“Cut to the Chase” The Oakland Raiders’ NFL Draft symphony
Richard Wagner once said “Imagination creates reality.” The German composer died in 1883, long before American football came into popularity. He may have never seen a game or known the meaning of the expletives pouring from the Black Hole in Oakland-Alameda Stadium every Sunday, but he has accurately described the Raiders’ GM Reggie McKenzie’s draft class this May.
Tchaikovsky’s No. 6 might be the only thing more beautiful than hearing arguably the best overall player’s name be called at number five for Oakland fans. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack primarily played basketball until his senior year in high school, his only offer to play FBS football was Buffalo University. From his freshman third team all-MAC campaign, Mack made his presence known. Racking up All-MAC the remainder of his time in Buffalo and eventually named second team All-American by the associated press, racking up 327 tackles, 28.5 sacks and forcing an NCAA record 16 fumbles during his college career. Mack’s Senior Bowl absence was thought to leave doubts for some scouts, which his fascinating combine performance quickly erased. Mack will fit in perfectly within an uber-aggressive 4-3 Raiders defense that will include Lamarr Woodley, Antonio Smith and Kevin Burnett. Khalil is thought of as the consensus “can’t miss” prospect in 2014. The floor and ceiling are sky-high for the former Buffalo Bull due to his frenetic energy in pursuit of ball carriers/passers in the open field. Mack will make an immediate impact on AFC West offenses.
The only thing most fans saw as a need that was not adequately addressed in the offseason for the Raiders was the passing game. McKenzie was allowed to score again, due to the most NFL-ready Quarterback falling to him in the beginning of round two. Fresno State’s Derek Carr, brother of 2002 number one overall pick David Carr (Currently a free agent), couldn’t be any better of a fit for the Raiders. A California boy, through and through, Carr is much more athletic than his brother, able to escape crumbling pockets and multiple blitz packages. Derek’s arm will be one of the more powerful and accurate in the NFL. If Carr bulks up and gets away from forcing downfield throws, the Raiders may have a legitimate Pro-Bowler at pick 36. Matt Schaub may have the starting job for now, but it is only in title until Carr gets his feet wet.
Coming into the season, the Raiders have adequate guards in Tony Bergstrom and Kevin Boothe under line coach Tony Sparano. The Raiders found the best player on the board once again when they drafted whom many thought was the best guard prospect, Mississippi State’s LG Gabe Jackson. Lacking some lateral explosiveness, Jackson’s uncanny power and girth have led to the former bulldog not allowing a sack for the final two seasons of his college career. At 6’3, weighing 336 lbs, Jackson is not the quickest cat in the gym, but his awareness, football intelligence and thick build will make him an immovable object on the Raiders new line.
How athletic can a 6’1 334 lb. man be? The Raiders fourth-round pick will test just that. Three year track and field letterman Justin Ellis will now play defensive tackle next to Antonio Smith in Oakland’s new combo line scheme that will rotate pass rusher Stacy McGee, combo tackle CJ Wilson and Ellis, who is your standard nose tackle. Clogging up rushing lanes, Ellis will seldom be knocked off a spot. Managing his weight and staying healthy will define his career in the NFL.
The Raiders’ second fourth-round pick might be the best catch of their draft. Dropping from being a sure-fire first or second-round pick to the middle of the fourth due to questions about consistency may seem alarming to some. Utah’s Keith McGill will find a spot in the secondary rotation quickly with his size (6’3 211 lb.) and uncanny jumping ability (39 in. vertical/129 in. broad). McGill is something like Brandon Browner and will work around Carlos Rogers, DJ Hayden and Tarell Brown in what should be the most improved defenses in the league.
Seven rounds, six defensive out of eight picks. Oakland made a broad statement that their defense will be their focus of 2014. Something of an overreaction for a team that ranked 22nd in team defense. With the toughest division in football looming for the Raiders, finding the best talent at every pick was a great start to get out of the basement and take their first steps back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Reggie McKenzie and Head coach Dennis Allen, the conductors of this symphony will achieve their allegro and climax of their work when Oakland gains relevance once again.