Raiders

Gruden has 'a bullseye on my chest,' plenty to prove in Raiders return

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Gruden has 'a bullseye on my chest,' plenty to prove in Raiders return

Jon Gruden has star power, maybe more than any other NFL head coach. He can hock Coronas and Hooters wings with ease following a nine-year stint in the broadcast booth and a colorful stretch roaming the sidelines for Oakland and Tampa Bay.

The spotlight will track the silver and black in his return to coaching. Gruden understands it will be part of the Raiders experience now. The magnifying glass will expose beauty and warts alike while Gruden trying to show he’s still got it.

“I know there is a big bullseye on my chest, certainly,” Gruden said. “If the people want to use that as an incentive, then so be it. I worked for Al Davis in 1998. That was pressure. I was 34 years old. I’ve dealt with pressure before. I don’t really feel pressure. I love the excitement and thrill of competing, and I can’t worry about things I can’t control in that regard. I know people will want to step on me and beat me, and that is just the way this league is.”

The Raiders didn’t deal with pressure well last year. They were deemed AFC contenders and a sexy Super Bowl pick over the summer yet ended up 6-10, well known for having a glass jaw. Adversity often won the day, an unattractive attribute Gruden won’t tolerate moving forward.

Expectations are sky high entering Gruden’s first season, and despite the Super Bowl ring on his finger and five division titles in 11 seasons coached, Gruden feels he has plenty to prove in his the Raiders.

“I have not coached since 2008. I haven’t won a game since 2008,” Gruden said. “I haven’t lost any either, so I just want to keep that in perspective. I’ve got to hire a great coaching staff. It’s about the people, it’s about the staff, it’s about the tempo that we establish as a coaching staff. I’ve got a lot to prove and I know that.”

The NFL has changed since Gruden last ran a franchise, with schematic advancements and practice restrictions that make life harder on those teaching the game. Gruden won’t play as much catch-up as you might think. He has stayed involved with the game both as a broadcaster, a consultant and a football nerd who likes studying game tape.

“There are advantages and disadvantages, depending on what website you want to read,” Gruden said. “I will be people who are positive about this and those who don’t like it. I’ve been away for a awhile, but I didn’t close my eyes and shut my ears. I’ve been involved in football. My brother (Jay Gruden) is a head coach. Most of my friends are in coaching, and I go on vacations with my wife to training camp. That’s where I take her. It’s not I’ve been away from the game, but I do have a lot to prove.”

That isn’t just a motivational tactic. Gruden has to show he’s still got it, and justify a massive 10-year, $100 million contract.

“It’s always about the money. If you’re the highest paid quarterback or receiver or safety, the target’s always on your back,” former Raiders defensive back and current ESPN analyst Charles Woodson said. Gruden’s coming back after a long layoff, and everyone knows about the contract he got. They’re asking, ‘Is he worth that much money? That will be a part of the deal. There will be a lot of expectations, even after such a long layoff. I know he’ll be up to the challenge.”

An early quarterback run will help Raiders in this NFL Draft

An early quarterback run will help Raiders in this NFL Draft

This NFL Draft should be interesting at the top. Quarterbacks should dominate early proceedings, with teams ready to select as many as four passers in the top 10.

That would suit the Raiders just fine. Derek Carr’s their franchise quarterback. They don’t need another one.

Many other teams do, meaning Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen could all be taken quickly.

“That will really reshape the draft, particularly if there's a run on quarterbacks very, very early in the draft like many of us expect,” NFL Network analyst and former Raiders cornerback Bucky Brooks said in a conference call. “…I think the fascination for me will be what do teams do to put themselves in a position to get a quarterback, what blue chip players find themselves in a bit of a free-fall because these quarterbacks come off the board.”

The Raiders obviously aren’t considering a quarterback at the top. They’ll likely get one of, if not the best players at his position falling farther than they would in a normal year.

We’ve gone over possible selections at No. 10 overall. If you missed it, check it out here.

Quality abounds in that group, with top players at key positions of need. That includes linebacker, defensive tackle and defensive back (and maybe edge rusher) at that spot.

While having four quarterbacks go before the Raiders picks shoves top players down to No. 10, leaving one on the market would make that selection incredibly valuable.

The Raiders could offer that pick to a quarterback starved team willing to trade up to get their passer of the present and future. We’ve outlined candidates for the Raiders should they trade down in the first round, and carry on with extra selections.

The Raiders have 11 as it stands, with one pick in the first four rounds, two in the fifth, four in the sixth and another in the seventh. That’s plenty to package and trade up to land a coveted player in this draft.

The Raiders aim to get the most value from the No. 10 pick, either with an elite draft prospect or the bounty that comes from trading it. One catch: The 49ers could be thinking the same thing at No. 9, a spot earned with a tiebreaking coin flip at the NFL Scouting Combine. They also have similar needs, though they aren’t exactly the same, but should deter the Raiders too much from getting the player or trade they covet.

That’s due to the top-flight quarterbacks they have no intention of drafting.

Five top targets if Raiders make first-round trade

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Five top targets if Raiders make first-round trade

The NFL draft is all about maximizing value. Why use a higher pick on a coveted prospect if you can trade down, pick up another pick and still get your guy?

The Raiders have a valuable commodity in the No. 10 overall pick, especially if a top quarterback remains on the board at that spot. A team may want to trade up for a signal caller, or a position player the Raiders don’t hold in high regard.

There should be plenty of good prospects if the Raiders stand pat. We went over five excellent options worthy of the No. 10 spot. Now let’s examine five top prospects who could be available even if the Raiders trade down into latter portions of the first round. These guys might also be had if Reggie McKenzie goes against his track record – Jon Gruden will have influence here – and trades back into the first round after using the No. 10 pick. Here are five good options who would look good in Silver and Black:

DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan
The Raiders are hell bent on improving their interior pass rush. It might be their biggest need after signing so many in free agency. The former Wolverine might be the best interior pass rusher in this draft, with power and creative moves disrupting the pocket from the inside. The Raiders have some level of interest, considering they brought him in for a draft visit. Hurst posted a photo on Instagram Monday night saying he was at the Raiders facility.

Hurst’s talent and college production is unquestioned, but health issues may drop him in this draft. He was sent home from the NFL combine after being diagnosed with a heart condition, though doctors cleared him to workout at Michigan’s pro day.

Hurst seems like a near-perfect football fit, even if he’s a smidge small and can stall against hulking linemen. He could be a mid-round target, and would fill an important need right away.

OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
The Raiders could use an upgrade at right tackle, the one spot that has lacked consistency on an otherwise stout offensive line. They also need a left tackle of the future after Donald Penn calls it a career after 2019 at the latest. McGlinchey could fill both needs. McGlinchey’s considered the draft’s best offensive tackle, yet could be had in the middle or back end of the first round. He’s a solid leader with strong work ethic and sound technique. Analysts say he has inconsistency issues, and must fare better against power rushers. Even if some consider him unspectacular, he should be a steady NFL starter. That’s vital to a Raiders offensive line paying big money to three interior linemen. He could be a productive, cheaper option on the outside.

DT De’Ron Payne, Alabama
The Raiders need a defensive tackle. Payne doesn’t have Hurst’s skill set, and should be considered more of a prototypical defensive tackle. That isn’t a bad thing. Payne is an excellent run stopper, who analysts say has pass-rush skill that can be unlocked by the right coaching. He showed great improvement in that area last season. Payne would help the run defense right away. He has incredible strength, with surprising athleticism. He’s a football-first player and was known for leadership at Alabama. Payne seems like a safe solid pick in an area of need, and might be had in the late teens.

“The production hasn't always matched the ability but he is strong, he's athletic,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said last week in a conference call. “(He has) really quick hands. I think he's got a little bit of stiffness in his ankles. That's one of the only knocks I had on him. But he plays hard and he's a really intriguing player.”

EDGE Harold Landry, Boston College
Landry is all over the map in recent mock drafts. He could be taken deep in the round or far, making it tough to predict exactly when he’ll be available. He could provide depth off the edge in the short term and become a long-term compliment to Khalil Mack off the opposite edge. Analysts say Landry has all the tools to be a solid NFL pass rusher, with burst and bend and raw speed. He’s adept creating turnovers, not just sacks, and shows a willingness to defend the run off the edge. Analysts say he must expand his technical repertoire, and do better converting speed to power.

CB Josh Jackson, Iowa
Denzel Ward is considered this draft’s top cornerback, and there’s a group of quality cover men right behind him. Jackson’s an intriguing option, considering his size (6-foot-1, 192 pounds) and ball skills. The former Iowa Hawkeye made played on 25.7 percent of his targets, per NFL.com, and showed well in big games. He doesn’t have a long track record of success, which might push him down some in the draft. He has long arms and can play physical at the line of scrimmage, though his 40-yard dash didn’t wow. Either Jackson, or one of the other highly regarded cornerbacks (listed below) could help a Raiders secondary going through yet another renovation.

Other trade-down targets to consider: CB Jaire Alexander (Louisville), LB Rashaan Evans (Alabama), OT Kolton Miller (UCLA), Edge Marcus Davenport (UT-San Antonio), CB Mike Hughes (Central Florida)