Self-honesty can be inconvenient and unpleasant. It requires one to actively recognize limitations, face fears and meet those challenges head-on.
For all the guff the Las Vegas Raiders are getting for roster moves and decisions this offseason, there’s one thing that stands out: The Silver & Black are realistic and not delusional.
Admitting there’s no quick fix to what ails the team.
“The reality is we’re not going to solve every problem and fill every hole in our team in one offseason here or one free-agency period here,” Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler told The Athletic last week at the NFL owners’ meetings. “That’s not realistic. And it’s not going to happen in one draft, either. I’m talking about getting the team exactly where we want it and exactly how we want it to look from the fourth guard to the starting guard to the fourth defensive tackle to the starting defensive tackle.
“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done there that’s going to happen over the course of years. That’s the reality of where we’re at in continuing to add to the team.”
The admission is commendable.
The 2023 NFL Draft isn’t a quick fix for the Raiders and it’s good to hear the chief personnel decision-maker put the ugly truth out there — no matter how hideous. But while free agency and specifically the draft aren’t stopgaps to Ziegler’s and, by extension, head coach Josh McDaniels’ true vision of the team’s roster makeup, the annual event slated for the end of this month is still very pivotal.
It’s the first “full” draft class at Ziegler’s disposal after trading both a 2022 first and second round pick to acquire wide receiver Davante Adams from the Green Bay Packers. This go-around, the Raiders have 12 draft picks (currently tied for the most with the Houston Texans). That’s ample ammunition to add young core players to the roster.
Admission is going to give way to execution. And it’s imperative Ziegler and Co. operate with surgical purpose. The prospects selected will be the foundation of the new regime’s Raiders; the core of Ziegler’s and McDaniels’ vision. The Raiders need foundational type prospects that compliment and grow alongside established talents such as Maxx Crosby and Davante Adams. The previous regime tried and failed.
The same could happen to Ziegler and McDaniels if they’re not meticulous and purposeful later this month.
“The draft is obviously important. We need to draft and put a good young core on our team that we drafted, we developed, and that we can continue to work with,” McDaniels said at the league owners meeting. “We’re a little deprived of that at the moment. But hopefully with this draft, we have a lot of picks. And I’d say going forward, if we can try to string together a few of those together, that’s really the goal.”
“We’re doing our work on everybody and trying to do our due diligence on every spot in the draft,” McDaniels added. “We know we pick high in every round basically, so it’s an opportunity that you hope you don’t have a whole lot of, but we’re going to try to take full advantage of if we can this year.”
But if Ziegler is in charge of getting the ingredients, it’s McDaniels and his coaching staff’s duty to cook something that loyal (and success-starved fanbase) Raider Nation can stomach. After all, owner Mark Davis is keen to say he’s “a fan too” and for too long, the fanbase has been served up something below the threshold of generic and bland airline food.
Let’s assume the Raiders do select 12 prospects (that number is likely to fluctuate as Las Vegas could increase or decrease it via draft day trades). That’s a dozen young players who can come in, compete, and earn roles. And that isn’t just relegated to offense and defense, but all-important special teams. Kicker, punter, and long snapper is all set, but both return and coverage units for Tom McMahon’s special teams group needs as much attention as Patrick Graham’s defense. McDaniels’ want for explosive plays applies to all three aspects: Offense, defense, and special teams.
And the draft goes a long way into acquiring much-needed and requisite explosion.
There’s no way around this, though: Identifying the prospects, doing the research, and working with coaches to see if they’re a fit for the Raiders is a tough job. Coaching and developing said talent is an equally difficult task. If one part of that process is a misstep, it can have dire consequences — much like the meek performances prior Raiders regimes exhibited in previous draft escapades.
That’s a big reason why the team is in its current state. And it may continue to be impotence exemplified if Ziegler and McDaniels can’t cut the mustard. There’s a reason why Davis is preaching patience. He knows it’ll take more than one season for a draft class to begin providing invaluable return on investment. But with the No. 7 overall and No. 38 overall picks at their disposal this draft, we’re going to see more of Ziegler’s and McDaniels’ vision.
That begins in earnest April 27 — the opening round of the three-day NFL draft. Tick, tock, Raiders are on the clock.