Oakland Raiders  

 

Mike Mayock's first Raiders draft night nets 'foundation players'

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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Mike Mayock's phone was steadily ringing and buzzing long before the 2019 NFL Draft kicked off Thursday night, only it had nothing to do with potential trade offers for the Raiders, who owned a league-high three first-round picks, including the fourth choice overall.

These calls were from fellow general managers who wanted to offer not only words of support and encouragement as Mayock embarked on his first draft as a general manager, but also a bit of advice: namely, enjoy the moment.

"One of the guys said it's the closest you can get to playing again, and he was kind of right," Mayock recalled when the round was over. "I had more nerves, (more) butterflies than I had had in years. That's why I got back into it."

The adrenaline rush was matched only by the satisfaction of what Mayock and coach Jon Gruden deemed a job well done. The pair used the fourth pick on Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell, the 24th pick on Alabama running back Josh Jacobs and the 27th on Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram. All are expected to be "foundational" pieces in the rebuilding of a once-proud franchise that has had only one winning season and no playoff wins over the past 16 years.

"Whether you want to admit it, or people like it or not, we're building our team," said Gruden. "We need building blocks. We have some in place, and we needed these three first-rounders to come in here and inherit that responsibility. That's a tough job. This franchise is moving to Las Vegas (in 2020). It's very, very challenging. You've got to have a lot of maturity, and we wanted guys that weren't only great football players and talents, but guys who could handle the circumstances of being frontline players, leaders, and also having a lot of maturity to handle the move of the franchise. It's a tough league to play in to begin with, so we did a lot of work on their character. Mayock and I truly believe that's the winning edge in all the great players that we've been around."

There was a lot of speculation about what the Raiders would do with their draft capital. Would they seek to move up from No. 4 and make a play for quarterback Kyler Murray, who went first overall to the Cardinals? Would they seek to jump to No. 2 to take defensive end Nick Bosa, who went to the 49ers in that spot? Would they trade down to pick up even more picks to help rebuild and reshape the roster?

In the end, they stood pat, though it was not without some scrutiny after their selection of Ferrell. One personnel man said he was "stunned" at the pick, because most personnel people had Kentucky defensive end Josh Allen rated higher than Ferrell, who was projected to go in the middle of the round at best. But the Raiders liked the fact that Ferrell is more of a true end than Allen. He lined up full-time with a hand on the ground, something that Allen rarely did, and they believe he provides more of a physical presence at the point of attack.

That's critical, because the Raiders' defense was a sieve last season. It finished with a league-low 13 sacks while allowing a league-high 29.2 points per game. Over the past two seasons, Ferrell led the ACC with 21 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss. He also tied for fourth with five forced fumbles.

"In the division we play in, against the offenses we play against, in some cases, a guy like Ferrell can play either side of the line of scrimmage and can (move) inside," Mayock said. "That was important for (defensive coordinator) Paul Guenther."

Versatility was a key trait the Raiders were looking for in their picks. For instance, consider Jacobs."If you're going to play for Jon Gruden as a running back, you've got to pass-protect and you've got to catch the footballs, and this is a three-down back," Mayock said. "He's explosive, he's tough. We've watched him pass-protect, and he's got really good natural hands."

Of Abram, Mayock said: "He can play down on the slot, he can play back on the post. With Lamarcus Joyner, also, who we added in free agency, we're excited about our ability to have some flexibility on the back end, with Karl Joseph, also."

The evening went smoothly for the Raiders, who had conversations with other clubs about possible trades, though none ever reached the point of being serious. They had to wait only 45 minutes to make their first pick, then 2 hours and eight minutes before making their second selection. The Abram choice came 22 minutes after that.

When the round was over, Mayock and Gruden addressed the media in the team's meeting room. Mayock wore a button-down shirt that was open at the collar, with a black Raiders cap pulled low on his forehead. He was jovial at times, intense at others.

"It was a frickin' blast," Mayock said in summation.

Gruden was more subdued, at times staring out blankly while Mayock held court. But the $100 million coach lit up when discussing what his hand-picked executive brought to the process and the organization.

"He was fired up," Gruden said. "He did great. Mayock has energized the building. He has energized me. Our franchise will benefit from not only tonight but the next two days (of the draft) and into the future."

No one knows what the future will hold, but the two men charged with leading the organization have clear visions of what type of players they want: talented, high-character, versatile, passionate. Many of their pre-draft interviews with players never mentioned football. They wanted to know who the players were as people. "What makes them tick," said Mayock.

Each of the selections has dealt with significant hardship, whether it was Ferrell, one of nine children, losing a parent as a child, or Jacobs being homeless as a teenager. The Raiders wanted to know how they dealt with adversity, and what role it played in shaping their character.

"Anybody who has been around here for the last four months knows how we have talked about foundation players," Mayock said. "Jon and I have talked about that literally from the first day I got here. We define foundation as talent and character, passion for the game. That kind of drove this draft. I know sometimes you want sexy and you want to move around and up and down and back and trades, and all the rest. But at the end of the day we got the guys we wanted. ... I told them you basically have one obligation as being part of a first-round pick of our team, and that's leadership. I think that's what all three are going to bring."

Follow Jim Trotter on Twitter @JimTrotter_NFL.

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