Penn State defensive end Jack Crawford (81) is a member of Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie's first draft class. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
The Raiders tried. They get credit for that.
But with just six mid- to low-round selections in the just-concluded NFL Draft, Oakland had very little chance to make up huge ground in this year’s talent-picking process.
New General Manager Reggie McKenzie did his due diligence and did the best he could, focusing on hard-working, high-character, high-performing college players such as Utah offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom (third round), San Diego State linebacker Miles Burris (fourth round), Penn State defensive end Jack Crawford and Arizona wide receiver Justin Criner (both in the fifth round), Georgia State defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi (sixth round) and Penn State linebacker Nathan Stupar (seventh round).
But the draft this year is just one step in McKenzie’s long march to rebuilding the Raiders and returning them to the top of the AFC West and playoffs.
Since taking over the team in January and getting his orders from owner Mark Davis to remake the organization, McKenzie has had to cut payroll, release several starting players, renegotiate contracts of veterans to get below the salary cap, dive into the free agency market without much of a budget and conduct a draft with few draft picks.
Oh, and hire a new coaching staff and make over an organization’s entire philosophy and personality.
So, turning an 8-8 team from 2011 into a playoff force in 2012 will take more than McKenzie’s draft picks from this class.
But, taken as just one portion of his Herculean task, the draft was an important part of the process. McKenzie was able to put his stamp on six players who he hopes will infuse the Raiders with the character he’s looking for.
At Green Bay, McKenzie -- as a scout and player personnel director -- was able to help mold a winning franchise through high-performing mid- and low-level picks and key free agents.
Now he’s doing the same in Oakland, and he’s vowing never to do what the organization did in the past: a) focus on workout warriors and pure speed guys in future drafts or b) trade away future picks.
Though the Raiders of 2012 may not have the success he’s hoping for, McKenzie has said he’s going to have patience. He’s going to put the right pieces in place and build a foundation. Players such as Bergstrom, Burris, Crawford and Criner won’t turn around this team in 2012, but they can be a part of a smarter, harder-working group that won’t collapse late in games or prompt NFL officials to reach for their penalty flags every third play.
The draft – and free agency – is as much about chemistry as it is biology for the Raiders this offseason.
Longtime Raiders observer Lowell Cohn, now a columnist for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, said McKenzie’s draft reflected the team’s new personality and approach – something the team’s fans should welcome.
“McKenzie turned (Al) Davis’ philosophy on its head,” wrote Cohn. “He distinctly did NOT draft for speed. He drafted for football players. What a concept. In this, his first draft, he changed the Raiders’ world-view and he declared his independence from the Davis legacy and the Davis influence. And for those acts of daring independence, he deserves our applause and the respect of every Raiders fan.”