General manager Reggie McKenzie’s personnel department started grinding on the 2018 NFL Draft almost a year before this week's amateur selection, putting evaluations on draft-worthy prospects, with cross checks and in-person visits and background investigations.
Jon Gruden and his assistants got involved when coaches normally do, in weeks before the combine. Coaches knew exactly what they were looking for, and weren’t shy identifying proper fits for new schemes.
That isn’t new. The guy ultimately making decisions certainly was. After years with McKenzie as the triggerman, Gruden had final say on these picks, just as he did signing free agents. A 10-year, $100 million contract, after all, provides significant pull.
Head coach and GM are tired of process stories centered on their working relationship, but this new dynamic had a profound impact on Raiders draft picks.
Gruden’s fingerprints were all over nine selections during this three-day draft, and he brought a new dynamic to the draft room. NFL Network’s Mike Silver said Thursday morning Gruden wanted to run the draft in “real time,” using the team's research to make decisions in the moment more than is typical. That evoked some spirited debate in the draft room, especially before Thursday’s selection of offensive tackle Kolton Miller.
Gruden and McKenzie were extremely active during the draft, executing seven trades involving draft picks – one reaped veteran Pittsburgh receiver Martavis Bryant -- and completed another sending Jihad Ward to Dallas on Saturday night.
Gruden was aggressive making picks, unafraid to choose guys with character flaws (DE Arden Key, LB Azeem Victor), health issues (DT Maurice Hurst, CB Nick Nelson) or players from smaller schools (OT Brandon Parker, DT PJ Hall). Al Davis' influence could be seen in most selections, which makes sense considering how much Gruden learned from the late Raiders owner.
He lived on the edge at times, willing to take risks for great upside. McKenzie worked the system right alongside him during this important three-day stretch. At times, Gruden admits, McKenzie's patience and easy-going outlook is a virtue.
“At the beginning, I thought Reggie did a good job and I thought we work well together,” Gruden said after Friday’s second and third rounds, the last time he spoke with the media during the draft. “There were some tense moments. It’s not easy working with me. I’ll be honest. I’m a pain in the ass up there.”
Gruden got guys he wants to work with, and was complimentary of McKenzie’s efforts during the entire draft process. The general manager’s role is different with Gruden in town, but he was proud of how the Raiders draft was run.
“It was fun,” McKenzie said. “The one thing that this staff has, they have a vision. They know exactly what they want, what they need and what will help them be successful. They communicated really well. I thought it was really good the way the scouts and coaches interacted, myself and Gruden included.”
Some Raiders scouts aren't expected back for the next go round. The draft cycle has ended, making now the typical time to make changes to the personnel department. There was significant talk after Gruden got hired that he would bring in trusted evaluators of his own.
Sporting News’ Alex Marvez reported Sunday morning that changes are coming soon, with director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales possibly moving on. McKenzie's right-hand man would likely be replaced with someone Gruden knows well, giving the coach further influence in the day-to-day pro and college scouting process.
McKenzie’s contract runs through the 2021 draft—don’t forget that he turned down an opportunity to interview for Green Bay’s GM job in January -- and could be a valuable asset in Gruden’s regime. Head coach and general manager have liked working together thus far, and have been complimentary of one another in public. If this draft class performs well, and Gruden liked the process and the information he was given, they could partner for an extended stretch. Ultimately, however, time will tell on that front. Right now, however, some shake-up is expected.