Saturday, March 17, 2018

Boom or bust: Reggie McKenzie's draft record with the Raiders

Reggie McKenzie, right, became Raiders general manager in 2012. Photo by Bob Carr Photography; used with permission.
When Mark Davis took over the Oakland Raiders after the death of his father, his first major act was to hire former Raiders linebacker Reggie McKenzie away from the Green Bay Packers' front office to be the Raiders' first-ever general manager.

Since taking over in January 2012, McKenzie - who had been the Packers' director of football operations, made his name in Wisconsin in the player personnel department, spending more than a decade as director of player personnel before his promotion in 2008.

With the 2018 NFL Draft approaching, McKenzie has overseen six drafts during his tenure in Silver & Black. Now, with the hire of Jon Gruden as head coach - the fourth head coach since McKenzie took over as GM and fired head coach Hue Jackson - there is speculation about how power will be shared in the front office. But McKenzie's reputation is as a scout, while Gruden's is, of course, as an offensive guru.

But how has McKenzie really fared in Oakland's 2012-17 drafts? On the upside, his 2014 Draft was one of the best in Raiders' history, without a doubt. And, to be fair, his first draft was hamstrung by Jackson's maneuvering during the 2011 season in the wake of Al Davis' death as he tried to get the Raiders to the playoffs and secure his own future (failing on both counts).

McKenzie has been aided throughout his tenure by his own director of player personnel, Joey Clinkscales, and his director of college scouting, Shaun Herock. In addition, he has turned over a big chunk of the team's scouting staff (the subject of a failed lawsuit by two ousted front office executives).

Has all that Green Bay-style effort paid off for the Silver & Black? Let's look at each year of Reggie McKenzie's drafting as GM of the Oakland Raiders, including notable college free agents signed after the draft.

(Note that this post looks at McKenzie's drafting in a vacuum; he has been rightly criticized for both churning through head coaches and some dubious free-agent signings, particularly at cornerback.)

These are McKenzie's picks, broken down by draft year, draft round, overall selection and how many years they suited up for the Raiders.

2012 NFL Draft

3/95: Tony Bergstrom, G, Utah (2012-15)
4/129: Miles Burris, LB, San Diego State (2012-14)
5a/158: Jack Crawford, DE, Penn State (2012-13)
5b/168: Juron Criner, WR, Arizona (2012-13)
6/189: Christo Bilukidi, DT, Georgia State (2012-13)
7/230: Nathan Stupar, LB, Penn State
CFA: Kaelin Burnett, LB, Nevada (2012-13)
CFA: Marquette King, P, Fort Valley State (2013-present)
CFA: Lucas Nix, OG, Pittsburgh (2012-13)
CFA: Rod Streater, WR, Temple (2012-15)

Analysis: McKenzie was infamously limited in his first draft, as he was left without a pick until the very end of the third round (a compensatory selection). But only four players from the six-man draft class and college free agent crop lasted more than two seasons, and only one remains with the team, six years later. The most successful member of the Class of 2012 was actually the free agent punter King, who missed his rookie year on Injured Reserve, but has since established himself as the latest in a tradition of great Raider punters. Bergstrom, the top pick, was an oft-injured reserve lineman for four seasons before leaving Oakland. Free agent Rod Streater, who also spent four years in Oakland, caught 99 balls his first two seasons, leading the team with 60 catches in 2013, before his career was derailed by injuries and he was passed on the depth chart. Linebacker Miles Burris was a starting linebacker on some bad Dennis Allen teams, but was unceremoniously released when Jack Del Rio took over as head coach. Among the draft picks, five of six made the team as rookies, and even the one who was cut, Nathan Stupar, found a home elsewhere.

2013 NFL Draft

1/12: D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston (2013-16)
2/42: Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State (2013-16)
3/66: Sio Moore, LB, Connecticut (2013-14)
4/112: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
6a/172: Nick Kasa, TE, Colorado (2013)
6b/181: Latavius Murray, RB, Central Florida (2014-16)
6c/184: Mychal Rivera, TE, Tennessee (2013-2016)
6d/205: Stacy McGee, DT, Oklahoma (2013-16)
7a/209: Brice Butler, WR, San Diego State (2013-14)
7b/233: David Bass, DE, Missouri Western State
CFA: Greg Jenkins, WR, Alabama State (2013)
CFA: Shelton Johnson, S, Wisconsin (2013)
CFA: Brian Leonhardt, TE, Bemidji State (2014)
CFA: Lamar Mady, OG, Youngstown State (2013)
CFA: Matt McGloin, QB, Penn State (2013-16)
CFA: Ryan Robinson, DE, Oklahoma State (2013)

Analysis: After the free agency period of 2016-17, not a single member of the Class of 2013 remained with the Raiders. All six remaining players left as unrestricted free agents that offseason, and the Raiders didn't seem to mind losing any of them. The top pick, Hayden, never lived up to his first-round status, done in by injuries and ineffectiveness over four years with the team. The second-round pick, Watson, likewise struggled to stay healthy. Third-rounder Moore flashed his first two years, but like Burris from 2012, ran afoul of the new Del Rio regime and was traded away before the 2015 season. Wilson, the fourth-rounder, was a complete flop and one of only two draft picks (with Bass, beaten out by the free agent Robinson) who failed to make the team, hanging around a bit on the practice squad as a rookie before being cut loose. The best players from the class were sleepers, at Murray (sixth round) became a workhorse running back before landing a big free-agent deal with the Minnesota Vikings, while Rivera and McGee (also sixth-rounders) contributed sporadically and McGloin (a free agent) was a sometime-starter at quarterback as a rookie and hung around as a backup for several years. All left as free agents during the 2016-17 offseason.

2014 NFL Draft

1/5: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo (2014-present)
2/36: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (2014-present)
3/81: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State (2014-present)
4a/107: Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech (2014-present)
4b/116: Keith McGill, CB, Utah (2014-17)
7a/219: T.J. Carrie, CB, Ohio (2014-17)
7b/235: Shelby Harris, DE, Illinois State (2014-15)
7c/247: Jonathan Dowling, S, Western Kentucky (2014)
CFA: George Atkinson III, RB, Notre Dame (2014)
CFA: Denico Autry, DE, Mississippi State (2014-17)
CFA: Seth Roberts, WR, West Alabama (2015-present)
CFA: Scott Simonson, TE, Assumption (2014)

Analysis: This is McKenzie's signature class, with Pro Bowl players and solid starters nearly from top to bottom. Mack is a future Hall of Famer, playing as both a pass-rushing end and standup linebacker. Carr won the starting quarterback job from Week 1 and has become a star, despite battling injuries and taking a step back from a near-MVP season in 2016 to an up-and-down 2017. Jackson is a mauler of an interior lineman, starting at left guard as a rookie then moving to right guard, and is on the verge of the Pro Bowl himself. Ellis has been a rock on the interior line, primarily as a two-down starter. And, after a year on the practice squad, the undrafted Roberts has become the Raiders' third receiver, though, like most of the team, he backslid in 2017. Carrie was an adequate to solid part-time starter and punt returner - not a bad return on a seventh-round pick - before signing a nice free agent deal with the Cleveland Browns in the 2017-18 offseason. Autry, a college free agent who became a solid rotational lineman, also got a free-agent deal during this offseason. McGill, mostly a special-teamer, appears likely to leave this offseason as a free agent, as well. Every draft pick played for the Raiders in some form as a rookie, a first for a McKenzie draft.

2015 NFL Draft

1/4: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama (2015-present)
2/35: Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State (2015-present)
3/68: Clive Walford, TE, Miami (Fla.) (2015-present)
4/128: Jon Feliciano, OG/C, Miami (Fla.) (2015-present)
5a/140: Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas ((2015-16)
5b/161: Neiron Ball, LB, Florida (2015)
6/179: Max Valles, DE, Virginia
7a/218: Anthony Morris, OT, Tennessee State
7b/221: Andre DeBose, WR, Florida
7c/242: Dexter McDonald, CB, Kansas (2015-present)
CFA: Tevin McDonald, S, Eastern Washington (2015)
CFA: Leon Orr, DT, Florida (2015)

Analysis: The jury is out on the injury-plagued Class of 2015 after three seasons, though Cooper looked like a superstar in the making over his first two seasons despite some nagging injuries. He suffered through a disappointing 2017, though he was certainly not alone on the team in that regard. Edwards has battled some serious injuries, but has shown potential and started when healthy. Walford, too, has shown potential, but was slowed by an offseason ATVing injury before the 2016 season. Feliciano has been a solid reserve as an interior lineman, and Dexter McDonald has hung around as a fourth cornerback, mostly playing when others have been hurt. Among those no longer with the team, Heeney showed flashes of starting potential before injuries ruined his career. The other linebacker chosen in the fifth round, Ball, suffered the same fate, as did DeBose, a seventh-rounder who suffered a season-ending injury in his first rookie minicamp and never made it back. Valles, the youngest player on the team as a rookie, was on the practice squad most of the season before he was snatched up by the Buffalo Bills late in the season, while Morris failed to make the team out of camp.

2016 NFL Draft

1/14: Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia (2016-present)
2/44: Jihad Ward, DL, Illinois (2016-present)
3/75: Shilique Calhoun, LB, Michigan State (2016-present)
4/100: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State (2016-present)
5/143: DeAndre Washington, RB, Texas Tech (2016-present)
6/194: Cory James, LB, Colorado State (2016-present)
7/234: Vadal Alexander, OG, LSU (2016-present)
CFA: James Cowser, LB/DE, Southern Utah (2016-present)
CFA: Antonio Hamilton, CB, South Carolina State (2016-present)
CFA: Johnny Holton, WR, Cincinnati (2016-present)
CFA: Branden Jackson, DL, Texas Tech (2016)
CFA: Denver Kirkland, OG, Arkansas (2016-present)
CFA: Darius Latham, DT, Indiana (2016-present)
CFA: Ryan O'Malley, TE, Pennsylvania (2016)
CFA: Jalen Richard, RB, Southern Mississippi (2016-present)

Analysis: Most of the members of the Class of 2016 are still around two years later, but more are in jeopardy of losing their roster spots than could be considered established players. Only Joseph, the top pick, could be considered secure, starting at strong safety since early in his rookie season. Washington, the fifth-rounder, and the similarly built (short and squat) free agent Richard have been the other key contributors from 2016 as the Raiders' No. 2 and 3 running backs for two years, usually as a speedy change-of-pace to bigger backs (Murray in 2016 and Marshawn Lynch in 2017). Ward, who started the first 13 weeks of his rookie season, has steadily lost playing time since then, to the point of becoming a health scratch most weeks. Calhoun didn't even make the team out of training camp as a sophomore, but fought his way back from the practice squad to the 53-man roster by year-end. Still, as a third-rounder, he is a clear disappointment and will move into outright bust territory if he is cut again in 2018. Fellow Michigan State alumnus Cook infamously started the Raiders' lone playoff game as a rookie after Carr and McGloin were injured late in the year, but flopped in the Wild Card loss and didn't see the field as the No. 3 quarterback in 2017. Two late-rounders have found more success: James has been a sometime starter at linebacker, while Alexander has been a solid reserve offensive lineman and extra tight end. Cowser and Holton are mostly special-teamers, but have shown flashes as a pass-rusher and deep threat, respectively. Hamilton and Latham are also special-teamers and deep reserves, while Kirkland got some time as a blocking tight end in 2016 before missing 2017 with an injury.

2017 NFL Draft

1/24: Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State (2017-present)
2/56: Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut (2017-present)
3/88: Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA (2017-present)
4/129: David Sharpe, OT, Florida (2017-present)
5/168: Marquel Lee, LB, Wake Forest (2017-present)
7a/221: Shalom Luani, S, Washington State (2017-present)
7b/231: Jylan Ware, OT, Alabama State (2017-present)
7c/242: Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina (2017-present)
7d/244: Treyvon Hester, DT, Toledo (2017-present)
CFA: Pharaoh Brown, TE, Oregon (2017-present)
CFA: Nicholas Morrow, LB, Greenville (2017-present)
CFA: Isaac Whitney, WR, USC (2017-present)
CFA: Xavier Woodson-Luster, LB, Arkansas State (2017)

Analysis: After one season, it's tough to judge this class, but the early returns were not great. Both top picks, Conley and Melifonwu, missed most of their rookie seasons due to injury, playing in barely a half-dozen games combined. They showed potential in those games, but the second year is awfully early in a career to be sitting in a make-or-break situation. Vanderdoes was the lone member of the draft class to get much playing time, starting most of the season as an interior lineman - and failing to rack up any meaningful statistics - before getting hurt late. The biggest surprise of the year was the undrafted Morrow, who made the opening-day roster out of Division III Greenville and ended the year as a coverage linebacker and sometime starter. Lee opened the season as the starter at middle linebacker, but wasn't ready for the spot, leading to the signing of veteran free agent NaVorro Bowman. Among the later picks, Hester was a minor member of the defensive line rotation and Luani was a special-teamer, while Sharpe and Ware were mostly healthy scratches on the lines. Among the draft picks, only Hood failed to make the team out of camp, but he did stick around on the practice squad as the fourth running back, and even got into one game when Lynch was suspended. Woodson-Luster spent most of the year on special teams, but was cut late in the year after some cringe-inducing gaffes, while Brown and Whitney were late-season practice squad call-ups.

Overall: McKenzie can certainly be proud of his Class of 2014, one of the best draft classes in Raiders history. But, even accounting for the extenuating circumstances limiting the Class of 2012 and the too-soon-to-judge, injury-plagued Class of 2017, the rest of his draft record has not been anything to write home about. Over the five non-2014 classes, only one player, Cooper, has established himself as a legitimate top-quality player, and only a few others, like Joseph and the since-departed Murray, have even established themselves as regular starters. The entire Class of 2013 was gone after a measly four years, and what should be a group in its prime as Silver & Black starters is instead on the verge of becoming a distant memory. McKenzie has been adept at finding late-round and free agent contributors, including the running-back duo of Washington and Richard, but his early-round picks have not fared particularly well. Second- and third-rounders should be cornerstones, and not question marks. Instead, players like Watson, Moore, Edwards, Walford, Ward and Calhoun are either long gone, on the verge of being gone or relative nonfactors. The fourth round has been a wasteland, as well, though perhaps new head coach Jon Gruden, a noted quarterback guru, can turn Cook's career around. Given the Raiders' record during McKenzie's tenure (one winning season out of six), even some of the more successful players, like Burris or Rivera, could be seen as a merely "starters on a bad team." All in all, it's a surprisingly poor draft record for a GM with a reputation for player evaluation, and doesn't bode well for that Top 10 pick in 2018.

Sources: Raiders media guides and website

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