In a way, it’s Reggie McKenzie’s fault that he’s feeling more scrutiny from Raiders fans and the media as the first round of Thursday’s NFL draft approaches.
Now that the Oakland franchise appears to be climbing toward contention in the AFC West following terrific draft classes in 2014 and 2015, expectations are high that if the Raiders general manager can score again with the 14th overall pick and the draft class as a whole, the silver and black will be in great position to make a run at unseating the Super Bowl-champion Denver Broncos at the top of the division in 2016.
“Honestly, I think it’s more pressure,” McKenzie told the Bay Area media recently in his annual pre-draft news conference. “That’s my approach. I really do (think that way). You guys write about how good Khalil (Mack) and Amari (Cooper) and Derek (Carr) and all these guys are, I mean … how can that not put pressure on me?
“We’ve got to continue to get really good players in here. We’re looking forward to build on that.”
It’s hard to say which way the Raiders will go Thursday night because Oakland no longer has gaping holes on its roster. After signing high-profile free agents Bruce Irvin (linebacker), Sean Smith (cornerback), Kelechi Osemele (guard) an Reggie Nelson (safety), McKenzie has the freedom to select the best player available when it’s his turn – or even to trade down for more picks.
The latest mock drafts from analysts across the country, according to Raiders.com, have the Raiders selecting such diverse talents as Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman, Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd, Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, Houston cornerback William Jackson III, Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple, Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, Mississippi wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and Eastern Kentucky linebacker Noah Spence.
In other words, McKenzie could go in any number of directions, and he likely doesn’t know yet himself which way he’ll go because it will depend on how the draft unfolds. Rankins, Jackson and Apple, however, are players pegged to the Raiders in multiple mocks.
“We’re not about just going for a specific need,” McKenzie told the media. “We want to get the best player that can help this football team.”
Chances are, that “best player” may be from the defensive side. This draft seems heavy in defensive linemen and linebackers. But if a player such as Elliott, Coleman, Treadwell or Stanley falls to the 14th pick – and he ranks higher on the Raiders’ draft board – the Raiders can go in that direction, too.
The first round of the draft will be televised Thursday, starting at 5 p.m. (PDT) on ESPN and the NFL Network.