HENDERSON, Nev. — The question seemed innocuous enough.
Is there inherent pressure to get it right?
Of course, a million times of course, there is pressure to get it right when it comes to the NFL draft.
But when it comes to the Las Vegas Raiders and their recent draft misses, especially early, well, pressure is what one makes of it, right?
“Yes,” Raiders second-year general manager Dave Ziegler answered, “I want to get 12 contributing players.”
As it stands now, the Raiders have a dozen selections — Nos. 7, 38, 70, 100, 109, 141, 144, 174, 204, 214, 220 and 231 — to put further in motion Ziegler’s vision of a roster, along with that of second-year coach Josh McDaniels.
“So yeah, we put that pressure on ourselves and I put that pressure on myself and Josh puts the pressure on himself, and just as a scouting department we feel that pressure in a good way, because I think that pressure drives you,” Ziegler added. “When you’re meeting for 15 straight days, there’s a monotony that you can let grow in, but I think that pressure, that motivation to get it right, that motivation to improve the team … keeps us pushing and keeps us focused and dialed in.”
Yes, Ziegler wants a starter out of that No. 7 spot — should they stay there — and admittedly, it’s a lower bar than the one placed by previous GM Mike Mayock. Remember, Mayock said if the Raiders were doing their jobs properly they would “hopefully” have three starters out of their three third-round selections in 2020.
The first-round failures have been more of a fiasco. And it goes back way before Mayock.
Twenty years ago, after a Super Bowl appearance, the Raiders selected cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and defensive end Tyler Brayton at the end of the first round. Asomugha ran off a slew of All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods. Brayton, not so much.
After that, it’s a collection of near-hits (OL Robert Gallery, RB Darren McFadden, DB Michael Huff, WR Amari Cooper), head-scratchers (WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, S Karl Joseph) and absolute misses (CB Fabian Washington, QB JaMarcus Russell, LB Rolando McClain, CB D.J. Hayden, CB Gareon Conley, DE Clelin Ferrell, S Johnathan Abram, WR Henry Ruggs III, CB Damon Arnette, OL Alex Leatherwood).
The 2020 draft was an epically bad fail, with only one of their seven picks still on the roster — fourth-round cornerback Amik Robertson, Las Vegas’ final choice at No. 139 overall.
No wonder, then, the Raiders haven’t won a playoff game since the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 19, 2003, and have had just two winning seasons since (2016 and 2021).
Raiders owner Mark Davis, who took over the franchise upon the death of his father, Al, in 2011, has noticed.
“That’s one of the places that we’ve failed, for quite a while,” Davis said at the annual league meetings last month. “I think we’ve had one good draft, really, since I’ve been here, and that was in ’14.”
“Other than that,” Davis mused, “we haven’t done a good job. And that’s something it takes to build a franchise for sustainability. And that’s what we’re trying to build now — sustainable. Having that faith in a new regime requires patience.”
Davis is showing that faith to Ziegler and McDaniels, who have the keys to the Silver and Black castle and are making their first first-round pick this year.
Last year, the Raiders did not pick until the third round, No. 90 overall, and came away with a PFWA all-rookie interior lineman in Dylan Parham, who started all 17 games (13 at left guard, two at center, two at right guard). Granted, their first two picks were traded away for an All-Pro receiver in Davante Adams.
Now? Ziegler likes the Raiders’ spot at No. 7, as the capital can still allow them to move up if they choose (Las Vegas did try to trade up to the No. 1 spot, presumably for a quarterback) or trade back if a player they don’t truly love is gone by their selection.
“Dave is young, he’s never been in this position before,” Davis said of Ziegler. “It takes time to learn all the tricks of the trade, so to speak. I think the people that he confides in, and all that stuff, might not be giving him all the full picture, you know, because it’s so damn competitive.”
“But he’s going to be doing great,” Davis continued. “And I think Josh, honestly, is a really great offensive mind. He’s just got to find his place within the organization.”
And as Ziegler said, signing veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo gives the Raiders the luxury to not have to “reach” for a QB they may not be sold on in the draft.
Besides, as Ziegler said, the Raiders addressed needs in free agency, thus, they can draft the best player available … on their board.
Cornerbacks Christian Gonzalez and Devon Witherspoon have been linked to the Raiders (at least one should be on the board at No. 7), as have quarterbacks Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud (a trade up would likely be needed should either slip beyond No. 2) and don’t sleep on the Raiders going edge rusher if either Will Anderson Jr. or Tyree Wilson is available (Ziegler and McDaniels are not afraid to make a strength even stronger).
“We’re focused on taking the best player available,” Ziegler said. “There’s a lot of different things that encompass that; it’s not just tape … it’s the best fit for the Raiders [and] there’s different things that go into that, whether it’s the football intelligence piece, football character … that makes that player the best available player for each individual organization. I think that sometimes can get lost.”
Sounds innocuous enough, right?
Raiders’ young regime has years of bad draft juju to exorcise – Las Vegas Raiders Blog