The Raiders took their entire football operation down south this time last year to coach the Senior Bowl’s North squad.
That’s a luxury afforded to terrible teams from the NFL season that just concluded, and the 4-12 Raiders certainly were one. The provided an up-close look at some of the NFL draft’s finest prospects available throughout the selection process.
The Raiders got to see how players work in practice and pay attention in meetings, with an opportunity to swap squads – the 49ers coached the South – on the practice week’s final day.
Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock got a great evaluation of every Senior Bowl prospect.
That week in Mobile, Ala., turned out to be an information gold mine. They learned to love a lot of those prospects and capitalized on opportunities to acquire them in the NFL draft or shortly after.
The Raiders drafted four Senior Bowl participants and signed three more after the amateur selection process.
“Coaching and being there really helped us a lot,” general manager Mike Mayock said after the NFL draft. “It really is a big deal to be involved in that game.”
The Raiders certainly hope this Senior Bowl week bears fruit, albeit with a lot less access to the prospects. They’ll send a slightly smaller contingent to this important evaluation week, though the Silver and Black still will canvas this group from stands over the sidelines. Practices start Tuesday, beginning a three-day stretch that’s more important than the All-Star Game itself.
Last year’s close-up look ended up putting several participants in silver and black.
The Raiders got Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram in the first round, LSU tight end Foster Moreau and Houston cornerback Isaiah Johnson in the fourth and Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow in the fifth. Then, they signed Wisconsin fullback Alec Ingold, Notre Dame linebacker Te’von Coney and UC Davis receiver Keelan Doss as undrafted free agents.
Everyone save Coney spent most of the year on the 53-man roster and many of them made a major impact on the 2019 Raiders.
Those guys should be an even greater part of the 2020 squad, with Abram expected to rejoin the starting lineup after he underwent season-ending shoulder after Week 1, and optimism is high after what was essentially a lost season for Johnson after he suffered a preseason facial fracture.
Renfrow developed into a major player, and even Ingold became a reliable blocker and short-yardage back. Moreau was a touchdown machine in his first season, forming a promising tight-end duo with breakout star Darren Waller.
The Raiders preferred Senior Bowl participants last year, and this practice week is something vital to pre-NFL draft evaluation. The Raiders have five selections in the top 92, broken down into two first-round picks and three more in the third down.
Last year the Raiders favored players from either championship college programs or Senior Bowl participants, with rare exceptions. There’s no telling if that’ll be the case again this year, but Senior Bowl game and practice film is a vital piece of the evaluation process.
“Everybody will tell you they look at the Senior Bowl practice tape, the Senior Bowl game film over and over and over,” Gruden said last year. “You watch the matchups over and over and over.
“I remember doing it with [late Raiders owner/GM Al Davis]. He would put the Senior Bowl on for the 44th time and I would say, ‘how many more times are we going to watch that game?’ There’s tremendous value in it. It’s a great tool and provides great matchups you would never see if you didn’t come here.”