Jon Gruden's fingerprints all over Raiders' draft class

Jon Gruden's fingerprints all over Raiders' draft class

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. 

Done for the year: Raiders decline to move Eddie Vanderdoes off PUP

Done for the year: Raiders decline to move Eddie Vanderdoes off PUP

ALAMEDA -- Raiders defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes hasn’t played a lick this season while rehabbing from offseason surgery to repair his ACL, but he had an opportunity to join the active roster Monday.

The Raiders declined to do so, and Vanderdoes remained on the reserve/physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He has been there since the start of training camp. The Raiders started a 21-day practice window in Week 8, but Vanderdoes didn’t make the progress required to join the 53-man roster.

The Silver and Black is playing it safe with someone they consider a solid scheme fit, and who may be able to help them in 2019. This season, by contrast, is already down the drain, and there is no sense in rushing him back.

“We had a chance to look at him for a couple weeks and although he has made progress he has had a couple injuries to the knee in his background,” Raiders coach Gruden said, referring to two torn knee ligaments during Vanderdoes' time at UCLA. “We want to make sure that we give him the proper time to get ready. We are going to be very precautionary with him. I believe his season will end unfortunately, but it’s the right thing to do for him and his future.”

The 24-year-old was expected back this season, but suffered a setback in training camp that slowed his recovery timetable. He didn’t have enough padded practices to be thrust into games, so the Raiders stepped off the gas and ended his season.

Vanderdoes tore his ACL in the 2017 regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers, awful timing for a young prospect known as a stout run defender. 

[RELATED: Raiders' receiver corps razor thin with Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant injuries]

[RATTO: Raiders owner Mark Davis is just poking the rubble by taking the blame now]

Raiders' WR corps razor thin with injuries to Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant


Raiders' WR corps razor thin with injuries to Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders' receiving corps will look much different now than it did just a few weeks back. The Silver and Black rolled into a Week 6 game against the Seattle Seahawks with Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant featured in the pattern.

It’s possible, maybe even likely, that none of those guys will be available for next week’s game at Arizona.

Cooper obviously is unavailable, as he's now a featured player in Dallas after being traded to the Cowboys.

Bryant suffered an injury to his posterior cruciate ligament in Sunday’s loss to the L.A. Chargers, Raiders coach Jon Gruden said, and will miss significant time.

Nelson has a knee injury that will be examined further this week, with a real prospect of him missing time.

That leaves Brandon LaFell, Seth Roberts, Dwayne Harris and seventh-round draft pick Marcell Ateman as Raiders receivers heading into the Cardinals game.

That’s a far less dynamic crew.

“It’s tough, obviously, with Amari gone and Martavis out. Jordy out,” Gruden said in a Monday press conference said. "We will knock on Marcell Ateman’s door and perhaps give him an opportunity to step forward. We will bring in some receivers to work out tomorrow, and if we need to make a roster spot, we will.”

Ateman was promoted from the practice squad on Oct. 22, but he has been inactive each week. The Oklahoma State product will make his NFL debut if Nelson can’t go against the Cardinals.