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Lessons Learned from Oakland Raiders', Reggie McKenzie's 2012 Draft Strategy

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Lessons Learned from Oakland Raiders', Reggie McKenzie's 2012 Draft Strategy
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No NFL team experienced a more dramatic changing of the guard in the last year than the Oakland Raiders. After the passing of Al Davis, quite possibly the most hands-on owner in the league, the Raiders let Hue Jackson have the reins just long enough to trade away their 2012 first-round pick and 2013 second-round pick for Carson Palmer. The team had already used their second, third, and fourth-round picks in trades and the 2011 supplemental draft. New general manager Reggie McKenzie only had a knife at the gunfight that was the 2012 NFL Draft, but he wasn't going to shy away from the task at hand. What can we conclude about his and the Raiders' new philosophy in light of the picks and moves they made?

Round Pick Player Position School
3 95 Tony Bergstrom OL Utah
4 129 Miles Burris LB San Diego State
5 158 Jack Crawford DL Penn State
5 168 Juron Criner WR Arizona
6 189 Christo Bilukidi DE Georgia State
7 230 Nathan Stupar LB Penn State

The Raiders are no longer going to be obsessed with speed.

McKenzie hinted at this before the draft, saying "We're not looking for guys that just run fast." He doesn't need to focus on speed because Al Davis's fixation on 40 times has the team stocked with speed all over the field.

The moving on from the need for speed was best shown by the choice of Criner, a big wide receiver who fell to the fifth round because he runs in the 4.6s. McKenzie said Criner is quick for a big guy, which meant the lack of speed wasn't a "red flag".

McKenzie wants to draft players who remind him of himself, which means smart, tough, hard-working players over special athletes.

McKenzie told Cohn Zohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that he wants to draft players who are like him. When asked why, this was his answer (emphasis mine):

The qualities I thought I brought to the table were – this is just outside of numbers – my football intelligence, instincts were good. I thought my ability to learn was really good. I thought my work ethic, my toughness were good. From a physical standpoint, I thought I was a power player. I played with good strength. I played the game physical. I thought I was an above average athlete in regards to speed, quickness, explosiveness. I was better than average but I don’t think I was special in speed, quickness, even size. I was just solid 6-2, 244 pound linebacker. I wasn’t nothing special when you see a 6-3, 6-4, 255 that runs 4.5. I wasn’t one of those guys. 

It's no coincidence that fourth-rounder Miles Burris is a 6'2" 246 linebacker who ran a 4.67 40 at his pro day. Head coach Dennis Allen's description of Burris after the draft?

"I think he is a tough, physical player that has got good athletic skill (and) has instincts for the game"

McKenzie likes players with a basketball background, and he likes religious players.

The Associated Press was all over this after the draft. Fifth-rounder Jack Crawford and sixth-rounder Christo Bilukidi both had basketball in their past. Crawford moved from England to the United States to play basketball in high school. Bilukidi was a basketball player who only took up football in his last year of high school.

McKenzie told the AP that they don't specifically look for basketball players, but the Raiders do take note of it in the scouting process because "It helps when you talk about how athletic especially big men are". The GM admitted that basketball doesn't move a player higher on their board, but the results of the draft make it hard to deny that he is drawn to players who have hoops in their past.

When asked about the fact that almost every player drafted professed a strong faith or strong role of Christianity in their life, McKenzie similarly said that while they didn't look for that specifically, it often went hand-in-hand with high character. McKenzie again used himself as a reference for this idea and stated that "good, quality players have a strong foundation in their faith."

The Raiders don't believe the best talent is limited to BCS programs.

Of their six picks, only three came from the big six BCS conferences. Bilukidi was the first player ever drafted from Georgia State. When asked about Bilukidi after the draft, McKenzie said "it's not his fault who he plays against", and that the fact he dominated at his level was what they were looking for. Flashy programs will have as little sway in the Raiders' war room as flashy measureables.

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