Raiders GM Mike Mayock was scouting the NCAA championship game when a friend and fellow personnel executive brought up a topic he loathes. Draft grades. That friend mentioned Mayock's first NFL draft would get a B-plus if he only took players from the NCAA national championship game.
Mayock gave it a go, which was more coincidence than not, with four of his nine selections from Clemson or Alabama.
He still has no interest is giving the Raiders 2019 draft class a B-plus, or any other letter grade. He thought attaching them was inane during his previous gig as the media's preeminent draft analyst. He doesn't think they belong now.
"At NFL Network they used to try to make me grade drafts, and I used to say it was unfair," Mayock said Friday. "I'll tell you what I think is an intriguing draft. I'll tell you what I think is an interesting one. But I would never even grade when I was in the media because you're not going to know for a couple of years anyways. … Everybody is excited about their drafts and it has to play out."
That's because teams select the best players available on their draft board, generally at positions of great need. Regrets always exist at the end of a draft, when coveted players go earlier than preferred. Teams generally feel great about it.
They would be handing out As all around after a three-day selection process, but you won't find letter grades. Since draftniks go nuts over post-draft evaluation, we can use some Mayock-ian terms to look at this Raiders class. Overall, let's call it an intriguing, high floor draft, containing a good mix of character guys with strong leadership skill. It's pretty safe, without off-the-field red flags.
That was done by design as well, to help ease the transition to Las Vegas and it's inherent temptations.
"For the record we asked 112 kids if they'd be okay on the Las Vegas strip or is it going to be a problem," Mayock said. "All 112 said no coach we'll be fine. We didn't find one guy that admitted Vegas is going to be an issue. So they all lied to us."
Mayock was telling the truth on Saturday that he's proud of the class he and Jon Gruden put together. Here are all nine picks:
Raiders 2019 draft class
1. (4) DE Clelin Ferrell
1. (24) RB Josh Jacobs
1. (27) S Johnathan Abram
2. (40) CB Trayvon Mullen
4. (106) DE Maxx Crosby
4. (129) CB Isaiah Johnson
4. (135) TE FosterMoreau
5. (149) WR Hunter Renfrow
7. (230) DE Quinton Bell— Scott Bair (@BairNBCS) April 27, 2019
Let's single out a few themes from the class to the selection:
The eyebrow raiser
Most where surprised when the Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell was taken at No. 4 overall. Count Ferrell in that crew. Shock from some doesn't make it a bad pick. Questioning the selection during Thursday night's first round doesn't mean it wasn't the wrong way to go. And, in time, Ferrell could prove to be an excellent consistent pass rusher.
It's clear already he's a hard worker and squeaky clean prospect who should be a solid leader in the locker room. He was incredibly productive in college, and the Raiders took the best 4-3 defensive end they could get at the spot where they could get him.
It's easy to say they should've traded down, but you've got to have a dance partner, and then you're taking a risk that Ferrell won't be there at your new spot. Nick Bosa was gone to San Francisco. Quinnen Williams was a New York Jet. Ferrell was the next pick up, and they got a pro's pro who knows how to get after the quarterback.
"I heard a quote, maybe after Clelin was taken, about being a safe layup in the fairway," said Hunter Renfrow, Ferrell's teammate at Clemson. "You don't have to hit a great drive or have do all this, but if you just hit a smooth iron or whatnot into the middle of the fairway that's what Clelin is. He just as easy going as it gets. You're getting a leader who is a really good player for one, but as good of a player he is, he's a better person off the field. I feel like all the teams I've been on and the teams that have succeeded, they have the right people first. If you can get that and people who are invested and committed and ready to do their job and care about their teammates, not wanting to let them down on Sunday, then you are going to have what it takes and Clelin is all those things."
It's hard to argue with the value base of many other selections, which seemed to fit Raiders schemes and offer value where they were selected.
Supplementing the secondary
The Raiders wanted a leader in the secondary, and enforcer who could be a tone setter in a defensive backfield getting younger by the draft. Gruden gave Abram the No. 24 as a message that he'll have high demands for the Mississippi State alum. He made a great first impression on Friday in his introductory press conference, and should compete for a significant role right away in the safety group.
The Raidera also added cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen (Clemson) and Isaiah Johnson (Houston), guys who are tall, long, athletic former receivers who understand routes and can make plays on the ball. Both guys need some seasoning, but they will push to play opposite Gareon Conley in the long term. Daryl Worley and Nevin Lawson will see significant snaps, but the young players should be part of the team's long term plan if they progress.
"They are perfect in what we do. We're a press corner team," Mayock said. "Jim O'Neil, our defensive backs coach, was as happy as I've ever seen him. Now we have some long press corners to join Gareon, Worley and all of our guys."
The Raiders only had 13 sacks as a team last year, with a glaring weakness generating pressure off the edge. They didn't address the position much in free agency – the price was sky high after so many top rushers were franchise tagged – but added three defensive ends in the draft. Ferrell should expect to be a three-down player, and Crosby will push Arden Key for playing time in passing situations.
Crosby has great speed and energy off the edge, and could be an excellent player if he gains strength and some weight to fit this Raiders scheme.
The Raiders feel better about where they are after the draft, with a frontline player and some developmental options that could pay dividends.
The Raiders snagged defensive end Quinton Bell in the seventh round, a freak athlete with just one year's experience. He wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and the Raiders were at his pro day, where he was awesome. He ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash there at 240 pounds. He's raw as a pass rusher after three college seasons as a receiver, but he could be an excellent practice squad candidate who develops into a legitimate NFL player with some strength and weight gains.
"Teddy Atlas, one of our scouts, kept bringing him up and bringing him up," Mayock said. "I earmarked him in the back of my mind after we saw his (pro day) numbers, as a late seventh round pick. There would've been 20 teams going after him in free agency, so we took him off the board instead."
Alabama typically wears its running backs out. That didn't happen to Josh Jacobs. He didn't have a ton of carries but averaged 5.9 yards per carry on 251 rushes in an efficient college career.
He wasn't drafted to play second fiddle. He'll be the Raiders feature back in time, and could be the primary back and a true three-down talent. Isaiah Crowell will help him out this year. So will Jalen Richard. But Jacobs should be a featured player in Jon Gruden's offense, and could have huge numbers as a runner and receiver.
Jacobs swears he's ready for all that work, as a do-it-all player who can produce steadily.
"I'm definitely eager to prove, not only to myself, but to everybody that I can be a three-down back," Jacobs said. "Yeah, I think it was a blessing how it played out. I feel everything plays out how it's supposed to. With me not having so much tread on the tires or whatever, being so fresh, I think it's going to be huge, especially for my position. It's going to be interesting."