Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie did something during Saturday’s portion of the NFL Draft he’d never done before.
“Can you believe I traded up?” he said after his fifth Raiders draft was complete.
The question was rhetorical. The answer, had one been given, was no. Can’t believe the Raiders exchanged fourth round picks with Cleveland and gave up a fifth-rounder to select someone who, if all goes as planned, won’t take a meaningful snap in 2016? Or 2017, or 2018 for that matter.
The Raiders added Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook to a team with 25-year old Pro Bowler Derek Carr atop the depth chart and respected backup Matt McGloin just below.
The Raiders' roster is better stocked than years past and can certainly afford to draft for depth. There are significant holes on the depth chart a fourth round pick could’ve occupied and maybe made the 2016 product a little better.
The value for Cook, predicted by some as a first-round pick, was too great at the No. 100 overall selection. McKenzie jumped up and got his man.
“It’s a situation that you look at the board, and it was a good player that we still had up there,” McKenzie said. “It was a great opportunity for us to explore trying to get up there. We found a partner and we made the deal. He’s a good player. We just felt like he was too good of a player not to try.”
While this isn’t a full-blown breakdown of the Cook selection, let’s address one point. Backup quarterbacks are invaluable in trade or a situation where a starter gets hurt. This is likely McGloin’s last year in Oakland, with unrestricted free agency looming and an ever-growing price tag for reserve signal callers.
The Cook selection proves a greater point, that McKenzie’s drafts are forward thinking. He strengthened a position group for the present and future, even if it wasn’t an immediate team need. The personnel department is trying to forecast issues and solve problems before they arise.
“You really don’t want to draft for one year,” McKenzie said. “You want to make sure whoever you draft is going to help you for the duration. So, I really do not want to draft for the immediate need. Now, I’ll take a shot in the seventh round when we need a returner or something that’s going to satisfy something quickly.”
McKenzie doesn’t want a one-year fix, but he’s always looking for an immediate impact. That has happened several times over the past few seasons, with Carr, Khalil Mack, Gabe Jackson, TJ Carrie and Justin Ellis.
“We still want that quick-need fix to turn into a long-term fix,” McKenzie said. “The intent is to always look long term. When he gets on the field, it’s up to him. But we want the guy to be here for a while.”
Some players take time to develop down the depth chart. That was the case with guard Jon Feliciano and, to a smaller extent, tight end Clive Walford. That could be the case for second-round defensive lineman Jihad Ward, who is relatively inexperienced at the position. The Raiders have depth on the interior, and can afford to bring him along and generate a bigger payoff down the road.
With players like Ward, early expectations remain high.
“He’s raw, but I don’t want him to take a redshirt year,” McKenzie said. “Our coaches are going to coach him up and we expect him to play. As far as taking chances, as far as the philosophy of it, that wasn’t the intent – not at all. We were trying to get some guys who we felt like could help us in 2016.”
Immediate expectations are high for first round safety Karl Joseph, third-round edge rusher Shilique Calhoun and fifth-round running back DeAndre Washington to contribute heavily right away as a starter or rotational player.
The Raiders feel they added a proper combination of immediate and future need, without betraying a draft board assembled with great care. It doesn’t always go down a 2016 need checklist – no cornerbacks were added on draft day, a mild surprise – and the Raiders will continue to conduct draft operations with an eye on the horizon.
“We still have a lot of work to do on our football team,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said Friday, after the NFL Draft’s first three rounds. “There’s a lot of opportunity to better ourselves and we’re going to continue to work at it any way we can. I think for us, the hype surrounding where we are and where we see ourselves as a football team may be in two different places, but we see a lot of work in front of us and opportunity to make it much more competitive at many spots on the roster. That’s really in all three phases.”