Raiders

How Alabama safety Deionte Thompson turned patience into huge season

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AP

How Alabama safety Deionte Thompson turned patience into huge season

SAN JOSE — Deionte Thompson was a four-star recruit coming out of West-Orange Stark High School in southeast Texas, rated as one of the top five prep safeties in the nation.

Thompson had offers from LSU, Notre Dame, Stanford, USC, Oklahoma, Florida State, Texas and Texas A&M, but he chose to join the Alabama juggernaut. The start of his college career didn’t go according to plan.

Crimson Tide coaches had him play offense as a freshman — he also was an accomplished receiver in high school — but moved him back to defense the next year. Thompson sat and impatiently waited his turn, but he has thrived this season during his time in the spotlight.

Thompson is widely considered the nation’s best free safety, someone who should be a first-round pick should he declare for the NFL draft. That would happen after Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship against Clemson at Levi’s Stadium.

Thompson was frustrated while down the depth chart, and even thought about switching schools. His parents talked him out of it, and understands now that might have been the best thing for his career.

“That’s where the phrase ‘trust the process’ comes in,” Thompson said Saturday at media day at SAP Center. “Some people think it’s just something to say, something to sound cool, but you actually have to do it. You have to wait your turn.

"Some guys are naturally equipped to play right away, but that’s not everyone’s story. Some guys have to trust the process, like I did. It’s about trust and hard work and perseverance to get the results you want.”

The process has led Thompson to a great spot. He’s having an excellent redshirt junior season, with 75 tackles, two interceptions, six passes defensed and three forced fumbles.

Thompson takes pride in leading the Crimson Tide’s secondary, often as the last line of defense. It’s a role he takes seriously.

“Deionte has approached this game, this season from the mental aspect with a hunger,” Alabama defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi said. “Deionte is one of those guys that's consistently in our building when you don't necessarily have to be. He's studying film, he's studying our self-scout, he's looking at his own personal mannerisms, demeanor, what he can do differently to improve, and that's the part that's been impressive with him is his attack from the mental approach, not just depending on his talent and his range.”

Thompson’s talent and range has many predicting he’ll be drafted in the middle of the first round.

That’s a no man’s land for the Raiders, who need a ballhawk free safety in the worst way. They have the No. 4 overall pick and two more first-rounders, in the 20s at least, that were acquired in the Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades.

They could trade up to get Thompson, but sacrificing pick volume seems dangerous, especially with other safeties of interest available further down in the draft.

Thompson is trying to keep the draft out of his mind for another few days at least, despite the hefty paychecks that would come after proving himself an excellent defensive back this season.

“I don’t look at any of that,” Thompson said. “(The draft talk) has been going on all season, but I just focus on the here and now. I don’t look ahead. I do everything I can to stay in the moment."

Mike Mayock reveals why he's OK with Raiders' NFL free agency spending

Mike Mayock reveals why he's OK with Raiders' NFL free agency spending

Mike Mayock always will be associated with the NFL draft. So it should come as no surprise that the former NFL Network draft analyst had to be convinced to improve the Raiders through free agency and trades.

NBC Sports' Peter King spoke with the Raiders general manager over the weekend and wrote about what Mayock told him in his Football Morning In America column.

So I’ve known Mayock for some time, and when we spoke Saturday night, he sounded like the same driven prospect-knower I’ve come to rely on in the last few years. “I’ll be honest,” he said. “I never believed in big spending in free agency. For years, that is not where my head was. But Jon Gruden and I spent a long, long time examining our team. We had so many team needs. We figured, we can go out and spend a little money on several positions. Or this year, we can look at three, four, five, six guys who can make a difference on the field and, as importantly, in the locker room. If we can get the guys we want, we should do it. We find a way to get Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, J.J. Nelson at receiver. We get a tackle, Trent Brown, 25 years old, who doesn’t even know how good he can be, who was lock-down, shutout in the playoffs for New England. We got Rodney Hudson at center, with a good young tackle, Kolton Miller, as the other tackle. We can line up and compete right now offensively.”

With the signings of Trent Brown, Williams, Joyner, Jon Feliciano, Josh Mauro and Nelson, the Raiders added just over $40 million to their 2019 salary. When you add the nearly $15 million that Anotnio Brown will make in 2019, Oakland has added $55 million worth of players for the upcoming season.

[RELATED: How AB trade almost didn't happen]

That definitely goes against Mayock's previous mindset. But as he's probably learning, you need veterans on the team in order to compete. And Gruden isn't about to throw away another year playing a bunch of rookies.

Why Raiders won award for Khalil Mack trade at MIT Sloan conference

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USATSI

Why Raiders won award for Khalil Mack trade at MIT Sloan conference

Daryl Morey is rooting for a team from ... Oakland?

The Houston Rockets general manager, whose Warriors obsession does not quite equate to fondness, told The Athletic's Vic Tafur he is "rooting for the Raiders" this season. The reason is even more surprising than the geography.

The Raiders won the Alpha Award at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston for "Best Transaction."

The deal?

Trading Khalil Mack (and a second-round pick) to the Chicago Bears for first-round picks in 2019 and 2020 and a third-round selection in 2020. 

“Everybody else thought it was a terrible trade, but draft picks are very valuable,” Morey told The Athletic over the phone Saturday. “Analytics tends to fly in the face of popular convention pretty often. We don’t care about what people say.”

Morey was a member of the voting panel and co-founded the conference. When he called Raiders president Marc Badain to tell him the Silver and Black took home the award, Badain thought it was a joke. 

"I had to tell him several times that I wasn't kidding," Morey said. "I guess they took a lot of heat for that."

That is an understatement. Mack finished the 2018 season with a half-a-sack fewer (12.5) than the Raiders did as a team (13), and made first-team All-Pro for the third time in the last four years. 

The 28-year-old also led the Bears to their first NFC North title (and a playoff berth) since 2010. That means the first-round selection the Raiders will ultimately receive is No. 24 overall, which is far lower than the team initially envisioned. 

[RELATED: Raiders reportedly hosting multiple veteran linebackers]

Of course, that pick is now one of five first-rounders the Silver and Black will have at its disposal in the next two drafts. That gives the Raiders a sizable opportunity to reshape their roster in the wake of winning just 10 games over the last two seasons.

The Mack trade was responsible for two of those selections, as well as the Raiders' newfound silverware. Morey said he was told the trophy is on Gruden's office desk. 

Whether any other trophies join the collection depends, at least in part, on what the Raiders do with the picks they got for Mack.