Mike Mayock sat before a camera bank late Saturday afternoon, for the third time in three days. He was comfortable in his chair, with both joy and relief evident in his face following his first NFL draft as the Oakland Raiders' general manager.
His maiden voyage making selections instead of analyzing them as NFL Network’s senior draft expert was over, allowing him to sit back, relax a bit and compare experiences.
Mayock started doing so with a story. He had dinner with former Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome at the Senior Bowl in January, and asked him for advice.
“He said, ‘Mike, all I can tell you is that having an opinion is a hell of a lot easier than making a decision,’ ” Mayock said. “You kind of feel the weight of that in the draft room. ...
"The difference is just ownership, skin in the game. It just meant something different this week for me. At the end of the day, we won’t know how we did for a couple of years, but we couldn’t feel better today because I think we stayed consistent with our philosophy and we drafted the kind of guy that we want to bring into this building."
The Raiders made nine selections and five trades in the 2019 NFL draft, addressing several positions requiring frontline upgrades and depth. Not every player was liked by every person. Such is life while evaluating the inexact science of scouting.
But the Raiders came away with a solid, high-floor class that doesn’t contain red flags for the character or medical issues. The group features Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell, Alabama running back Josh Jacobs and Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram, a first-round trio that must help right away.
Coach Jon Gruden has the final say on personnel matters. The Raiders have a coach-driven building and executed a coach-influenced draft. Mayock has been open about those facts, but he pushed back Sunday at the inaccurate notion that he’s just here as Gruden’s assistant. He was instrumental in trading for Antonio Brown, finding the appropriate value for several free agents and, yes, executing these draft picks.
“[Jon] is a guy with a strong opinion, and he brought me in to have an equally strong opinion, and I think that’s the important thing people have to understand,” Mayock said. “I didn’t come here to kind of just try to set a board. I came here to work with Jon and try and help him build a football team, a championship football team. I also knew I had to come in here and earn people’s respect.”
Mayock already earns some through work ethic during the pre-draft process. That’s also done with in-draft action, and his advice turning into positive results. There wasn’t room for rookie mistakes in Mayock’s first draft. Gruden had to trust Mayock’s insight, and it had to work out well. There were some stressful moments, especially when trading back hoping to secure a particular player and an extra pick.
That worked out several times, when the Raiders traded back twice and still got cornerback Trayvon Mullen in the second round, or landed cornerback Isaiah Johnson in the fourth. The Raiders were aggressive to move up and select receiver Hunter Renfrow in the fifth round. The biggest move was the one not made, when the Raiders stayed put and took Ferrell at No. 4 overall.
That’s when the weight sat firmly on Mayock’s shoulders, but it bows him down. He felt comfortable and confident in his preparation, decisions and just how the draft room was run.
There’s satisfaction in turning all that hard work into a draft pick, but the phone calls to the selections themselves were even more moving than expected.
“It was awesome because it was so real,” Mayock said. “For most of them, I would follow [Gruden] in there, and I’d go in there and talk to the kids unless we had a trade working. I got choked up a couple of times -- I really did -- from feeling the emotion over the phone. I mean, [Clelin] Ferrell couldn’t talk. I almost couldn’t talk. I get emotional about that stuff.
"It’s kind of cool because I remember being a 10th-round draft pick, and I remember to this day getting the phone call from the Pittsburgh Steelers and what it felt like. So, I'm excited that they’re so excited to hear from Jon Gruden, and to the extent I can add just a little bit, it’s awesome.”
Mayock was excited and prepared to forge a new career path, working for an NFL team over analyzing them all from distance. He got his hands dirty this time and exerted great influence over a pivotal Raiders offseason.
“He did great,” Gruden said Thursday, during his only press availability during the draft. “I think I said a couple weeks ago, not to interrupt, but he’s energized the building, Mayock has energized me … and our franchise will benefit.
Mayock has known Gruden for decades but believes their working relationship built great chemistry in recent months.
“Jon and I spent an awful lot of early mornings in this building watching film, arguing about players,” Mayock said. “I was in with the coaches, I don’t know how many days, in free agency and draft prep. Just me, Jon and the entire coaching staff grinding tape together and arguing about players, and I was vehement about the kind of guys we want to bring in this building.
“A lot of coaches just want talent, sometimes they don’t really care about the rest of it, they want talent, and I think we complement each other because when I had a strong opinion, Jon listened. And when Jon has a strong opinion, I listen, and we go at it a little bit which is really good, but at the end of the day, I think the important thing is when we make a decision, it’s a Raider decision.”