Raiders

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 undrafted WR drawing rave reviews from Jon Gruden, Derek Carr

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Raiders undrafted WR drawing rave reviews from Jon Gruden, Derek Carr

The Raiders revamped their wide receiving corps this offseason, bringing in Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, J.J. Nelson, Ryan Grant and fifth-round draft pick Hunter Renfrow to help quarterback Derek Carr. 

Brown, Williams and Renfrow will get a lot of attention during organized team activities and minicamp, but there's another receiver who has impressed both head coach Jon Gruden and Carr early on in his NFL career.

Keelan Doss signed with the Raiders after going undrafted out of the University of California-Davis and has the size, ball skills and awareness to make it as a receiver in the NFL.

Gruden likes what he has seen from Doss so far.

"Yeah, we coached Doss in the Senior Bowl and really liked him," Gruden said Tuesday after the first day of OTAs. "I think he's smart. He's athletic and he's got size and I think he's going to be able to compete on special teams, as well. Plus he's from Alameda, so we had to get Doss."

It's a long road for an undrafted rookie to make it to the NFL and stick in the league, but Carr believes Doss is different than a lot of the undrafted rookies he's seen come through Oakland.

"Yeah, I think Keelan is going to be a good player," Carr said. "Obviously, he's a rookie, right? He's got a long way to go. But just watching him you can tell -- he works his tail off and it means something to him. We've had other guys come in here, I've seen undrafted free agents come in here and they are just like, 'Man, I'm in the NFL.' And they are posting pictures of them jogging in a jersey, but they don't really like football. You know? They don't really care. They are just trying to, I guess, show that they have a little influence, that they are a professional football player, when really they haven't made the team yet, so their not, you know? He is not that at all. He is someone, man he doesn't want this to just be a one-time stop. He wants to make a career out of this. And hopefully man, he works his tail off and he does make a career out of it. 

"But that's just the initial reaction I've gotten from him is that it means something to him. And you can win with that."

Doss had a productive career at UC-Davis, finishing his collegiate run with 321 catches for 4,069 yards and 28 touchdowns.

He was expected to be a fourth- or fifth-round draft pick, but a pectoral injury at the combine hurt his training for the 40-yard dash.

Doss impressed during his time at the Senior Bowl, drawing comparisons to a star AFC West receiver.

"The player he reminds of is Keenan Allen," Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy told NBC Sports Bay Area's Scott Bair. "That’s really high praise. You don’t just throw player comparisons out there. It’s rare with NFL teams. Everything has to line up, and I really feel like he’s a good comp for Keenan Allen. How he went undrafted, it really surprised me. We’re not privy to medical info, and he has some injuries dating back to high school, so I don’t know it that scared teams off. Outside of that, the Raiders got a steal.

The 6-foot-2, 211-pound receiver knows how to get open, can win in the red zone and is a polished route-runner. Perhaps the Keenan Allen comparison checks out.

[RELATED: New Raiders receiver Williams 'a technician' downfield]

While Doss has a long road ahead of him to make the 53-man roster, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him make the team over some of the other receivers the club brought in this offseason and possibly contribute in 2019.

Raiders impressed with receiver Tyrell Williams' speed, route-running

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Raiders impressed with receiver Tyrell Williams' speed, route-running

The Raiders won’t play another color for months. The Los Angeles Rams are up first on the preseason slate, but that game isn’t coming until Aug. 10.

It’s all silver on black until then.

Raiders secondary coach Jim O’Neil is prepping his position groups to play well together in this scheme, with progress reports coming against a dynamic receiver corps featuring Antonio Brown.

Slowing the four-time All-Pro is a badge of honor, by far the toughest assignment in the pattern.

Gold stars should also go to those who stop Tyrell Williams, though few are being given out early in the Raiders offseason program. Williams was known commodity after quality time with the L.A. Chargers. He’s a big body at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds adept plucking receptions from the sky, but there are other facets of his game Raiders defensive backs are learning about the hard way during OTAs.

That was clear in a conversation between O’Neil and Williams, recorded by the team website and released on social media.

“All the DBs went, ‘Man. No. 16 can run,’” said O’Neil, who was mic’d up during Thursday’s OTA session. “I said, ‘yeah. You’d better get your hands on him.’”

“Yeah,” Williams said. “Everybody thinks I can’t run.”

Folks must have forgotten he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash during the 2015 pre-draft process, or that his downfield prowess comes from size over speed.

Early routes had dispelled that notion. Williams and Carr have already flashed a deep connection due to speed-created separation and some solid route running.

“That was a good route you ran the other day on my guy,” O’Neil told Williams. “You sold the ‘jet,’ he took his yes off you and he started hauling a— across field.”

That exact play’s tough to place, considering how little of the offseason program is open to the press. Media saw Williams torch coverage deep on Tuesday, and make some smart catches underneath as Williams continues to prove a trustworthy target working with more than just size and speed.

“It’s kind of nice having something like that, but he can run these routes and set people up,” Carr said. “He’s a technician also. He’s just not a big, raw body.”

Carr and Williams have developed an early rapport from private throwing sessions with Antonio Brown and officially-sanctioned offseason program work. They’re taking another step during OTAs, where they can finally work against coverage.

Williams knows that trust comes from repetition, something he’s trying to build with touch catches against teammates when nobody’s watching.

“It’s just catching everything and if it’s a 50-50 ball make sure that if you don’t catch it, that nobody catches it and it’s not an interception, and he can trust that throws into a tight coverage either you catch it or nobody catches it,” Williams said. “I feel like I’m a bigger guy and have a lot of room I can separate for and be able to catch a lot of those balls that may not be perfect, so I think that’s a big thing from me.”

[RELATED: Carr building chemistry with new receivers]

Williams knows he will be a secondary concern with Brown running routes, and that’s something he hopes to take advantage of with the traits many realize and others often overlooked to have a big season. He has exceeded 1,000 yards once, in 2016 when the Chargers had a rash of receiver injuries. Working opposite Brown could make him a feature target with winnable matchups that could lead to another big year working in a system that can play to his strengths.

“It’s vertical,” Williams said. “We like to go down the field and I feel like that’s one of my strong points, taking it and stretching the field. I think that will be big for me being able to get a lot of [focus] go to ‘AB,’ so I feel like I’ll get a lot of one-on-one coverage down the field. It’ll be big for me.”