Sometimes it takes years to evaluate a team’s draft class, but that wasn’t the case for the Raiders’ class of 2014.
It was the first excellent group drafted by general manager Reggie McKenzie and its value was noticeable almost immediately.
And, as the Raiders prepare for this year’s draft that begins Thursday night, McKenzie can only dream of things falling into place as well as they did in 2014. That year, McKenzie was able to snag Buffalo linebacker-defensive end Khalil Mack at the top of the first round and then have Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr drop into his reach at the top of the second. McKenzie was able to get the best player available (Mack) and then fill his position of greatest need at QB with Carr.
And it was that particular sequence that has most helped McKenzie rebuild the franchise, says former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden.
That 2014 draft also yielded guard Gabe Jackson, defensive tackle Justin Ellis and defensive back-returner TJ Carrie. Then, in 2015, McKenzie pulled in more budding stars, including receiver Amari Cooper, defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. and tight end Clive Walford, along with linebackers Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball.
But in Gruden’s view, it was the drafting of Carr that is paying the biggest dividends. With an up-and-coming quarterback, the Raiders now have a terrific young player at the game’s most important position that has remade the franchise’s image to the rest of the league. Now, says Gruden – now an analyst for ESPN – other players see the Raiders as an attractive, rising team.
"I think Reggie has done a really good job," Gruden said in a conference call with reporters leading up to Thursday’s draft. "Obviously, the Derek Carr selection at the top of the second round is his signature, I think, acquisition. When you have a quarterback, as you know, your football program or city becomes a desirable destination for free agents.
"People want to go where they have a quality quarterback because they know they have a chance to win. I think Derek Carr and his performance over the past couple of years has made the Raiders, once again, a destination for free agents, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to see that as an ex-Oakland Raider."
Cornerback Sean Smith sees it that way, too.
The former Chiefs standout signed with Oakland in free agency and one of the primary reasons was Carr.
"First of all, they’re young and explosive, and I think that’s something that will help take this team a long way, when we’re talking about the playoffs and championships and things of that nature," Smith said after signing his deal with the Raiders. "You definitely need a quarterback to have stability in that position first and foremost. I believe Carr is that guy."