The Oakland Raiders braintrust will know by late Saturday evening if they were able to successfully execute their master plan for the 2013 draft. Or not. Trying to come up with a successful blueprint for the Raiders is a challenge due to some of the current limitations that are haunting the team.
Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie comes into this draft without the benefit of either a second-round or fifth-round draft pick. What McKenzie does have to work with is a total of eight draft picks. They have three picks in the top 100, at No. 3, 66 and 100. Then they have five picks spread over the final two rounds of the draft, at No. 172, 176, 205, 209 and 219 overall.
For the 2013 draft to be successful for Oakland, it has to nail three different agendas. If the Raiders can do that, then under the circumstances, you would have to consider this to be a successful draft. Let's look at these three key areas in a little more detail.
Three Keys for Raiders to have a Successful Draft
1. How does the Raiders handle the pick at No. 3 overall?
After the Kansas City Chiefs are announced to be on the clock, the Raiders will soon have a big decision to make. Do they wind up using their pick at No. 3 to select a key player for the future of the team (think blue-chip player), or do they agree to move down in the first round to pick up other important draft picks?
You have to believe that if Oakland does trade down out of the No. 3 position, that they would only drop down to the point that they will still be landing an impact player. They can't afford to botch that pick, because without knowing what they will receive in a trade, they aren't due to be back up again until the No. 66 pick, which is a long time to wait.
In an article that came out on the eve of the draft, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport projected that out of all the top-10 teams that have a possible interest in trading down, the most likely team would be Oakland.
Speaking of trading down, there was a Twitter update from Darren Connolly IV that said Oakland was in talks with Atlanta. The potential trade could involve players and Oakland's No. 3 overall pick. It could very well be just more draft noise, as this is the peak of what the NFL refers to as "lying season."
2. How Well Did the Scouting Department Do in Rounds 6 and 7?
Based on the realization that the Raiders had to gut their roster of expensive starters, the team right now is in need of young and cheap talent. That is where the five draft picks in Rounds 6 and 7 come in to play. The majority of those picks could be asked to take on a meaningful role in 2013. So, if the scouting department did a solid job, you will see that effort reflected in who they select from No. 172 to 219.
If most of these day three picks turn out to be flops, that would be a direct reflection on the scouting department.
3. Finding Those Hidden Gems After the Draft Ends
That time period immediately after the draft ends and teams begin scrambling to sign the best remaining options from the pool of undrafted rookie free agents (URFAs) can be viewed as an extension of the Raiders' 2013 draft class. As we stated above on the second key, these rookies will also have a golden opportunity to make a NFL roster.
That by the way is a huge selling point for Oakland, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Raiders land a decent number of them.
Who Exactly Will the Raiders Draft with the No. 3 Overall Draft Pick?
Coming into Thursday night, there is still no clear-cut decision as to who Kansas City will draft with the first pick. It appears to be a close call between Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher. It literally could go either way, which will influence what happens right after. Another factor that will determine what happens is the potential Brandon Albert trade to Miami.
The Jaguars are another mystery team in this draft. They are also needing to address a wide array of holes on both sides of the ball, like the Raiders, so they are a wild card right now. They could take a tackle or grab the best defensive player on the board. If Jacksonville does go defense with this pick, then McKenzie's phone will be going crazy. Teams will be making a pitch to move up and take whichever tackle that Kansas City passed on.
However, if the Jaguars take either Joeckel or Fisher, then that changes things dramatically. The Philadelphia Eagles are thought to be ready to snare Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson with their pick at No. 4 because his athleticism would fit so well with Chip Kelly's offense.
So, that leaves every defensive player that is left on the board for Oakland to choose from. The one thing that McKenzie has offered up is that he wants to focus on drafting clean players. Character will be an important factor going forward, which is no doubt a cultural change for the franchise. Minimizing risk is another goal that McKenzie will be mindful of inside the Oakland war room.
The majority of mock drafts have been pegging Florida defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd to go to Oakland. He has been a disruptive force in college, frequently finding his way into the backfield to destroy plays before they can even begin.
With regards to the No. 3 pick, NFL draft insider Tony Pauline wrote that McKenzie will take the surest thing that remains on the board.
As for the options available, Oakland has their pick between Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei, Barkevious Mingo, Dee Milliner or Dion Jordan. Don't forget about Lane Johnson. So, they will have to rely on their draft grades they assigned and take the best player available.
Positions of Need to Address at the Draft
As things stand now, you could arguably make a case that roughly two-thirds of the Raiders' starting jobs are up for grabs. During the remaining rounds of the draft, whoever is the best player available at the time, combined with a position of need, would probably make the most sense for allowing the Raiders to be as competitive as possible in 2013.
The areas that could really use some help include the offensive line, corner, defensive tackle, linebacker and wide receiver. There are other needs but these appear to be the most glaring ones. The good news is that McKenzie won't have to worry about reaching in the draft to fill a team need.
Other keys for the draft are to start building up some roster depth and helping out the various special teams units. Depth will allow for greater competition in training camp as well as coping with injuries during the season.
Better to Draft a Blue-Chip Player or Add More Starters?
Obviously, most of the talent in this draft class will be found in those top 100 picks. But, with only three picks in the top 100 selections, the Raiders face a tough question right off the bat. How many true blue-chip prospects exist in this draft class? Once they have determined how many blue-chippers there are, then they have to address another key topic.
Is it more important to the franchise to draft one of the handful of blue-chippers, or be willing to trade down far enough in the first round to gain extra picks in the second and third round of the draft? Sure, they can add another starter by picking up the extra picks, but they would probably have to sacrifice the chance to add a blue-chip player in the process.
Those are hard questions to ask, but that is part of what is required to complete the overall blueprint or master strategy for the draft.
San Jose Mercury News writer Jerry McDonald wrote about this very topic. McDonald felt that the Raiders won't be actively pursuing trading out of the No. 3 slot, but they will certainly listen to offers. McDonald added:
Getting an additional pick or picks would fall in line with McKenzie's philosophy of building from within. Asked about the perception that the Raiders resemble an expansion team given their salary cap situation and roster, McKenzie didn't disagree but said, "To say we're just going to take our lumps and play ball, that's not the goal here. The goal here is to compete and win games."
One potential trade scenario was called into light by NFL draft insider Tony Pauline, who wrote that the Lions would probably have to offer up a third-round pick to move up two spots and then Oakland would draft from the No. 5 position. For the trade to work, Detroit would need to have either Joeckel or Fisher available.
Who knows, maybe the Raiders could even trade down further from the No. 5 pick and take advantage the depth of this draft class.
Whenever McKenzie's phone rings between now and the time the Raiders are on the clock, you know that he will do whatever is best for the team from a short-term and long-term perspective.
A Realistic Look at Why the Salary Cap Mess Is Wrecking the 2013 Season Before it Begins
The reason that the Raiders' 2013 draft class is so vital to not just the 2013 season, but for the near future of the organization is spelled out in this section.
When you have an opportunity, visit the Oakland Raiders team page at Spotrac.com. You will see the various salary cap hits and contract amounts for the 2013 roster. Then down at the bottom of the page you will see all kinds of numbers. That is the part we are interested in analyzing further.
Here is the breakdown. The NFL announced that the 2013 salary cap would be set at $123 million. The Raiders smartly had $4.5 million available from the 2012 salary cap that they were able to rollover into 2013. That bumps the 2013 cap total to slightly over $127 million. From that starting point, you then have to deduct a whopping $46.35 million due to dead money on the payroll. So, that leaves McKenzie and company a balance of $80.82 million to fill out the entire 2013 roster.
Accounting for the current Raiders that are under contract for 2013, Oakland has committed $74,383,555 million. That leaves a final balance of just $6,443,617 left to sign their 2013 draft class, the undrafted rookie free agents, and any final free agents that they want to add to the roster.
How Can the Raiders Judge if they Executed Their Master Plan or Not?
A) They were able to come away with more draft picks than they started with.That would be especially true if they wind up with more than three selections in the top 100 picks.
B) They stuck do their plans and convictions of trying to find players that had clean backgrounds while passing on people that have a history of making poor decisions off the field.
C) They addressed holes on all three phases of the team, giving them a chance to be more competitive in 2013 and beyond. Another indication is when the Raiders open up training camp. If they have a decent level of talent competing for starting jobs on all three phases of the team, then McKenzie and company passed the test.
That completes our overview on the complete blueprint for the Oakland Raiders' 2013 draft. Raiders fans are encouraged to leave their thoughts leading up to the draft and then again after the Raiders make their selections.
Thanks for checking out the presentation. Follow me on Twitter: @DanVanWie