds himself as the chief personnel man in the Vegas in a situation eerily similar to the draft exercise New England went through in the 2017 event. That year, the Patriots made four selections with the first pick not occurring until the third round. That ended up being defensive end Derek Rivers at No. 83 and tackle Antonio Garcia two picks later at No. 85. Then came defensive end Deitrich Wise Jr. at No. 131 in the fourth round with tackle Connor McDermott rounding out the group in the sixth round, No. 211 overall.

As it stands, the Raiders have the 86th overall pick to begin the draft this year with selections in round four (No. 126), two in round five (No. 164 and 165) and one in round seven (No. 227).

Secondly, will Ziegler exhibit the same patience and refrain he had in free agency with the draft? While the Raiders do have extra prep time and will get a really solid lay of the land as picks are called before they make their first selection, will Ziegler and Co. wait that long?

“Yeah, it’s going to be a little … I will say this, you never know about that,” McDaniels said at the NFL owners meeting. “There are a lot of conversations being had here at The Breakers. You never know where you could end up.

“We’re going to try and make every pick count, regardless of what round it is. And we also know that we’re going to be fairly active once the draft is over. We only have 60-some guys on the roster. So between now and right after the draft, there are going to be 20-some players added to our team.”

NFL: Scouting Combine
Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels noted the team wants to make every pick count, even if the Silver & Black don’t have a first- or second-round pick.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The draft later this month will give Raider Nation an excellent bird’s eye view of the team’s beliefs and vision. We’ll get to really put Ziegler, assistant general manager Champ Kelly, and the rest of the Silver & Black scouting department under the microscope and see how good they truly. We’ve gotten bits and pieces of the new Raiders regime’s vision via free agency and who the team has decided to retain and let walk.

The draft and post-draft moves (undrafted free agent signings and post-June 1 roster shuffle) will give us another window to glimpse how Ziegler and his personnel crew operate. Both the general manager and his assistant have been dropping bread crumbs for us to follow along, though.

Attention to detail is the key theme Ziegler, Kelly and McDaniels have spoken about frequently whenever they’re on the record.

“All of us will say this — Dave, Josh, and myself — we wanna live in the details,” Kelly told Raiders.com. “And so, as we’re looking for players, it’s not just going to the cliché places where you go to find players, the combine, going to the major colleges. No, we wanna turn over every stone and think outside of the box to find the players that fit our particular system.

“They might not be the guy who runs the fastest or the guy who’s the biggest, but it may be the person who has the highest football intellect, the best character, who’s the right fit for what we’re looking for.”

Whomever the Raiders select — whether they settle and pick at No. 86 or wheel and deal to move back in the the first or second rounds — it appears that the team will do thorough work with keen attention to detail to ensure the prospect they bring aboard syncs with football IQ and sound character. The aspect of finding talent and leaving no stone unturned is intriguing because the NFL has shown us you don’t need to come from a big-time major college program to be an impact player in the league.

Ziegler, who made Kelly a must-hire addition to his staff, is banking on Kelly’s thoroughness to help forge the new Raiders path. And while Ziegler may be the final say on roster decisions, he’s not the autocrat his former boss — New England head honcho Bill Belichick — is and prefers a more voices in the room to make decisions.

“We have a level of trust and respect to each other, so he’s really been like… The asset that he’s been for us so far has been huge,” Ziegler said of Kelly. “When you have someone that you can say, “Hey, this is on your plate. You take care of it.” And you know it’s going to be taken care of to the standard that you also embody to the detail you want it to be. That’s really valuable. Champ sees things and gets things done that I want him to get done before I even know need to get it done. Champ’s been very phenomenal that way.”

“Very high attention to detail. Has a very high standard for all work that’s done whether it’s big or small,” Ziegler continued about Kelly. “He’s really smart in terms of just football, big picture thinking. I know he’s a good evaluator.”

Vegas will undoubtedly have a plan for the upcoming draft. And it wouldn’t be surprising to see that course be similar to the one Ziegler charted to navigate the choppy waters of free agency.

“You have to be ready to pivot. I think that’s the most important thing about free agency,” Ziegler said. “You have a plan, like we talked about at the beginning, but you also have to recognize that you’re going to have to be fluid and you’re going to have to think on your toes to a degree and be flexible and change your course of action if things don’t pan out your way.”

Being nimble is definitely a draft-day type thing as prospects will be flying off the board and there will be talent rising and falling during the course of the event.