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Oakland Raiders: Starting the new regime off creatively

Oakland Raiders
Photo Credit: USA TODAY

With three first round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, all eyes were on the Oakland Raiders in Nashville. Could analyst turned general manager, Mike Mayock, get it right for a team in need of a dramatic turnaround?

The answer was a resounding yes! It started with the eye-opening, gasp-inducing, selection of Clelin Ferrell with the fourth overall pick. Some 226 picks later, Prairie View A & M’s Quinton Bell rounded out Oakland’s 2019 draft class. Those and every pick that came in between will help build the Raiders into the team that Mayock and Jon Gruden envisage they can be.

Despite adding some franchise changing pieces before the draft, the emphasis was very much on Mayock to succeed in Nashville. If the NFL Network’s premier draft analyst can’t win at the draft, then who can?

However, leading television coverage to conduct a war room is a very different beast.

Mayock took the leap in his stride. The Raiders’ 2019 class has his stamp all over it. He loves the high character, hard-working players, from top-level college football programs, and that is exactly what Oakland has drafted. The doubters will say it’s easy to have a successful draft with so many first-round picks, but you have to hit on those picks to find said success. Not only did Mayock hit on them, but he moved skillfully around the board to secure the pieces that he wanted.

So, who are those pieces and how do they fit the Raiders needs?

Round 1, Pick 4: Clelin Ferrell – DE – Clemson

Going into the draft, the central area of need for the Raiders was on defense. In particular, they needed to find a player who was going to provide a pass rush threat. After trading Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears, the Raiders defense lacked any significant threat to the opposing quarterback. Thankfully for them, 2019 was a great year to be in the draft market for a pass rusher.

I described the selection of Ferrell as an eye-opener in my introduction. Somehow, in the pantheon of high-quality pass rushers in this draft, he had been overlooked. In the immediate aftermath of his selection, there was a sense that Oakland had reached a little. It transpires that they hoped they could trade down and still get him, but the call never came.

Be under no illusion though, Ferrell was their man all along.

His selection set the tone for their whole draft. He is a high character, high work rate, top production player who can make an immediate impact on defense. Most importantly for the Raiders, he’s a winner. If ever a team needed a winning mentality in the locker room, it’s Oakland.

What does he bring to the team on the field? Ferrell may not be Khalil Mack, but he is a legitimate pass rush threat. His production has risen with every year at Clemson, despite seeing a slight reduction in snaps with each passing season. In 2018 he led the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in sacks as Clemson charged to the National Championship. He is equally adept at coming off the edge to attack the quarterback or forcing pressure from inside.

Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s Ferrell breaking down his best college plays:

Round 1, Pick 24: Josh Jacobs – RB – Alabama

It’s been an exciting few weeks for the Oakland running back room. Doug Martin was allowed to leave the building despite leading the team in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2018. They signed Isaiah Crowell to a one year contract in March. Jalen Richard was re-signed in April. Just before the draft, Marshawn Lynch announced his retirement.

Then came Josh Jacobs with the 24th selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Jacobs is that rare commodity, a running back with low mileage coming out of college. As part of a running back committee at Alabama, he split time with Damien Harris in both 2016 and 2018. Don’t be fooled by the lack of time on the field. When he was on it, he performed. Anyone who witnessed his MVP performance in the 2018 SEC Championship game can testify to that.

Jacobs brings a high level of elusiveness to the position, with incredible balance skills. He is outstanding at making defenders miss on tackles which make up for lack of outright speed. He also has impressive pass-catching skills, which brings an extra dimension to the game out of the backfield. If you were looking for an area of improvement for Jacobs, you could point to his blocking ability. However, even that was much improved in 2018.

He is another high quality, high character selection from one of college football’s power five conferences.

Following the devastating injury news for Crowell, Jacobs could see a more prominent role this season than initially intended.

From living in his car to being drafted to the NFL, Jacobs is a true rags to riches (to Raiders) story.

Round 1, Pick 27: Jonathan Abram – S – Mississippi State

As well as struggling for a pass rush threat last season, the Raiders had a dismal showing from the secondary as well. They addressed some elements of this during free agency with the signing of safety Lamarcus Joyner. They got even better with the selection of Jonathan Abram with their final first round pick.

There were some concerns over Abram relating to a shoulder injury suffered during his senior year. This saw him sit out the Senior Bowl and limited him during the combine.

However, there can be no concerns over his ability. Abram led Mississippi State in tackles during his senior season and was named First-Team All-SEC. Although he is more of a strong safety, he can play all over the field. Abram plays the game with speed, physicality, and aggression. In a division where you go up against Philip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon twice a year, Abram’s contribution against the ground game will be significant.

The Raiders defense lacked leadership at times last season. Abram’s energy and enthusiasm could be just the leadership they need.

Round 2, Pick 40: Trayvon Mullen – CB – Clemson

As the draft unfolded, you could be forgiven for thinking that Mayock had watched the National Championship game and decided to draft as many Clemson players as possible! If you’re trying to reshape a franchise, then that isn’t a wrong model to follow!

I like Trayvon Mullen. Like Clelin Ferrell before him, there were some raised eyebrows at his selection. Especially with Greedy Williams still on the board. Mullen excels in the area which led to Williams’ fall down draft boards, tackling. He is an extremely efficient tackler which he puts to good use in both the air and ground game. Although his play recognition requires work, he has good speed to recover his position and make a play.

Importantly for Oakland, again, he is a winner on the field. He was the defensive MVP of the 2019 National Championship Game and will bring that winning mentality to the locker room.

Round 4, Pick 106: Maxx Crosby – DE – Eastern Michigan

After addressing the need for a pass rusher with their very first pick, Oakland returned to the position in the fourth round.

Eastern Michigan’s Maxx Crosby might not have been a name high on everyone’s list, but I think he’s a great addition to this Raiders defense. He has all the athletic traits needed to succeed combined with a nasty approach to his play.

The athleticism was there for all to see at the 2019 NFL Combine. Crosby was one player who saw his draft stock increase dramatically with an impressive showing in Indianapolis. He ranked in the top ten edge rushers for the vertical jump, broad jump, and 40-yard dash. Most impressively, he was the second-ranked edge rusher in the three-cone drill.

At Eastern Michigan, they have a tradition where the “baddest guy” on the defensive line wins a grim reaper statue to honor their play. Crosby was frequently a winner of this award. He helped lead the Eagles to just their second bowl game in three decades.

He will be a developmental project for the Raiders. However, if they can get the most out of his apparent athletic ability, then they could have a potent pass rush threat with him.

Round 4, Pick 129: Isaiah Johnson – CB – Houston

Mayock was committed to getting better on defense with this draft. Isaiah Johnson was the fifth defensive player taken out of their opening six picks.

Johnson isn’t going to come in and play straight away. He has got some unique traits to succeed as a corner in the league. His height and arm length are perfect for the modern day corner. He has noticeable speed, posting a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash. With several interceptions and passes defended at Houston, he has a clear eye for the ball.

He began his career as a wide receiver and only transitioned to cornerback for the last two years. This would suggest that he has room for growth and development at the position. Whereas most picks in the Raiders class will be expected to impact immediately, Johnson may be one to watch for in the future.

Round 4, Pick 137: Foster Moreau – TE – Louisiana State University

After a couple of picks away from the SEC conference, Mayock and the Raiders headed back there for their second offensive pick of the draft. Tight end is a position that Gruden loves to utilize, and currently, the Raiders tight end room isn’t the most stacked room in the house.

Enter Foster Moreau. I love this pick for Oakland. His college stats may not jump off the page, but he is a really good tight end. He’s going to be an immediate starter in the league as a fourth-round pick. He can do everything well. For me, one of the most important aspects of his game is his reliability. He has excellent hands, with a very low drop percentage. Moreau will catch everything that Derek Carr throws at him. When he’s not throwing to him, Carr can rely on him for protection too.

Off, and on, the field, Moreau is another example of the high character player that Mayock has targeted with this draft. At LSU he wore the fabled number 18 jersey. This is an honor bestowed on a player that exemplifies quality both on and off the field.

Round 5, Pick 149: Hunter Renfrow – WR – Clemson

From a walk-on at Clemson to scoring the winning touchdown in the National Championship Game, and now to the NFL. Hunter Renfrow is the epitome of the American dream.

At 5’10 and 184lbs, Renfrow doesn’t have the ideal size that you want in a wide receiver. With a 4.59 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, he doesn’t have the speed that you would want at wide receiver. What he does give you, like Moreau, is a reliable and dependable pair of hands. While Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams are busy stretching the field, Carr can find Renfrow underneath for the first down. He can contribute on special teams. In his time at Clemson, he’s been known to throw the ball too, so there is the option for some trick plays to be factored into Gruden’s playbook.

It isn’t a flashy pick at wide receiver, but the Raiders already secured their flashy wide receiver when they acquired Brown. Renfrow is another hard working, high character guy that brings a winning mentality on, and off, the field.

Round 7, Pick 230: Quinton Bell – DE – Prairie View A&M

This could be one of the more intriguing picks of the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft. A lot of these picks don’t make it out of training camp. Those that do are often considered “long term projects.”

Quinton Bell may be the biggest project going. Up until the 2018 season, Bell was a wide receiver. A change of coaching staff saw a change in position. He went from being a 219lb receiver to a 240lb defensive end. That switch paid immediate dividends for Bell and Prairie View as he tallied 7.5 sacks during the season.

It was his athletic performance at his Pro Day that caught the eye of NFL scouts, and eventually landed him on the Raiders. His measurements in several drills would have been good enough to be among the top ten at the combine. A hand-timed 40-yard dash was reported as being an incredible 4.38. Teams have been known to covert athleticism with the theory the football skills can be coached up.

Bell certainly has the athleticism; time will tell if he can be coached up. It’s a long road from the seventh round to the 53 man roster, but the Oakland Raiders may have found a late-round diamond.

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