Jack Del Rio was Raiders head coach just a few months heading into last year’s NFL Draft. He was still adjusting to a new position and power players there before his arrival.
That transition proved remarkably smooth.
General manager Reggie McKenzie and most top aides had been in Oakland since 2012. Del Rio and staff were new kids on the block, but there was no turf war over talent acquisition. The personnel department welcomed input with open ears.
That’s relatively new for the franchise. Late owner/personnel guru Al Davis generally ran the draft without help from the coaching staff. Things changed when McKenzie took over, though former head coach Dennis Allen didn’t have as audible a voice as Del Rio’s.
Even last year, when McKenzie and Del Rio were getting to know each other, it was clear the two shared similar philosophies. They like building from the lines on out. They like big, aggressive players with strong work ethic. They’ll pass on most players who rock the boat, and take calculated risks on others.
They don’t always share opinions, but the dialogue remains free and clear.
“I appreciate the collaborative effort,” Del Rio said. “We’ve talked from Day 1 about having a unified front and making sure that we value all the input that we get from coaches and scouts and all the work that goes into preparing for the draft.
“I’ve continued to feel really good about how we work at it, the work that goes in and the dedication of the guys that help gather all this information. It’s a tremendous amount of information that we pour through. It makes, I think, for a good process and one where you can be effective.”
Scouts do most of the leg work, evaluating college players in person and on tape throughout the year. Coaches enter late, catching up during from the NFL Scouting Combine forward. They offer input and, if last year was any case, it’s generally well received.
Make no mistake. McKenzie pulls the trigger and has final say during the NFL Draft, a three-day even that begins on Thursday evening.
Others, however, have strong influence.
Coaching opinions could reinforce some decisions or push a player over the top. Second-round pick Mario Edwards Jr. came from Florida State, where Raiders linebackers coach Sal Sunseri was defensive ends coach the previous two seasons. The Raiders took two players from Miami. They had first-hand insight from defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, who was with the Hurricanes the previous year. Del Rio had a contact from his playing days who recommended Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney, whom the Raiders make a fifth-round pick.
Most of those selections proved successful.
Del Rio and McKenzie made for good draft partners last year, and built upon it moving forward.
“It’s throughout the year,” Del Rio said. “This happens to be during the draft about draft issues, but it’s throughout the years in terms of knowing our roster, talking our roster, sharing information.”
Having similar opinions on roster construction forged a strong partnership they hope helps produce another quality draft.
“We have a good feel for each other,” McKenzie said. “We like a whole lot of the same things. It makes it a whole lot easier.”