Heading into the 2019 NFL Draft with eight total picks, including three in the first round, the Oakland Raiders have positioned themselves to build a foundation for the future. The team gave up quite a bit to secure all of this draft capital, trading away three-time All-Pro Khalil Mack and three-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper last season. The backlash was immediate and persistent from Raiders fans -- particularly over the team's decision to move on from Mack rather than re-sign him to a long-term contract -- but if Oakland can crush this year's draft, it'll go a long way to validating the polarizing personnel choices and making the franchise competitive again in the AFC West.
The man Raiders owner Mark Davis and head coach Jon Gruden chose to guide the team's roster reconstruction -- former NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock -- has done anything but sit idly on his hands since being hired at the end of December. In addition to trading for All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown this offseason, Oakland's new general manager also signed three of the top 40 players (Lamarcus Joyner, No. 14; Trent Brown, No. 26; Tyrell Williams, No. 39) on Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling's Top 101 free agents list.
But what he does with the Nos. 4, 24 and 27 overall picks next Thursday in Nashville could end up defining his Raiders legacy. So, what can we expect? Well, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, Mayock and Gruden are so concerned their draft plans might leak, they've sent the team's scouts home and aren't expected to have them back before Round 1 kicks off. But thanks to NFL Media Research, we might have some insight into how Mayock could end up using those three first-round selections (if he doesn't decide to trade them). After digging deep into the Oakland GM's six most recent top-100 prospect rankings from years past, five interesting observations emerged in terms of how he evaluates positions and how that could impact the Raiders' Round 1 draft strategy:
1) Watch for a pass rusher at No. 4. The Raiders ranked last in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt last season. Not too surprising, considering they shipped out one of the best pass rushers of the decade before the season started. Fortunately for Oakland, the 2019 class is loaded with premier pass rushers.
Mayock consistently ranked his No. 1 defensive end and defensive tackle among his top overall players in the last six draft classes, with the top-ranked DE averaging at No. 3 overall, vs. No. 7 for DTs. So, we could very well see the Raiders take a defensive lineman at No. 4 on Thursday. And if Mayock and Co. do go D-line with their first pick, don't be surprised if the Raiders take a DE over a DT, as in the past six drafts, Mayock valued top-tier DE prospects nearly twice as much as he did DT prospects.
2) Derek Carr could get another enticing toy. Oakland has a glaring need at tight end, with the top three TEs on their depth chart totaling just 201 receptions over 16 combined seasons. The highest-ranked tight end on Mayock's top-100 rankings during the past six years averaged out at No. 27 overall on his board -- a 2019 pick the Raiders happen to own.
3) Raiders poised to address interior O-line on Day 1? Although the Raiders used their 2018 first-round pick on OT Kolton Miller and signed Brown long-term in free agency to man the other tackle spot, the interior of their O-line is not as set in stone. Center Rodney Hudson and guard Denzelle Good will be free agents in 2020, and starting guard Gabe Jackson's guaranteed money runs out after this season, per Over The Cap, which means the Raiders could move on from the then-29-year-old next offseason and save $9.6 million against the cap.
Mayock's top-rated guard and center prospects during the past six drafts ranked in the late 20s on average, so the Raiders could certainly use one of their two late first-rounders to shore up the middle of their O-line.
4) The board could play out perfectly for a first-round CB. NFL.com's Dan Parr has cornerback as the third-most-pressing need for the Raiders, and according to Mayock's recent player evaluations, taking a corner with one of their late first-rounders would make sense. The Raiders GM has ranked at least one corner in his top 15 overall prospects in each of the past six years. And if you add up the average ranking of his top three corners each year since 2013, the total is 47, making it the third-best-rated position. If he sees value in a corner at No. 24 -- Washington's Byron Murphy, Temple's Rock Ya-Sin and Kentucky's Lonnie Johnson have all been recently mocked in the 20s -- the Raiders might feel compelled to address their need on the perimeter.
5) Is all the QB talk just hot air? Much has been speculated about Oakland's interest in taking a quarterback at No. 4. Gruden has been connected to Missouri's Drew Lock, whom he coached at the Senior Bowl, as well as Oklahoma's Kyler Murray, who visited the Raiders for a private workout at the beginning of April. (Derek Carr clearly had some opinions on Murray's visit).
But based on Mayock's recent quarterback evaluations, Carr might not have to worry too much yet about legit competition for the starting job. Just twice in the past six years did Mayock's highest-rated quarterback rank among his top five overall prospects (Carson Wentz, No. 1 in 2016; Marcus Mariota, No. 5 in '15). And as my colleague and noted Green Bay Packers superfan Adam Rank recently wrote, it's hard to make sense of the Raiders investing such a valuable pick in another signal-caller at this stage.