Although the Raiders mined gold in their draft class of 2014, the team’s record didn’t reflect it that year or the next.
Oakland went 3-13 in 2014, and the Raiders took their lumps almost every week. Head coach Dennis Allen was fired, then interim head coach Tony Sparano wasn’t retained. The Raiders didn’t start their upward climb until Jack Del Rio took over the team in 2015, guiding them to a 7-9 record that turned into 12-4 in 2016.
Now, the Raiders – who report for training camp in three weeks – are being talked about as potential Super Bowl contenders.
It’s an evolution that the draft class of 2014 always believed was possible, says guard Gabe Jackson, a third-round pick that year who recently signed a lucrative five-year contract extension. Jackson, first-round pick Kahlil Mack and second-round choice Derek Carr remained upbeat about the team’s future even through the trials of 2014 and 2015.
“We didn’t know the time frame and all this, but I remember rookie year, me Khalil and D.C., we always talked about the change coming and how we were going to turn things around,” Jackson said this week in an interview on SiriusXM. “And Derek always kept encouraging us that things would get better, so me and Khalil always said, ‘Derek, he knows something’s about to happen with us.’ And he was right.”
In 2015, the Raiders drafted standout wide receiver Amari Cooper and defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. In 2016, it was safety Karl Joseph. Along the way, too, veterans such as center Rodney Hudson and guard Kelechi Osemele came on board, along with cornerback Sean Smith. This offseason a new draft class headed by corner Gareon Conley and group of free agents (receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson, tight end Jared Cook and linebacker Jelani Jenkins) have further strengthened the roster.
Jackson says the key for the future of the franchise is to just keep working hard, building on last year’s success and maintaining a focus on excellence. That doesn’t guarantee success in 2017, says Jackson, but it will all pay off eventually.
“We have a certain group of guys, we don’t get to the hype,” Jackson said. “We know that, if you don’t come out and work and prepare to win, you won’t win. Anybody can get beat by whoever and whenever, so you’ve got to be dedicated and work hard throughout the week and do the whole process like you would normally do it, no matter what.”
Even through that rough first season, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said he knew that draft class of 2014 would produce.
“You knew they were going to be good players because they had the right attitude,” he said in 2015. “They wanted to be good, they wanted to be out there and they practiced like it.”