Raiders expect high-risk draft class to boom, not bust


The Raiders draft class is loaded with top athletes. It also contains plenty of risk.

Head coach/shot caller Jon Gruden understands that. General manager Reggie McKenzie does, too.

They think the group will boom, not bust.


Resources, they believe, are in place to maximize drafted talent. They trust background checks that show health issues and off-field mistakes can be managed.

Gruden believes his assistants can develop offensive tackle Kolton Miller and receiver Marcell Ateman and help small-school defensive tackle PJ Hall and offensive tackle Brandon Parker compete against top talent. McKenzie trusts medical reports saying defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and cornerback Nick Nelson will be healthy enough to contribute. Raiders brass trusts their player engagement department can help edge rusher Arden Key, linebacker Azeem Victor and veteran receiver Martavis Bryant follow a proper path.

Punter Johnny Townsend might be the cleanest pick of the bunch. The rest of them, however, contain elements of risk.

“When you say risky business, you’re talking about medical and a couple of character issues,” McKenzie said. “On the medical deal, we’re not going to, unless our medical people flat out rejects a guy, we’re not going to flunk them. If they feel like they can play this year, we’re going to pass them. If they’re going to be well at a certain point, we’re going to keep them on the board. If it’s something that will prevent them from playing forever, then we’ll take them off the board.

“As far as character, we’re not going to condemn these kids for mistakes. We’re not going to lower our standards. Ever. But we feel like we have a great system in place to help guys who have fallen. If they’re willing to stand up, own it and get better within themselves, we’re going to give them a shot. We’re going to hold them accountable and this staff is going to do a great job of holding them accountable and helping them.”

The Raiders draft gets dissected in great detail because it was Jon Gruden’s first back in charge. McKenzie played a vital role in the draft, but the new head coach had final say. His imprint is on the class and could turn out well.

It’s a score if Miller or Parker becomes a long-term solution at left tackle. If Key can find old form in Oakland, they got a third-round steal. If Nelson’s knee heals right and Hurst’s heart condition proves inconsequential through yearly exams – it didn’t cause a problem in college – the Raiders could have two immediate impact defensive players from Day 3.

That’s a best-case scenario. Key said he’s a “top 5 (draft pick) – automatic” without off-field problems. Nelson said he was a first or second round pick without a recently injured meniscus. Those guys, and Hurst, could prove valuable late-round picks. The Raiders don’t have to hit on all of them. A series of standouts would be enough to consider the week a success, and that’s certainly possible considering this collection of raw talent.

If guys struggle to develop, stay healthy or out of trouble, this draft class could fall in line with recent misfires.

Others don’t think the selections were risky or invaluable in a specific draft slot, including those in front of microphones and cameras.

“I don’t really hear all the skeptics,” Gruden said after the draft’s first three rounds, the last time he was available to the press. “I have a cell phone too that works. I got a lot of coaches and friends in the NFL that are ecstatic about the picks that we made. And I apologize to people that don’t like our picks and that are skeptical and I also realize we have to prove that we did the right thing.”

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