Raiders

Coaching Senior Bowl helped Raiders land key members of rookie class

Coaching Senior Bowl helped Raiders land key members of rookie class

Johnathan Abram could’ve easily been sent home from the Senior Bowl. The Mississippi State safety had a shoulder injury that was red-flagged during pre-practice week medical evaluations, preventing him from playing in the annual college all-star showcase.

Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy knew about the injury coming in but still allowed him to come down to Mobile, Ala. for a check, with the possibility he could even practice but not play with the injury.

“The way John plays, it was probably unrealistic that he could play," Nagy said Tuesday in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “He only knows one speed. He goes a thousand miles an hour. He’s one of my favorites in this draft for that reason. He’s a complete tone setter and so much fun to watch on tape.”

Abram’s shoulder wouldn’t accommodate light practice, so Senior Bowl protocol suggests he be sent away to free up a roster spot. The Raiders and 49ers, staffs coaching the game, flashed a stop sign on that.

“We would’ve added another safety, but the Raiders and 49ers wanted to be around him so bad, and he wanted to be here so bad that there was no real thought of sending John back to Starkville or Dallas to train,” Nagy said. “Both staffs were bummed he got flagged, but both were quick to ask if they could keep him in town. Everybody wants to be around this guy.”

Especially Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. An immediate and powerful bond formed that week, making it easy to select him with the Raiders’ No. 27 overall NFL draft pick.

Abram wasn’t the only Senior Bowl player the Raiders took after spending a full week with these players. They ended up with seven, drafting four and signing three more as college free agents.

That list also includes Houston cornerback Isaiah Johnson (fourth round), LSU tight end Foster Moreau (fourth round), Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow (fifth round), UC Davis receiver Keelan Doss (UDFA), Wisconsin fullback Alex Ingold (UDFA), and Notre Dame linebacker Te’Von Coney (UDFA).

Abram, however, was that Senior Bowl haul’s crown jewel. Mike Mayock loved Abram well before he became Raiders general manager, asking Nagy about him way back in September. Then an NFL Network draft analyst, Mayock was peppering Nagy, a former NFL scout, about his Senior Bowl prospects board and Abram’s place on it.

Mayock’s affinity, Gruden’s quick bond and some excellent game tape made Abram a logical draft target for a team needing safety help.

“I met him at the Senior Bowl and he was on the other team, but I couldn’t get rid of the kid,” Gruden said. “He loves football and is a coach on the field. He has a magnetic personality.”

Abram had a hint that might’ve been a week well spent.

“I could tell at the Senior Bowl that the Raiders really liked me, the way I played and the way I carry myself,” Abram said. “I had a really good feeling this might be my spot.”

That sentiment was echoed several times among the drafted Senior Bowl alums, despite all of them playing on the 49ers-coached South squad. The Raiders liked several from their own team – all three undrafted players came from the North – but the stars didn’t align as they did for those selected to join the Silver and Black. Bonds formed during the practice week helped lock down the undrafted signings, who are free to find the best possible fit.

The Raiders and 49ers swapped squads for a spell the Friday prior to the Saturday game, allowing coaches and scouts to familiarize themselves with the opposing team.

“We leave it open as an option between the staffs,” Nagy said. “It’s not for a huge window of time, but it gives you an opportunity to cross check the other team. That’s valuable, and something the other teams don’t get.”

It solidified a Gruden-Abram-like tie between Moreau and Raiders tight ends coach Frank Smith. Smith was passionate that Moreau could be a quality pro and was a better athlete than many thought. He arranged a private workout with Moreau later in the pre-draft process and stumped for him leading up to the selection days.

“I met with Frank and I fell in love with the way he coached, how he addressed the game and what he does for his players and how he coaches,” Moreau said. “You know it’s funny, I kind of kept up with him through the whole process and I really have an affinity for the Raiders. I obviously have an affinity for Coach Gruden and his staff; one of the great minds in football. So, I kind of hoped this would happen.”

Good Senior Bowl connections helped the Raiders land some of their rookie class. Coaching the game can provide a lift in the evaluation process, enhancing stock for some while eliminating others.

“It’s invaluable,” Nagy said. “If you’re coaching the game, it’s so much more hands on in the meeting rooms. You see how they absorb information, and what methods work best in teaching. You see their attentiveness. Heck, you even see if they’re consistently on time or not. You see how they practice, and how they bounce back from bad reps. You also get to know these guys so well. It’s an immersive experience, and it can help minimize mistakes on draft day.”

[RELATED: Johnathan Abram prestigious No. 24]

Nagy admits some bias pulling for Senior Bowl alums – “I’m invested in all these guys,” he says – but believes the Raiders mined his game for guys who can make it in this league.

“I would be surprised if one of those seven didn’t make it,” Nagy said. “They’re all really good players.”

Why Raiders should make Emmanuel Sanders priority in NFL free agency

Why Raiders should make Emmanuel Sanders priority in NFL free agency

So, you want to compete with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs? Well, you're going to need a lot more firepower.

Jon Gruden knows that.

In what was Year 1 of a true rebuild for the Raiders following the teardown in 2018, the Silver and Black showed a lot of promise, with a historic draft class leading them to a 7-9 record. The building blocks are being put in place for the Raiders to march up the AFC West pecking order. While another draft-day haul is needed, Gruden knows he doesn't yet have the offensive weapons to contend with Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City. 

Yes, the Raiders have a big question mark at quarterback, but this is about a different area of need -- the team's biggest area of need -- other than the black hole at linebacker. The Raiders need wide receivers. Many of them. They need dynamic playmakers who can stretch the field, make people miss and rack up explosive plays. Players who can answer a lightning strike from Mahomes that left the Raiders stunned and wobbling last season.

They'll likely select one early in the 2020 NFL Draft and maybe another in the third round. But that won't be enough. With $54 million in projected cap space, expect the Raiders to look to the free-agent market to add a veteran receiver to help Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller shoulder the load. 

The Raiders don't seem like a home for A.J. Green and we can cross former Raider Amari Cooper off the list. Robby Anderson might be a fit, and the Raiders reportedly had interest in him at the deadline, but his price tag might be a tad high for a guy that isn't a true No. 1.

Gruden needs only look to the Raiders' now-former Bay Area neighbor for a free agent worth their while. 

Emmanuel Sanders came over to the 49ers in a midseason trade with the Denver Broncos and immediately paid dividends. He was able to lead a young receiver group while being successful running every type of route for coach Kyle Shanahan.

Sanders is most effective in a West Coast type of offense such as the one Gruden runs. The 32-year-old completely transformed his game after tearing his Achilles, reinventing himself as a savvy, veteran playmaker. He's a highly efficient route-runner and has some of the surest hands in the game, only dropping one pass last season.

His arrival in San Francisco took the 49ers' passing game from an attack with puppy teeth to one that could shred defenses in an instant. He played a key role in the development of Deebo Samuel, who became a lethal weapon as the season wore on. Sanders also is a good blocker on the outside, as he showcased during the 49ers' run to the Super Bowl.

Don't let Jimmy Garoppolo's overthrow in Super Bowl LIV taint your opinion of Sanders. With the title on the line, Sanders smoked his man, blew past the safety and was in line to be a Super Bowl hero had the pass been on target.

He's played in three Super Bowls and knows what it takes to get to, and win, the biggest game in sports. His leadership and experience would be as valuable as his on-field production.

Some will argue Sanders' age is a red flag or that the 49ers are destined to re-sign him. Due to the 49ers' cap situation, it seems more likely than not that they will let Sanders walk. At age 32, Sanders is exiting his prime, but he's the perfect veteran receiver to complement Tyrell Williams, mentor Renfrow and the incoming top prospect (s) (CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy) and provide a reliable target for Derek Carr, Tom Brady or whoever is under center for the Raiders in 2020.

[RELATED: Why Raiders would make sense in Darius Slay trade]

The Raiders need to take their offense to the next level. Their offensive line is stout, running back Josh Jacobs is a star and Renfrow and Waller will be long-term staples of the offensive attack. Gruden will expect more from Williams in Year 2 of his contract after the veteran receiver was hampered by injuries in 2019. 

But they need to get more explosive at receiver. No matter who the quarterback is, Renfrow and Waller can't be the only weapons. If that's the case again in 2020, the results will be the same.

A deep draft class at receiver will help the Raiders stock the arsenal, but they'll need another proven veteran as well.

Sanders, who PFF projects to make around $10 million per season, would give Gruden a do-it-all veteran who has ranked as one of the 25 most valuable receivers in each of the past two seasons. And it also would leave the Raiders with money to spend to improve a defense that needs a lot of work.

An offense with Sanders, Williams, Renfrow, Waller, Jacobs and at least one young star from the draft would give the Raiders' offense the pop Gruden has been missing.

Derek Carr posts photo with Khalil Mack, adding to Bears trade rumors

Derek Carr posts photo with Khalil Mack, adding to Bears trade rumors

The picture of Tom Brady talking to Raiders owner Mark Davis at a UFC fight was burned into Oakland Las Vegas Raiders fans' minds.

What would that mean for Derek Carr? Could he be headed to the Windy City to meet up with an old friend? 

There has been a lot of speculation about Carr getting traded this offseason. Carr had a less than memorable season during the Raiders' last year in Oakland, and a photo on his Instagram just adds to the swirling thoughts.

Carr added a picture of himself and Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack, with no caption.

Naturally, the comments section flooded with speculation. 

The two are former Raiders teammates, and despite Carr's "meh" season, he would be an improvement over current Bears QB Mitch Trubisky -- who could also use a change of scenery. 

[RELATED: One NFL exec sees Raiders as Brady's fallback]

Carr's contract could make a trade hard, but this IG post on top of everything else makes us think.

The quarterback will blow out 29 candles on his birthday cake next month which could only help his cause.