Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock acknowledged Thursday that he was aware the selection of Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft would raise some eyebrows.
According to Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Mayock said of the pick: "We knew it would be controversial. We completely understand that."
Mayock went on to explain the rationale of the decision, citing the endorsements from offensive line coach Tom Cable and head coach Jon Gruden:
"Coach Cable has been all over him for months now. Gruden loved this guy. Our scouts loved this guy. And what I like is, when the second floor in our building, which is all the coaches, and the third floor, which is all the scouts, when we're united on a conversation like Leatherwood, that makes me feel really good about the pick."
Leatherwood was widely expected to be a second-round pick entering the draft, and he went ahead of several offensive tackles who were rated higher than him on the boards of many draft experts: Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw, Oklahoma State's Teven Jenkins, Michigan's Jalen Mayfield, Notre Dame's Liam Eichenberg and North Dakota State's Dillon Radunz.
The Raiders had a clear need along the offensive line after trading right tackle Trent Brown, center Rodney Hudson and right guard Gabe Jackson this offseason, and the selection of Leatherwood did address it.
Now, the focus will shift toward whether the 6'5", 312-pound Leatherwood can live up to his unexpectedly lofty draft status.
Since Mayock and Gruden took the reins for the Raiders in 2018, they haven't been afraid to go against conventional wisdom during the draft.
It can be argued that their approach hasn't been a successful one thus far, as the Raiders have yet to reach the playoffs during the Mayock-Gruden era.
In the duo's first draft, the Raiders took Clemson pass-rusher Clelin Ferrell fourth overall in 2019, which was much higher than anticipated. In 26 games over two seasons, he has just 6.5 sacks.
Las Vegas also seemed to reach with its first-round picks last year, as 12th overall selection Henry Ruggs III finished with just 26 receptions for 452 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, while cornerback Damon Arnette, who went 19th overall, played in just nine games and didn't have an interception.
The Raiders seem to be stuck in the purgatory of having a record around .500, meaning they haven't been good enough to make the playoffs or bad enough to have high draft picks over the past couple of years.
Mayock and Gruden haven't done enough in the draft to get the Raiders out of that cycle, and if they fail to hit on Leatherwood, it isn't outside the realm of possibility that it could be the move that ultimately costs them their jobs.