Whether it’s through mock drafts, big boards or just talking shop, we’ve reached the point of the year where everyone is trying to figure out what the Las Vegas Raiders—and the rest of the NFL—are going to do in the NFL Draft. The best way to do that is to use the past to predict the future, and there are a few trends in Josh McDaniels’ three draft classes that could give us some insight into what the Raiders might do at the end of the month.
Below are a few trends/takeaways from the Denver Broncos' 2009 and 2010 draft classes—when McDaniels served as their head coach and de facto general manager—and Las Vegas’ crop of rookies from last season. For those curious, general manager Dave Ziegler has spent the majority of his career either working with McDaniels or on the pro personnel (free agent) side of the front office, so that is why we’re focusing on the head coach here.
1) McDaniels has always selected an offensive lineman in the 3rd- or 4th-round
In 2009, he took Seth Olsen—a guard from Notre Dame—in the fourth round, then J.D. Walton—center out of Baylor—in the third the following season, and Dylan Parham last year.
More specifically, the third-round might actually be McDaniels' target for offensive linemen because in 2009 the Broncos didn’t make any third-round selections at all. One other important note is that all three players were interior offensive linemen which is what the Raiders need upfront this year.
2) McDaniels likes to double or triple down at the same position
In his first draft class, McDaniels took defensive backs with two of his three second-round picks in Wake Forest’s Alphonso Smith and Texas Tech’s Darcel McBath. Smith and McBath were taken with the team’s consecutive picks, then the coach/GM added a tight end before going back to the defensive backfield with his next selection; David Bruton out of Notre Dame.
Granted, Bruton and McBath were both safeties and Smith played corner, but it is interesting that McDaniels attacked the secondary so aggressively and the double-dipping continued within his next couple of classes.
In 2010, Denver took Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas with their first pick of the draft and circled back to the position in the third round with Minnesota’s Eric Decker. They also took cornerbacks Perrish Cox out of Oklahoma State and Syd’Quan Thompson from Cal. And the doubling/tripling down didn’t stop there. They also selected three interior offensive linemen in Utah’s Zane Beadles (second round), Walton and Notre Dame’s Eric Olson (sixth round).
A year ago, McDaniels double-dipped three times in six picks with running backs Zamir White and Brittain Brown, defensive tackles Neil Farrell Jr. and Matthew Butler, and offensive linemen with Parham and Thayer Munford. Granted, Munford is more of a tackle, but he did line up at guard for the majority of his senior season at Ohio State.
So, the lesson learned here is even if the Raiders address a need early in the draft, don’t expect them to be done adding players at that position.
3) McDaniels has only drafted two defensive ends
If they aren’t going to take a quarterback with the seventh overall pick, many people expect the Raiders to explore their options at defensive end. Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson has been a popular name to link with the Silver and Black, and Clemson’s Myles Murphy has also been kicked around as a potential option. However, drafting an edge defender would go against the coach’s track record.
During his first draft with the Broncos, McDaniels used a first-round pick—the team’s second pick of the draft—on Robert Ayers out of Tennessee. Outside of Ayers, the only other defensive end McDaniels has drafted is Indiana’s Jammie Kirlew with Denver’s last pick of the 2010 draft. For those curious, Kirlew only ended up playing one regular-season game during his career.
It’s also interesting that McDaniels had never taken a defensive tackle until the fourth round of last year’s draft. So, if the Raiders do address their defensive line with a premium pick later this month, it will be out of character for the head coach.
4) McDaniels has never drafted a corner taller than 6-feet
Of the defensive backs mentioned above, Bruton is the only one to cross that threshold at 6’2” and he was a safety. Smith and Thompson are 5’9”, Cox is 5’11” and McBath comes in right at 6’ and was primarily a safety during his career. So, McDaniels clearly doesn’t worry about height when it comes to cornerbacks.
What does this mean for this year’s draft?
There are three corners who have been linked to the Raiders with the seventh overall pick at one point or another; Christian Gonzalez out of Oregon, Devon Witherspoon from Illinois and Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. Gonzalez and Porter Jr. are both around the 6’2” mark while Witherspoon is just 5’11”.
Length could have been a reason the Raiders favor the first two over Witherspoon, however, now that we know McDaniels’ draft history at the position, that may not be the case and the Illini is very much on the team’s radar.
Granted, the decision might ultimately be in defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s hands, but if he likes Witherspoon’s tape, we know Graham will have the head coach’s blessing.
5) McDaniels has never drafted a linebacker
This one might be the most shocking and jarring for Raider fans as many have been pounding the table for the team to draft a stud linebacker for years only to be disappointed.
During McDaniels' first year in Denver, DJ Williams and Andra Davis were the Broncos’ two starting inside linebackers. Williams made a career out of being a solid starter while Davis was in his age-31 season and only on a two-year contract. A young Wesley Woodyard was also on the team but was an undrafted free agent from the year before and, at that time, not nearly the player he turned out to be. In other words, it wasn’t like the defense was flush with talent at the position.
In year two of the head coach/defacto GM’s tenure, Davis was released during the offseason and Mario Haggin, who was an edge defender the year before, ended up taking starts at inside backer while weighing over 270 pounds. So, again, linebacker was a need heading into that season yet McDaniels still didn’t draft one.
The Raiders also could have used a linebacker in the draft last offseason, but McDaniels opted to sign Luke Masterson and Darien Butler as undrafted free agents instead of using a pick at the position.
So, while some people may expect Las Vegas to use a premium pick on a backer later this month, it would be a bit of a surprise given the coach’s history.