Why Raiders should stick to NFL draft blueprint, raid Clemson-LSU stars


Why Raiders should stick to NFL draft blueprint, raid Clemson-LSU stars

On its face, the plan seemed quite simple.

Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden went down to Levi's Stadium last January to watch Clemson and Alabama duel in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. What they found were rosters loaded with NFL talent who had been immersed in winning culture for the past three to five seasons. They found a featured back with don't-give-a-[redacted] attitude, a shutdown corner with tireless work ethic, a slot receiver with hands of gold and an unflappable clutch gene, and an edge rusher with all the tools and confidence to be the anchor of a defensive line.

The Raiders loved what they saw and acted accordingly three months later in the NFL draft, making Josh Jacobs, Trayvon Mullen, Hunter Renfrow and Clelin Ferrell the newest members of the Silver and Black and the foundation of a rebuild that eventually will bring the greatness back.

Gruden and Mayock's plan to draft talented players from winning programs might have seemed like an elementary idea. Did they only watch the two best teams in football? There are, after all, many other talented players who weren't on teams vying for a title.

[RELATED: 2020 NFL mock draft 1.0: Raiders go WR, LB in Round 1]

No matter. The plan to bring in elite players from programs with strong culture worked flawlessly last season. Jacobs, Renfrow, Mullen and Ferrell were key contributors to a 7-9 Raiders team that could have made the playoffs if not for a few hiccups.

As Gruden and Mayock look to stack talent on talent, they should go back to that blueprint and jot down name after name that is called when No. 1 LSU and -- you guessed it -- No. 3 Clemson meet in the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Once again, the NFL talent on the field will be off the charts. But both teams also have a number of prospects who will fit the Raiders' vast number of needs as well.

Yes, if Clemson linebacker/safety/athletic mutant Isaiah Simmons is available at No. 12 (he won't be), the Raiders should draft him. Yes, receivers Tee Higgins (Clemson) and Justin Jefferson (LSU) would look good catching passes from whoever the quarterback of the future is for the Silver and Black.

There will be potential secondary help all over the field. Not just in first-round talents Grant Delpit, Kristian Fulton and A.J. Terrell, but also in Clemson safety K'Von Wallace, who could be a late Day 2 or Day 3 pick for the Raiders to target.

Don't count out the Raiders looking at taking one of the two running backs in the game, either, to have another young, electric option behind Jacobs, as both Travis Etienne and Clyde Edwards-Helaire would form a ridiculous 1-2 punch along with Jacobs.

It's not just the 2020 prospects the Raiders should note, either. Yes, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be next year's No.1 pick. Mayock and Gruden also should have their eyes on LSU receiver Ja'Marr Chase, Clemson wideout Justyn Ross, LSU defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin, Clemson edge rusher Xavier Thomas and LSU corner Derek Stingley Jr. all of whom are underclassmen with elite talent.

Last year's blueprint was successful for the Raiders. The talent was needed, but the attitude and culture shift Gruden and Mayock craved clearly took hold. The Raiders, led by their rookies, were resilient against all odds last season. They believed they should have been in the playoffs. The rookies were their harshest critics. They worked tirelessly, performed on Sundays and believe they are the start of something special.

[RELATED: Ranking draft prospects Raiders should watch in Clemson-LSU]

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney summed up his program, the players he looks for and the culture he's built -- something the Raiders were very attracted to and for good reason -- in a succinct way.

"It’s easy to see if a guy can play or not, it’s a lot tougher to see if he’s the right fit. Because not everybody is a good fit for our culture and who we are," Swinney told NBC Sports California in August. "And the way we do things. Because this place is tough, man, this is no-nonsense. Not everybody values education the way we do. Not everybody values discipline and accountability the way we do."

While no two cultures are alike, the one Ed Orgeron has built at LSU appears to be on the same level as his counterpart Monday night. It quickly has taken hold and put the Tigers on the precipice of a dream season. Both coaches are brilliant and demand a lot of their players both on and off the field. They recruit talent, yes. But they also recruit for character and locker-room fit.

Those are the guys you win with at any level. The guys you build programs around and who can change the tides just by walking into the building. Talent is important. It almost always wins out in the end. But when enacting a rebuild, the culture the players were molded in is equally as significant.

Mayock and Gruden got a handful of those players in last year's draft. That blueprint worked to perfection.

The Raiders should follow it again. Raid Death Valley (both of them) of talent and leadership to build an unshakeable foundation for the next era of Raiders football.

Tom Brady to Las Vegas Raiders 'has legs,' UFC's Dana White believes

Tom Brady to Las Vegas Raiders 'has legs,' UFC's Dana White believes

Given the uneven performance Derek Carr had in the Raiders' final season in Oakland, it wouldn't be surprising if the team brought in another quarterback to start for the franchise' in its first season in Las Vegas.

Whether it's veterans like Cam Newton and Marcus Mariota or draft prospects like Tua Tagovaiola and Justin Herbert, there's no shortage of possibilities for Jon Gruden to consider as Carr's replacement and/or backup.

By the looks of the Connor McGregor-Cowboy Cerrone UFC fight Saturday night, it appears there's another name on the list, and it's the biggest one possible.

Yep. That would be Raiders owner Mark Davis in the white, and six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady in the black leather jacket on the right. If that doesn't get the rumor mill swirling, the following context might do the trick.

According to Adam Hill of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, UFC president Dana White -- who is a friend of Brady's and already is a suiteholder at Allegiant Stadium -- believes a Brady-Raiders pairing isn't all that farfetched. 

Carr is set to make $18.9 million in base salary in 2020, so it's difficult to see a scenario in which he and Brady are on the same team. Brady might be the best QB of all-time, and simply put, he's not taking a major pay cut. However, the Raiders would save $16.5 million and take a cap hit of just $5 million if they trade or release Carr prior to June 1, which would appear to be a precondition for bringing Brady to Sin City.

Of course, if the Raiders did that, it would be under the assumption that Brady could regain some of his three-time MVP form -- which, if you watched him in New England this past season, is nowhere near a certainty. In fact, one could argue that Carr is a superior QB to Brady right now, thus making that hypothetical move both illogical and unnecessary. While throwing for nearly an identical number of passing yards in 2019, Carr posted a far superior completion percentage than Brady (70.4 percent to 60.8 percent) and averaged 1.3 more yards per pass attempt. Of the 30 quarterbacks that qualified for ESPN's Total QBR rating -- which values the quarterback on all play types on a 0-100 scale adjusted for the strength of opposing defenses faced -- Carr was ranked ninth (62.4), while Brady was ranked 17th (53.7)

[RELATED: Mayock gives glowing review of Carr's 2019 with Raiders]

One would imagine that Gruden knows what he has in Carr, and considering his lukewarm-at-best endorsement of the Raiders' incumbent QB at the conclusion of the season, it wouldn't be surprising if the team opted to go in another direction. Brady certainly would provide plenty of excitement -- and would sell plenty of tickets -- but it would also be a big gamble on the Raiders' part.

Given it's Las Vegas, maybe that's the way to go.

Raiders' Derek Carr 'progressed at rapid rate' in 2019, Mike Mayock says

Raiders' Derek Carr 'progressed at rapid rate' in 2019, Mike Mayock says

As the Raiders pack up their stuff in Oakland and prepare to embrace the bright lights of Las Vegas, they have a number of questions to answer.

How will they address the gaping holes at wide receiver? What about linebacker? And, of course, is Derek Carr the right guy for the job?

With a lack of offensive talent on the outside last season, Carr was serviceable. He led game-winning drives against the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Chargers. The Raiders were 6-4 and flying high. Then the team, Carr included, laid four straight duds to fall out of the playoff picture. Carr remains an average NFL quarterback. He can win games when everything around him is perfect, but he was unable to will the Raiders to wins down the stretch that would have stopped the skid and kept playoff hopes alive. 

It was Year 2 for Carr in head coach Jon Gruden's system and questions about their long-term viability together constantly linger. General manager Mike Mayock, though, was pleased with Carr's play during the 7-9 season.

"As far as Derek is concerned, look, it, Jon demands a lot from his quarterbacks," Mayock told "People don't understand how much, just from a verbiage standpoint all the way to control, pre-snap at the line of scrimmage, you know, his percentage of completions, his ability to command the huddle, his ability to command the pre-snap process at the line of scrimmage, his accuracy. He's got arm talent.

"You look at his development between him and Darren Waller, you know, Darren Waller had 90 catches for over 1,000 yards. Darren Waller is a Pro-Bowl tight end by any definition. And then the chemistry he developed with Hunter Renfrow. I think we've got a good offensive line and what we have to do is a better job of supporting him with some more wide receiver talent, the ability to catch the football, uh, the ability to spread the ball around a little bit. You know, Derek handled everything Jon threw at him mentally. I thought he progressed at a rapid rate in year two in Jon's system."

That certainly sounds like the Raiders will be bringing Carr back. 

There will be a number of quarterbacks on the free-agent market for Gruden to bring it to provide competition for Carr should he desire.

The Raiders also have two first-round draft picks and could use one to select a high-end prospect like Oregon's Justin Herbert, Utah State's Jordan Love or Washington's Jacob Eason if one of them appeals to Gruden. 

[RELATED: Raiders should stick to draft blueprint, raid Clemson-LSU]

With more talent on the outside and a defense capable of getting off the field at a more regular clip, perhaps Carr will play at a higher level in Las Vegas.

If not, his time with the Raiders could be over shortly.