The Las Vegas Raiders have had their share of comedy, tragedy and too much drama over the past two decades but not this NFL Draft season.
The Raiders, who lacked a first and second-round pick at the annual draft they hosted for the first time amid the sin and sun of the Las Vegas Strip, didn’t reach for picks or trade away the future for sexy potential. Instead, new general manager Dave Ziegler with the unassuming certainty he learned as an understudy in New England.
Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels won six Super Bowl rings as part of Bill Belichick’s staff in New England but this was the first time both ran their own ship.
“This was a good first run for us, and just like all first runs, there’s things that you learn, too, and things that we’ll go back. It was agood experience going through it with Josh. Obviously, we’ve known each other for a long time, but it was a cool experience, too, to do it together, and we had fun, and we’ll see where it goes from here.”Las Vegas Raiders’ Dave Ziegler on 2022 draft class
What was evident from the get-go was this wasn’t your typical Raiders draft. Raider Nation has become accustomed to reaches in the first few rounds, players drafted for athletic ability vs. their ability to start from the start, and often players who didn’t seem to be a good bet.
That was evident just a few days prior when the team declined fifth-year options on all three of their 2019 first-round picks in defensive end Clelin Ferrell, running back Josh Jacobs and safety Johnathan Abram. All three were viewed as reaches in the first round by former coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock. Although Jacobs has shined when he’s fully healthy, overall, the 2019 class only shines with fourth-rounder Maxx Crosby and fifth-rounder Hunter Renfrow.
To miss on three first-rounders that were a result of the Khalil Mack trade to Chicago is inexcusable and points at said usual Raiders draft drama.
Yet, this first year under the Ziegler/McDaniels tandem was almost boring by Raiders standards. If you’re a member of Raider Nation, that should make you feel awfully good heading back to work this week.
New Las Vegas Raiders’ brass headlines drama-free NFL Draft
It’s not that Ziegler and McDaniels took a radically different approach than Gruden/Mayock, it’s just they appear to be better at it so far — even though their teams haven’t stepped on a field. There were no reaches, there was no shock like Ferrell at No. 4 in 2019. There was the quiet professionalism they were part of as Patriots.
“Each organization is going to evaluate these players differently, and we’re not all going to have the same grades on the same players,” new Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels said on Saturday. “We understand that. We try to do the best we can of evaluating what the player would be for the Raiders. It doesn’t really matter what they would be for any other team.”
So the Las Vegas Raiders pulled in their first pick in the third round at #90 (they traded down from #86) to help their struggling offensive line with versatile guard Dylan Parham from Memphis. He can play three positions and there’s no guarantee he can start. They drafted another offensive lineman in Thayer Munford from Ohio State (238th overall pick) and picked two running backs (Zamir White and Brittain Brown). They also continued to stuff the defensive tackle room with two SEC selections in LSU’s Neil Farrell Jr. and Tennessee’s Matthew Butler.
None of these were as thrilling as the trade that gave away their first and second-round picks for wide receiver Davante Adams this offseason, but they didn’t need thrills during this draft. Ziegler and McDaniels needed depth and to fill some roles. They did that in spades.
Over the past several Gruden-led drafts, the Las Vegas Raiders were always questioned for questionable picks, especially taking players too early. This year, not so much. In fact, draft analyst Warren Sharp of Sharp Football ranked the Raiders’ draft in his Top 5 best drafts based on overall value.
That doesn’t guarantee any of the Raiders’ picks will be the steal of the century but it does reinforce the belief in NFL circles that Ziegler and McDaniels learned well in their time in New England and have brought a new approach sorely missing before in the Raiders organization, at least since the glory days of Al Davis.
“It’s in our system, the way we saw the players, the way we scouted them, the way we evaluated them, the way we would use them. This is the grade that was on that player, and there is a lot of work that goes into each grade,” McDaniels said post-draft. “And so when you trust the work and then you get to th draft and you say, listen, the best thing to do for us is to add the best players we can. If you understand that from the beginning the process itself is kind of simplistic.”
No, there weren’t any head-scratchers for Las Vegas Raiders fans to ponder this time around. That’s great for a team not that far from being a true AFC contender.
It’s also a nice change for a fanbase that’s been waiting a long time for stability and a path to success.