After being picked apart by opposing offences last season and having dismantled an expensive offensive line at the start of free agency, the Las Vegas Raiders went into the draft with some distinct needs.
Even having an offensive-minded coach such as Jon Gruden who is always looking for more options for his vast playbook couldn’t send the Raiders in a different direction in the draft.
Las Vegas finished the three days of selections taking only defensive players and offensive linemen, marking the first time in franchise history that the Raiders picked no offensive skilled players.
General manager Mike Mayock said Gruden kept asking about taking a quarterback or receiver at various points in the draft, but the Raiders stuck to their strategy.
“At the end of the day, Jon Gruden is an offensive guy,” Mayock said. “But what did we do all weekend? We tried to help our defence get better, and I give him a ton of credit for that. He was all-in. He was excited. … I could not have been happier with the way Jon supported the whole thing this weekend and he knew, just like I knew, we have a long way to go on defence.”
The Raiders have allowed the most points in the NFL and the second-most yards per play in three seasons since Gruden returned so there is plenty of improvement needed.
Pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue was signed in free agency. The Raiders drafted Trevon Moehrig in the second round on Friday to be the starting free safety and then added even more depth at linebacker and in the secondary for the rest of the draft.
But much of the improvement will depend on growth from 2019 and ‘20 draft picks such as Trayvon Mullen, Damon Arnette, Johnathan Abraam, Amik Robertson and Isaiah Johnson.
“We’re looking for a bounce from those guys,“ Mayock said. ”It would be great if we can keep them healthy and getting them to play at the level we expect. Then you combine it with the young guys we got in the draft. we’re pretty excited about where we could be in the secondary.”
DAY 3 WRAPUP
The Raiders focused on the secondary Saturday, taking Missouri safety Tyree Gillespie in the fourth round and Illinois cornerback Nate Hobbs in the fifth round.
The Raiders traded up to get Gillespie, who played mostly deep safety in college but is a better tackler than in coverage. He will provide depth behind Abram at strong safety.
Hobbs is a physical cornerback who can play both outside and in the slot.
Las Vegas used its final pick on Pittsburgh centre Jimmy Morrissey in the seventh round.
Mayock expressed frustration about the limitations of the COVID-19 protocols on the off-season program. Teams have been unable to meet in person and rookie minicamp will be limited to 20 players. He’s uncertain how much on-field work the Raiders will be able to get before training camp.
“We can have hundreds of thousands of fans (at the draft) in Cleveland but for some reason, we can’t meet in person in these buildings,” he said. “We need to get back to normal and we need to challenge these young players to get better.”
The Raiders still have a need for a veteran cornerback with Rasul Douglas the only one brought in during free agency so far. Richard Sherman, who played for co-ordinator Gus Bradley in Seattle, has said the Raiders are one of the teams he has been in contact with about joining but Mayock declined to comment on that possibility. Another of Bradley’s cornerbacks, former Charger Casey Hayward, is also on the market.
BEAT THE BOARD
The Raiders once again had a much higher grade on a first-round prospect than the consensus. Leatherwood marked the fourth time in six first-round picks under Mayock that the Raiders took a player in the first round projected to go far lower without trading down to do it.
“I ignore it 100 per cent, except for the fact that I think it’s part of my job to understand league value,“ Mayock said. “I have a fairly good feel for what league value is on a player versus what we consider to be Raider value. Leatherwood had a big grade for us. The announcers, I guess, didn’t like it, and I knew it was going to be controversial, but I really don’t care.”