HENDERSON, Nev. -- In Mike Mayock's first "real" draft as the Raiders general manager in 2019, after years of mocking and evaluating for NFL Network, his initial pick came at No. 4 overall.
Say what you will about Clelin Ferrell, but the Raiders did use the selection on a real and specific need at defensive end.
As pending Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Tom Flores has said, there is a fine line between drafting for a specific need and drafting the best player available. Because if you're drafting in, say, the top 10, you have needs all over the roster.
So here sit the Raiders and Mayock on a decidedly nondescript pick in the middle of no-man's land -- No. 17 overall. Yeah, the Raiders have needs, specifically right tackle and free safety, that could be addressed (the Raiders' second selection is not until No. 48). But Las Vegas, like 31 other teams, would really like to find a draft pick that could step in and not only start right away, but make a difference.
So how does picking in the middle of the first round affect that draft-for-a-specific-need vs. draft-the-best-player-available dichotomy?
"Depending on how you set it up in advance and then how the board starts to fall away, obviously, the further you are away from No. 1, the more multiplication and different numbers come into play," Mayock said on a recent Zoom call with reporters. "At 17, you're sitting there and you're going, 'OK, I think the board is going to fall a certain way. And how are we going to react if it doesn't fall that way? Is there a way to get out? Is there a way to go back?'
"A lot of GMs around the league are making calls right now -- 'Hey, you a willing partner, what do you think?' Conversely, if you're sitting at 17 and a guy you think is going to 8-10 or 12, somebody who you really like that fits what you do, starts to slide a little bit, you've got to be willing to say, 'Are we willing to take the chance to give up some draft capital to go get a specific guy?'"
"I've said this before -- you have to be nimble," Mayock said. "You have to be willing to go either way. And as the draft develops, make those decisions."
In two drafts, though, Mayock and the Raiders have stood pat with their first-rounders. He has made his hay in later rounds with trades.
To be fair, Mayock inherited three first-round selections in 2019 -- No. 4 (Ferrell), No. 24 (Josh Jacobs, from the Khalil Mack trade) and No. 27 (Johnathan Abram, from the Amari Cooper trade) -- and two first rounders in 2020 -- No. 12 (Ruggs) and No. 19 (Damon Arnette, from the Mack trade).
So yeah, this is the first time Mayock does not have multiple first-round selections. And maybe, just maybe, he wasn't playing with smoke and mirrors by inferring the Raiders could trade up, or back, from No. 17.
Because this much is true: the Raiders, after reshuffling their offensive line by trading away center Rodney Hudson, right guard Gabe Jackson and right tackle Trent Brown this offseason, are in dire need of a plug-and-play right tackle to bookend with the recently extended left tackle in Kolton Miller -- especially if Denzelle Good stays at guard rather than right tackle, and the Raiders move on from Brandon Parker. And the top three tackle prospects -- Oregon's Penei Sewell, Northwestern's Rashawn Slater and Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw -- all figure to be gone by No. 17.
As former Raiders All-Pro right tackle Lincoln Kennedy said, this is a deep draft for tackles, even if the position is a tad top-heavy.
"The great thing is, with all the frenzy over the quarterbacks, a top-tier tackle can be found in the second or third round," said Kennedy, who is also on the Raiders' radio broadcast. "After that frenzy, one of those guys can fall in your lap, and if they were primarily left tackles, they can move to the right. Or, you can move up to get Slater or Darrisaw. Sewell will be gone early."
Or do they go best defensive player available -- Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore (the Raiders already have 13 defensive linemen on the roster)? TCU safety Trevon Moehrig (Karl Joseph was just re-signed)? What if Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and his baggage fall? Then they could grab a tackle at No. 48 -- North Dakota State's Dillon Radunz? Texas' Samuel Cosmi? Then again, that might fly in the face of drafting said plug-and-play right tackle.
But Kennedy, who played for coach Jon Gruden from 1998 through 2001, said Gruden's system is conducive for a young tackle with the chip blocks and tight end help ... so long as said tackle is a "road grader." As such, Kennedy also has an eye on the likes of Alabama's Alex Leatherwood, Clemson's Jackson Carman (the Raiders do like Alabama and Clemson players) and Notre Dame's Liam Eichenberg.
"There are enough smart guys that can will be available later [than No. 17]," Kennedy said, "that can still plug and play in Gruden's system."
Again, it all depends upon how the Raiders have their board set up.
"You ask me about right tackle, we've got a guy named Jaryd Jones-Smith who we signed off the street last [year] who we think has a chance to be a really good football player," Mayock said. "Kind of excited about him.
"Obviously, in free agency, whether it's the quote, 'normal free agency period' or what you've done on the street the prior year, you're trying to set yourself up in the draft so that you can take the best player that you can take. We're very aware of our needs. Obviously when the needs fit up with where you are in the draft board, that's awesome. When they don't, you have to be a little careful."
It's an unusual draft for more reasons than one, but this much is true -- despite the ho-hum positioning of the pick, the Raiders need to nail it.