Replacing Al Davis as the man in control of the Oakland Raiders is like jumping through a ring of fire wearing gasoline drawers. Everybody is watching and criticizing your every move. For Raiders’ General Manager Reggie McKenzie, it has been a media barrage of negativity during the past 2 ½ years with every cut, resigning, failure to resign, free agent acquisition and trade panned by the sports media.
That finally changed with the 2014 NFL draft… it may be the first time McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen have been overwhelmingly praised for their moves. Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, Keith McGill and a few other late-round “steals” got nearly universal approval. For Raiders’ fans, hearing the applause was a shock to the ears, considering everything else leading up to this point.
Since his first draft in 2012, McKenzie has been taking flack for his picks, more so than any other GM in the NFL. The media and critics continued to ignore the damage left behind by Al Davis while snubbing McKenzie’s successes and hyper-focusing on his misses. It doesn’t seem to faze McKenzie. Over and over again, in his calm, laid-back demeanor, he keeps saying the same thing: Build long term.
“You draft for the future,” McKenzie said to Bay Area News Group reporter Jerry McDonald earlier this month. “You don’t draft for right now. That’s not the way you do it. That’s not the way I do it.”
The way McKenzie seems to be “doing it” also doesn’t seem to be centered on the draft and, again in his laid-back manner, showed the world this by not “hyping-up” this year’s draft despite the praise coming from the sports’ pundits. He simply identified his players and got who he wanted. In fact, it seems McKenzie sees the draft as just another way to get more players he needs and not the “be all” or “end all” of anything. As reporters and critics smashed McKenzie and his draft picks during the past two years, they quietly ignored all the other avenues McKenzie has taken to get stand-out players. For some unknown reason, when McKenzie pulls a break-out player from the pool of undrafted rookies, all we hear about is how McKenzie’s first ever pick, Tony Bergstrom, might get cut.
In 2013, the Raiders draft headlines revolved around Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, a fourth-round pick that was cut, brought back, just to be cut again, ultimately ending up on the Tennessee Titans. The media ribbed McKenzie for this “waste of a pick,” but virtually ignored the pick before Wilson: Linebacker Sio Moore. The Raiders’ third round pick had 50 tackles, 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Although these numbers aren’t “pro bowl,” if you compare them to perennial all-star linebacker Patrick Willis of the San Francisco 49ers, it’s respectable. Willis posted 104 tackles, 3 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2013. The media also ignored sixth round pick Mychal Rivera, who is emerging as a solid play-making tight end with 404 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.
In fact, when you consider the 2013 draft, it’s nearly impossible to yet criticize any picks in the first six rounds other than Wilson. Both cornerback D.J. Hayden and tackle Menelik Watson (the first and second picks) were injured almost all season, so we really do not know what the Raiders have (or don’t have) in either guy. The same goes for the second pick of the sixth round in Central Florida running back Latavius Murray. He too was injured all year. Colorado Tight End Nick Kasa (first pick of the sixth round) only had one reception in 2013, but it was a touchdown reception, so it’s unclear as to what he may eventually bring to the table. Defensive tackle Stacy McGee (third pick of the sixth round) also was a strong contributor as well.
The year prior to this, in 2012, the Raiders’ first pick wasn’t until the last pick of the third round, and that pick was a compensatory pick. With literally no draft, McKenzie still managed to find two players that added depth in linebacker Miles Burris, who has 100 tackles in 22 career games with a sack and interception, and defensive end Jack Crawford, who started 15 games in 2013.
Although these drafts aren’t jumping with stars, the fact is it’s still too early to really tell if these were good or bad drafts, despite what the media says. In the case of the 2012 draft, just getting two guys to bring depth is a win, considering the circumstances.
The media also seems to ignore the productive wide receivers Rod Streater (888 yards, four touchdowns) and Andre Holmes (431 yards, one touchdown in 10 games). They say very little about punter Marquette King (averaging 44 yards a punt, with a long of 66 yards) or anything positive about quarterback Matt McGloin, who had a completion percentage of 56 percent, 1,547 yards and eight TDs in seven games. All these guys were pulled from the undrafted class and although not posting “super star numbers,” they are huge contributors and have shown flashes of superior play. The media also seems to criticize the free agency moves of the last two years, despite the fact that the Raiders have brought in strong leaders with playoff and championship experience in linebackers Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett last year and a list of others like Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith, LaMarr Woodley, Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Schaub, James Jones, Tarell Brown, Carlos Rodgers, Austin Howard and Donald Penn this year.
All we really hear about is Matt Flynn… hopefully with this draft, the tune changes.
With this draft the Raiders are finally convincing the world they are not the Raiders you’re used to seeing, but that doesn’t change the fact that in our “win now” society, McKenzie may be an odd man out with his philosophy. Even so, that doesn’t excuse the media scrutiny he gets compared to other GMs nor does it explain the virtual ignoring of moves that have produced good players. It also doesn’t explain why we never hear about so many other GMs that not only have horrible drafts, but find nothing in the undrafted class, make horrible signings or trades. What the heck has the GM for the Minnesota Vikings done well? Who is the GM for the Vikings? That’s a good question… I guess they don’t sell gasoline drawers in Minnesota.