ALAMEDA -- It has been one year to the day that Al Davis passed away and his memory was still in the hearts and minds of several Raiders players on Monday.Even if nearly half of the current Raiders team -- 25 of the players on the 53-man roster were not with the Raiders on Oct. 8, 2011 -- had little to no contact with the face of the franchise.Third-string quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Davis' final draft pick, felt an especially strong kinship to the late Raiders owner."I mean, all I can say is I'm going to make him proud as his last pick," Pryor said. "I'm getting better every day. I know he's looking down, scheming over the Raiders because he loved football. All I know is I'm going to make him proud and I'm going to be exactly what he thought I was going to be."Fullback Marcel Reece, a street free agent-turned-Pro Bowl candidate, said there had been a quiet remembrance in the locker room."I can tell you there's guys in here that were close to him, including myself, thatdo kind of take a moment to yourself and just think about it and know you're thankful for him and what he's done and his family and the organization that he built from the ground up," Reece said. "And you're just really appreciative of it."REWIND: Remembering Al DavisDefensive tackle Richard Seymour, acquired in a splashy trade with New England on the eve of the 2009 season opener, remembered his first conversation with Davis."He asked me, 'Where are you right now?' Im like, 'Im in New England.' He said, 'Im in sunny California,'" Seymour recalled."That was the personality of the conversation. I think one thing, since being here, one thing I knew was he loved his players and his players always wanted to win for him, because they knew how much he cared about them. Even as Im here now, I want to get it to where he wants it to be in terms of turning it all around and having him be a part of it."To a man, the players in the Raiders locker rom even the newer ones, realize what Davis meant to the organization and vice versa."For me, personally, when you think about the Raiders, you think about Mr. Davis and what he meant, not only to this franchise, but to the National Football League," Seymour said. "Hes an icon that surpassed, when you talk about leaving a legacy, hell always be remembered whether its the one-year or the 10-year, the century mark, decade mark, youre always going to think about what it meant to put on the silver and black and just that mindset and mentality."
Khalil Mack said atop Reggie McKenzie’s draft board back in 2014. While it probably felt like forever, the Raiders general manager only had to weather four picks before selecting the star edge rusher at No. 5.
McKenzie loved Amari Cooper in 2015, believing his athleticism and demeanor would pair well with quarterback Derek Carr. Cooper only had to survive three selections before McKenzie made him a Raider.
McKenzie shouldn’t hold his breath this year. The Raiders have the 24th pick. He’d pass out.
The Raiders now experience the downside of success, with lower selections than normal throughout the NFL Draft. They earned top 10 draft picks every year from 2004-15, when the Silver and Black became relevant again. McKenzie selected safety Karl Joseph No. 14 overall last year in his original draft slot, but a 12-4 record and a playoff birth pushed them way down in the draft order.
Thursday’s No. 24 pick will be the lowest since 2003, when the Raiders selected Nnamdi Asomugha 31st following a Super Bowl year.
That obviously turned out well. The Raiders need this deep-round pick to follow suit.
McKenzie likes several players in this draft, but there's no telling if they'll be available. NFL teams have a general idea who will make it down the draft board, but an unexpected move could turn the round upside down.
“The one thing that’s been more difficult, you have no idea who’s coming down at 24,” McKenzie said. “When you’re picking No. 4 or No. 5, you can have a clue, a few players that you can pick from. The draft is a funny thing. Players that you don’t think may be at the 24, could be there sitting right in front of your face.”
McKenzie certainly hopes a highly rated prospect falls in his lap, especially if the best available player fills a position of need. Or the cluster would be empty.
The Raiders must be ready for anything, with a draft cluster of players worthy of that particular pick.
“We’re going to study it continuously until that day,” McKenzie said. “Then you never know how trades go. It’s a different thing. But when you’re down that low in comparison to where we have been the last few years, it’s a different approach.”
Draft trades are always a possibility, especially as the round unfolds. The Raiders are in an interesting spot, a slot above the quarterback-hungry Houston Texans. Teams might want to leapfrog them to secure a coveted passer, giving the Raiders leverage in last-second trade talks to move down.
Reggie McKenzie hasn’t moved up in the first three rounds during his Raiders tenure, but this year might be an exception considering his roster is strong save a few important positions. He won’t leap all the way up the draft board, but a small move up is possible.
“I will not hesitate if I have to move up a little bit to get an impact player that we feel is on our board,” McKenzie said. “If we have to move up a little bit, I will not hesitate.”
It’s not like the Raiders haven’t been looking for linebacker help. They just haven’t found any entering this week’s NFL draft.
They brought Zach Brown in for a visit, but he didn’t like the team’s offer and left without a contract. They have interest in bringing last year’s starting middle linebacker Perry Riley back, but their valuations don’t match right now and the veteran remains on the open market. They let two-year starter Malcolm Smith join the 49ers in free agency.
Right now, the position group is a skeleton crew with brittle bones. Free-agent signing Jelani Jenkins is the only interior linebacker with double digit starts, and could man the weak side, or end up a roving backing.
There isn’t much experience or talent or depth there right now, meaning the Raiders might draft an inside linebacker early for the first time in general manager Reggie McKenzie’s tenure.
Sio Moore was a third round pick in 2013, but was a strongside linebacker and edge rusher before switching spots in deference to Khalil Mack. Outside that, McKenzie took Miles Burris (fourth round) in 2012, and choose Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball (fifth round) in 2015. Those picks haven’t worked out well.
Neither have free-agent stopgaps Curtis Lofton or Nick Roach -- a quality player who fell victim to concussion issues – or waiver claim Ray-Ray Armstrong.
It’s been an unexpected black hole considering McKenzie, head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. all played on the inside.
“We want good linebacker play,” McKenzie said. “Both Jack and I know what a good linebacker is supposed to look like. We’re going to get us a couple, I hope, at some point before we play in September. Whether they’re in this draft or post draft or trade, somebody gets released, we’re going to do everything we can to upgrade our team; every position, including linebacker.”
While there are post-draft avenues to acquire inside linebackers, it might be time to go big at that spot.
There are attractive options likely available at No. 24 overall, where the Raiders can find the immediate impact starter they so desperately need. Let’s take a look at some who could be available when the Raiders pick.
Good fits: Raiders fans may shudder at the thought of selecting an Alabama interior linebacker with question marks. That’s expected after the Rolando McClain experience. Ruben Foster (6 feet, 229 pounds) is a top tier talent who could be slipping in this draft. He had a drug sample come back diluted at the NFL scouting combine, where he was sent home for arguing with a hospital employee. He has had shoulder troubles, though re-checks reportedly went well.
Foster is also an excellent player, the type of athletic thumper the Raiders are looking for. It’s still hard to see him sliding all the way to No. 24.
Florida’s Jarrad Davis (6-1, 238), however, seems like a near-perfect fit. He can cover and tackle, with a killer instinct necessary at that spot. He’s also praised as a high-character player and person focused on football. Analysts say he has good vision, closing speed and has physical gifts to help his continued development shoring areas of weakness. Davis has been well hyped recently, and there’s some thought he too could go higher than No. 24.
Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham should be available there, and could ready right away. Analysts says he’s a playmaker with good instincts, technique and play diagnosis. He’s a quality tackler with a nose for the football. He’s durable and fast enough to handle tight ends and running backs in man coverage. Detractors say he isn’t good getting off blocks and struggles with leverage at times, but Cunningham could be a productive three-down NFL linebacker soon.
LSU’s Duke Riley is a quick linebacker who can chase ball carriers down, and finished with a solid senior season. He might be a strong Day 3 pickup should the Raiders target other positions early in this draft.
Note: Temple's Haason Reddick wasn't mentioned here because he isn't expected to be available at No. 24.