NFL draft: Why trading down could help Raiders find foundation pieces

NFL draft: Why trading down could help Raiders find foundation pieces

The Raiders have four picks in the top 35 overall of the 2019 NFL Draft, and then aren’t scheduled to pick again until the fourth round.

That's a lot of downtime for two active minds. General manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden might not want to sit idle for 70 selections waiting to add another football player. The Silver and Black have too many needs, to feel comfortable watching possible contributors will get reeled out of the draft pool in the second and third rounds.

“I’d love to get a couple more picks in there,” Mayock said Thursday during his pre-NFL draft press conference. “I just think we have a lot of holes that need to be filled. I think that’s a really good place to go fishing. If we can, we can.”

They would have to throw chum in the water to reel those picks in. You get that by trading down, stepping back from a scheduled pick for more volume. The Raiders won’t be adverse to that. They traded a ton last year, and have the assets to do whatever they want in this draft. They also have so many valuable commodities high in the draft that they won’t have to step back much to increase their haul.

Trading down slightly from No. 4 would reap the greatest return, though trade options remain with picks later in the first-round or the early second.

Additional selections would be nice, especially if a coveted player remains available at a slightly lower draft spot. It might be worth strong consideration if the Raiders are still looking defense early and value a cluster of Montez Sweat, Rashan Gary and Ed Oliver nearly as much as Quinnen Williams and Josh Allen.

They could drop from No. 4, pick up some picks and still get someone in that first trio.

If not, Mayock says the Raiders will be comfortable selecting as scheduled at Nos. 4, 24, 27 and 35. Just as he’ll fight against reaching for a player at a particular slot, he won’t take just any deal to add selections.

The goal remains the same.

“What we keep talking about upstairs is we better find four foundation football players,” Mayock said. “We define foundation as talent and football character. That’s what we want, guys who love the game. If we don’t move up, down or anywhere, we better get four of those guys.”

Staying put significantly decreases the team’s margin for error, but could increase the opportunity to draft a coveted player without interference from other teams. It would also address fewer needs when the Raiders have so many spots in need of an upgrade.

Mayock’s grand point is key. The Raiders need players who can form an organizational bedrock, and grow with the franchise during Gruden’s long tenure here. They could use instant impacts from quite a few, always a tough ask for a rookie.

The Raiders believe they have veteran insurance at most positions to take some pressure off new kids. That should help the Raiders feel free to add the best players regardless of position. Except edge rusher. They need a few of those guys.

The Raiders are in position to move up and down the draft board, or stay put with enough high picks to add impact players in a pivotal that could go a long way in shaping the Gruden/Mayock era. There’s a ton riding on these picks, and Mayock is excited to help make them.

[RELATED: Jon Gruden gives Mike Mayock advice as draft nears]

“We laugh about it all the time but, A.) I don’t feel any pressure about it, B.) I love it and embrace it because it’s going to give us an opportunity to continue to try to turn the corner here and become a good football team, and I think what (having so many early picks) really gives us is flexibility and that’s what I love about it.

"Obviously, we could move up and you got to know what you are trying to do and how you are trying to do it. You can try to increase your draft capital by moving down or you stay the same, and four of the first 35 picks gives you an opportunity to consider all those scenarios multiple times, and again, that’s why we are opening up the lines of communication with all the teams around the league.

“I keep telling our guys, and you guys have heard me say this before, we need to be nimble, and nimble means depending on what the situation is to be able to react quickly according to the situation and make the right decision.”

Raiders GM Mike Mayock heaps praise upon 49ers' 'culture of toughness'

Raiders GM Mike Mayock heaps praise upon 49ers' 'culture of toughness'

The Raiders have left the Bay Area, but it's not necessarily because they couldn't stand their neighbors.

Las Vegas general manager Mike Mayock made that much clear Tuesday when heaping praise on the 49ers' leadership from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

"I give John [Lynch] and Kyle [Shanahan] a ton of credit," Mayock said. "I don’t think it happened overnight. Their quarterback got hurt, which artificially set their record back for a year. But what they’ve been building over several years is a group of talented defensive lineman, a culture -- and everybody laughs about that word. I don’t. Building a culture is way harder than people pretend it is. It’s easy to say and hard to do. That’s why I give them so much credit. They’ve built a culture of toughness. They run the freakin’ ball. They believe in getting after the quarterback. I love what they’ve done, and I give them a ton of credit. But it didn’t happen overnight."

On the way to Super Bowl LIV, San Francisco had the second-most productive rushing offense in the NFL, and only four teams finished with more sacks than the 49ers (48) during the regular season. Nine of those sacks came from Nick Bosa, whom San Francisco selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The 49ers were only in that draft slot, however, as a result of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tearing his ACL in Week 3 of 2018 before missing the rest of the season.

With Garoppolo fully healthy and Bosa in tow, San Francisco went from the second-worst record in the league to the Super Bowl runner-up. Mayock surely is hoping for a similar turnaround, and frankly, the Raiders have a shorter distance to go. 

Quarterback Derek Carr has only missed two regular-season games since moving under center for the 2014 season and is coming off the most productive season of his career in terms of total yardage and yards per attempt. That had plenty to do with the Raiders finishing 7-9, and while they consequently won't be picking anywhere near the No. 2 overall selection, they do own two first-round picks -- Nos. 12 and 19 overall -- in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft. It will be difficult to find a prospect with a similar impact as Bosa's, but that surely won't stop Mayock from trying.

[RELATED: NFL mock draft: Updated 49ers, Raiders pick projections]

The Raiders have participated in only one playoff game over the last 17 seasons, but with the NFL reportedly considering expanding the postseason field, they have a chance to end that drought in their first season in Sin City. They have many of the necessary pieces for a 49ers-like surge. The question is: Do they have the culture?

NFL Draft 2020: How Miami's Trevon Hill can help Raiders' pass rush

NFL Draft 2020: How Miami's Trevon Hill can help Raiders' pass rush

The Raiders need help on 11 positions on the defense, that much is clear.

Yes, 2019 rookie standouts Trayvon Mullen, Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell will play large roles in 2020. But improvement is needed across the board on defense, from the defensive line to the safeties. 

The Raiders once again will be looking for pass-rush help this offseason, whether it be in free agency or the draft. With three third-round draft picks and a fourth-round pick, the Raiders should look to address their pass rush on Day 2 of the draft, with guys like Bradlee Anae, Julian Okawara and Curtis Weaver possibly being available. 

But there's an under-the-radar player for general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden to keep their eyes on: Trevon Hill.

Hill, 6-foot-3, 233 pounds started his career at Virginia Tech playing under legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster before transferring to Miami for his final season. The 22-year-old has innate pass-rushing ability, showing good burst off the edge, solid tilt, bend and powerful hands. He possesses the quick twitch needed to rush at the NFL level and has the athleticism to drop back into coverage. 

"They'll be getting a guy who is dynamic," Hill told NBC Sports Bay Area during the week of Super Bowl LIV in Miami about what his pitch to GMs would be. "He's coming in willing to work hard, willing to take somebody's plate -- another grown man's plate -- and just you're going to get somebody who is dominant, man. Ready to work. Tenacious, savage, somebody that is going to go get it. I'm a high-motor guy, man."

Modern NFL teams always need guys who can pressure the quarterback, and Hill's potential should excite several teams, including the Raiders. 

Look at his get off on this play. 

Hill will need to work on setting the edge at the NFL level and improve his strength to be a true factor. His high motor and uncanny ability to get to the quarterback, despite what some see as athletic limitations, might remind the Raiders and their fans of Crosby. Many expected Crosby to be a project and situational pass rusher coming out of Eastern Michigan, but he exploded onto the scene due to his nose for the quarterback. 

During his college career, Hill notched 29.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks during his time with the Hurricanes and Hokies. His time under Foster and Miami coach Manny Diaz allowed him to be a sponge and soak up different defensive philosophies. 

Hill spends time studying NFL stars all over the defensive line and tries to model his game after what Kansas City Chiefs edge rusher Frank Clark brings to the table. 

"He just got that dog mentality," Hill said of Clark. "I think we have similar body type -- he might be a little bit heavier -- but height, same, quickness, same and he got that dog mentality and he backs it up."

[RELATED: Is QB Fromm an option for Raiders later in draft?]

As the Raiders proved last year, draft-class depth is just as important as top-end talent. Crosby and tight end Foster Moreau were fourth-round picks. Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow had his name called in the fifth round. Those three were major contributors to the Raiders' surprising 7-9 season. 

On a team looking for more people who can get to the quarterback, Hill is someone the Raiders should look at to improve their weary pass rush.