Raiders

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 free agency: How Raiders stack up with Chiefs, AFC West rivals

NFL free agency: How Raiders stack up with Chiefs, AFC West rivals

NFL free agency hit like a tidal wave last week, as some of the league's best players headed for news homes with better paychecks.

The AFC West was at the forefront of the dealing as the Raiders, Los Angles Chargers and Denver Broncos do whatever they can to close the gap between themselves and the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

So, as NBC Sports Bay Area Raiders insider Scott Bair and I discussed on the latest edition of The Raiders Talk Podcast, let's grade how each AFC West team did and see where the Silver and Black now stack up against their rivals.

Raiders

Additions: Marcus Mariota, Jason Witten, Cory Littleton, Eli Apple, Nick Kwiatkoski, Jeff Heath, Carl Nassib, Nelson Agholor, Maliek Collins, Daniel Ross and Nick O'Leary.
Subtractions: Tahir Whitehead, Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley

The Raiders' defense got a lot better with the addition of Littleton and Kwiatkoski, two three-down, play-making linebackers who can cover tight ends. Littleton, 26, is a great athlete, a sure tackler and adept at rushing the passer. Those additions were made to help combat Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce who has been a nightmare in the pattern. The addition of Apple, should he become consistent, gives the Raiders a physical corner to put on the likes of Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins to try and slow down the track team in KC.

Grade: A-minus. The Raiders got loads better on defense. While they whiffed on Byron Jones and Chris Harris, they still made wholesale improvements and the additions at linebacker should allow them to better defend the Chiefs -- in theory.

Denver Broncos

Additions: A.J. Bouye, Jurrell Casey, Graham Glasgow, Melvin Gordon, Nick Vannett, Sam Martin Jeff Driskel
Subtractions: Chris Harris, Joe Flacco, Conor McGovern, Will Parks

I really like what the Broncos did on defense. They traded for Bouye, giving them a No. 1 corner and a healthy Bryce Callahan should help them lessen the blow of losing Harris in the slot. They then somehow got the Titans to trade them Casey, who still is a productive player.

Adding Glasgow is a good addition to what was a suspect offensive line last year. There's still no reason why they should have given Melvin Gordon $8 million a year, when they have Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. Gordon looked slow, unathletic and couldn't hold onto the ball last season. Maybe I should try out for the Broncos?

Grade: B. I love the defensive additions and if Bradley Chubb returns healthy this will be one of the better defenses in the NFL. They didn't get another receiver opposite Courtland Sutton and appear to be convinced Drew Lock is the guy. Best of luck.

Kansas City Chiefs

Additions: Mike Remmer, Antonio Hamilton
Subtractions: Kendall Fuller, Emmanuel Ogbah, Stefen Wisniewski

The Chiefs' roster is stacked and they know the bill for Mahomes is coming due soon. They lost one corner in Fuller and the other starting corner Bashaud Breeland currently is a free agent. That's a big issue for a defense that started to come on toward the end of the season. 

But they franchise-tagged Chris Jones and were able to retain Mike Penne and Anthony Sherman. They'll have a decision to make with Sammy Watkins, who currently is the highest-paid player on the roster, but the champs did well to keep most of the group together.

Grade: B-minus. Losing both starting cornerbacks hurts. But they still have Mahomes and the most dynamic offense in the league.

[RELATED: Five bold predictions for 2020 NFL Draft]

Los Angeles Chargers

Additions: Chris Harris, Trai Turner, Bryan Bulaga, Linval Joseph and Nick Vigil
Subtractions: Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Thomas Davis, Russell Okung, Derek Watt, Travis Benjamin and Adrian Phillips

The Bolts were wheeling and dealing. They waved goodbye to franchise quarterback Philip Rivers and took a swing at Tom Brady. They missed. So they currently are planning to go into the season with Tyrod Taylor as the starter. It's not great. They should give Cam Newton a call whenever they can get him in for a physical, but that could take some time due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Adding Harris and Joseph to a defensive unit that already includes Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Derwin James, Casey Hayward means this could be one of the best units in football if healthy.

They also franchise-tagged Hunter Henry and kept Austin Ekeler around. It's a complete roster except for the most important position in sports.

Grade: B-plus. This has room to go up if they sign Newton or give the keys to Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa in the draft. Taylor is a solid NFL backup quarterback. But this roster is loaded and that defense has the parts to at least combat the best weapons the Chiefs have. Just have to find a quarterback.

The AFC West is one of the deepest divisions in the NFL.

The three teams chasing the Chiefs each made moves to try and stake claim to the No. 2 spot in the division and a shot at the wild-card spot.

The Raiders did well to bulk up their defense and surely will add more important pieces come draft time. Their offensive line when healthy can hold up against the best rushers in the division. With improved quarterback play from Derek Carr or a relief appearance from a reborn Marcus Mariota, the Raiders have the pieces to be the second-best team in the AFC West. They still are a couple of leagues behind the Chiefs, but that will happen when you are chasing a generational talent who has yet to enter his prime.

I expect the Raiders, Chargers and Broncos to beat up on each other in what looks like a relatively even AFC West after the Chiefs.

The Silver and Black are on the rise. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have a clear plan and are executing it, choosing to play the long game in a multi-year rebuild. They've checked some boxes and have more holes to fill -- most notably wide receiver and cornerback -- but I expect them to compete for eight or nine wins and a wild-card spot if things go right.

NFL Draft 2020: Five bold predictions, including quarterback surprise

NFL Draft 2020: Five bold predictions, including quarterback surprise

The 2020 NFL Draft is a little over a month away, and team needs are coming into focus after a wild free-agency season.

We know Joe Burrow will be a Cincinnati Bengal, but everything is up in the air after that. Ohio State defensive end Chase Young is the top player in the draft, but the quarterback position will rule everything.

Teams certainly will try and move up to draft both Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon's Justin Herbert, but who will it be?

CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy are elite wide receiver prospects, but with a loaded class, could they slide as teams pass on them hoping to get a Justin Jefferson or Denzel Mims later on?

And what will the Raiders do? Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock hit a home run with last year's draft and look to do the same this year with five picks in the top 92. But Chucky always can be a wild card.

So it's time to make some bold predictions that just might come true on draft day. (Probably not.)

CLICK FOR FIVE BOLD NFL DRAFT PREDICTIONS