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.
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.
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.