Football experts say you can’t judge a draft class for three years. It’s only been four days.
That’s why you won’t see letter grades in this space. No thumbs up or thumbs down, no guarantee of immediate impact. There are too many variables for that, from health to work ethic to scheme fit and so on.
Given what we know now, the Raiders 2014 draft class looks pretty darn good. There’s talent in all shapes and sizes. There's a blue-chipper in Khalil Mack and possible role players aplenty. The Raiders filled needs for the present and future. They didn’t reach when tempted and got a good mix of players.
I think. Don’t believe those who say they absolutely know. It's way too early yet.
These draft picks enter a cruel world where the success rate hovers around 50 percent. While it’s easy to see trouble in JaMarcus Russells and Ryan Leafs early on, some good apples rot at the base of the tree.
Consider the case of Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Seattle’s selection was believed to be the best, safest player to be had.
Respected analysis hub NFLdraftscout.com gave this glowing post-draft review:
“He was perhaps the best player in the draft, and Seattle got good value for him with the No. 4 overall pick. And Curry is a guy who will come in and contribute right away for Seattle, playing strongside outside linebacker in Seattle's 4-3 scheme.”
Most experts said the same because the logic seemed sound. This was, after all, a Butkus Award winner and an All-American with jaw-dropping measurables aplenty. Curry was a religious fellow with his head on straight, but admitted later that football wasn’t his highest priority. He just didn’t pan out in three seasons in Seattle or two with Oakland. In 2013, he retired after being cut by the New York Giants.
See? Even safe bets can become house money.
That word of caution in mind, I spent the last few days pondering Reggie McKenzie’s actions in this draft. I conversed with people smarter than me. I remain impressed. The Raiders general manager stuck to his big board, kept an eye on the future and didn’t let need tempt him to select lesser value.
Wide receiver is a solid example of that. McKenzie said Saturday that he hoped to pick one up, but never went out of his way to do so. He said the draft didn’t fall to him in a way where a wideout was the highest grade on the Raiders board.
After a while, the relatively young receivers under contract were better than those remaining in the draft. So Reggie kept adding in other places.
The second round seemed like a good spot to snag a wideout, but the Raiders went with Fresno State’s Derek Carr at No. 36 overall. Can’t fault them for that.
While I spent considerable time on camera and behind a keyboard stating the Raiders should wait a year to take a quarterback – with increased pressure to win now, why not go for as many immediate impact players as possible? -- Carr was a first-round talent and, according to sources, was the top quarterback on their draft board. The Raiders got their guy at great value.
Khalil Mack fell to them at No. 5. Carr was available at No. 36. The Raiders added size to their fronts and physicality to their secondary to help bolster a foundation for future seasons, when these veteran free agents complete short-term contracts.
The short-term goals must be tempered some. Not every draft pick will work out. Not every player will start right away. If you’re looking for three-down players from all eight picks, you’re doomed for disappointment.
The real question is this: Can these draft picks make the Raiders a little bit better in their own small way?
Can Mack improve the Raiders pass rush? Even as a backup, can Carr make the quarterback room more productive, and run the scout team well? Can guard Gabe Jackson make rushing lanes a little easier to run through? Can Justin Ellis bolster a rotation at defensive tackle? Can Keith McGill become injury protection to the secondary? Can these seventh-rounders help on special teams?
We’ll know more in time but, with McKenzie’s haul, there’s certainly a chance.