McKenzie's draft must balance Raiders' present and future needs

McKenzie's draft must balance Raiders' present and future needs
May 8, 2014, 9:00 am
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The Raiders have seven total picks, including two impact positions at Nos. 5 and 36 overall. (USATSI)

Editor’s note: It’s time for the NFL Draft! Bookmark our Road to the Draft for live trackers, video, position breakdowns, retrospectives, mock drafts and more

The Raiders must do better in 2014, especially after back-to-back 4-12 seasons. That’s no secret. Progress will be measured in wins, not an eyeball test used in recent years past.

The Raiders needed impact players in free agency and the NFL Draft during a second roster overhaul in as many seasons. With holes left to fill, general manager Reggie McKenzie must mine gold from a three-day amateur selection process that begins Thursday evening.

[REWIND: McKenzie: 'This year, we will be better']

He needs a couple immediate impact players, especially in the early portions of a draft crucial to a franchise in transition.

“Hopefully more than a couple,” McKenzie said last week in a pre-draft press conference.

That would certainly help the Raiders compete against a daunting schedule. The pressing need to win now, however, will not change his draft philosophy. McKenzie insists that he is not drafting solely for the present.

“No. You draft for the future. You don’t draft for right now,” McKenzie said. “That’s not the way you do it. That’s not the way I do it.”

[REWIND: Raiders' draft must balance short-term goals, long-term vision]

That means he isn’t mortgaging the future -- something that got the Raiders in trouble before -- to trade up and get Jadeveon Clowney. It means McKenzie won’t be afraid to select a quarterback at some point -- not in the first round, mind you -- without intending to use him in 2014.

The Raiders could draft the best available player, regardless of present need. The Raiders could use immediate help in a few areas, including receiver, defensive end and defensive tackle. There’s also an eye toward future needs at cornerback, safety, offensive tackle and quarterback.

The key is trying to strengthen his 2014 product with one eye on the horizon. The Raiders signed a series of experienced free agents to shorter-term deals in the hope that a few strong draft classes will take over when the stopgaps leave town.

McKenzie knows he must draft well to execute that plan. The pressure, it seems, is on.

“It’s always my goal and the Raiders’ goal to not only hit on your picks, but just to be right in everything that we do,” McKenzie said. “This year, I am more excited. I can’t call that pressure. I am more excited because of the foundation that we’ve built and what we set forth this offseason. So, it’s much more exciting and yes, I do want to hit on every one of these draft picks.”

McKenzie has missed on some in two drafts at the helm. While his 2012 draft was missing a first- and second-round pick, there isn’t a clear impact player in the bunch.

The 2013 class got off to an underwhelming start that could lead a brighter future if first-round pick D.J. Hayden and second-round selection Menelik Watson can stay healthy enough to contribute.

“I want to get it right every year, every pick, every offseason, even with free agent signings,” McKenzie said. “It’s all about getting it right. Will you be 100 percent? Absolutely [not]. Absolutely not.”

The need to be right this season is obviously strong, especially in the first and second round. The Raiders are in position to acquire difference makers at No. 5 and No. 36 overall, though trading down is a realistic possibility at both spots.

While McKenzie has kept his intentions predictably quiet, he’d like to increase his pick volume to increase his chance of hitting a true home run.

[RELATED: McKenzie open to trading down in NFL Draft]

The Raiders are counting on him to do so. At least once.