Gruden, Mayock think they gambled, won with Raiders NFL draft picks

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ALAMDEDA, Calif. —The headlines on the Raiders in the last week or so are all Mayock-related. Scouts banned from the building. Mayockian … Clelin Ferrell over-draft at number four overall. Mayockian … Patience (I’ll explain). Mayockian … Makeup as important as talent, a scouting trait from the Belichick tree. Mayockian.

Now it’s Friday morning, the day after the Ferrell-Josh Jacobs-Johnathan Abram makeover, and I’m in the same chair in Mayock’s office that Gruden was in 24 hours earlier when just the two of them hatched the exact plan for their three-choice first round:

• At number four, try to trade down for value, but whether at four or as low as they’d like to risk going, 13 to Miami, be sure to procure Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell.

• At number 24, trust the board and the draft research. Know that Josh Jacobs was very likely to be there, and resist temptation to use draft capital to trade up.

 At number 27, be patient again and let Abram, the hard-hitting Mississippi State safety, fall to us. If he doesn’t, there will be options we like.

The phone never rang at four. Mayock and Gruden wished it had, but they never got a call. So they stayed there and picked a solid guy who won’t be the edge-rusher Josh Allen or Brian Burns will be; Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will take his leadership and practice habits and edge-setting and hope he can be an eight to 12-sack guy. No guarantee though. Ferrell at 13, with an extra first-rounder from 2020, would have been the dream; Ferrell at four, with no extra compensation, was acceptable.

Mayock had a chance to go to 16, Carolina’s slot, and ensure getting Jacobs. Nope. He thought Jacobs would last, and he didn’t want to sacrifice a good pick. A few minutes later, Mayock went to the draft board in the draft room on the second floor of the Raiders’ facility. He wrote down seven names in red marker. He said they’d have at least two left by the time they got to pick 24.

There were not two left then. There were four. And the two Gruden and Mayock wanted above all were Jacobs and Abram.

Interesting thing happened when the emotion of drafting Jacobs died down. Now it was pick 25. Baltimore on the clock. Ravens GM Eric DeCosta surely would have dropped down two spots for a fifth-round pick, knowing it was highly likely he’d get the same guy at 27 he could get at 25. Mayock wondered if they should make the trade. Gruden pushed. Mayock said he thought Abram would be there at 27; let’s sit. Mayock ignored the ringing phone, saw Marquise Brown and Montez Sweat go at 25 and 26, and then Gruden the Golden Retriever was back.

“Can I call? When can I call?”

Funny story about Abram. At the Senior Bowl, Gruden and the Raiders were coaching the North Team. Abram was on the South, but he was not playing because of a shoulder bruise. Abram’s a football junkie and he hung around the North practice, watching Gruden and his staff coach.

“Who the hell are you?” Gruden said the first day.

“Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State.”

“Number 38! Mississippi State! I am your biggest fan!” Gruden said.

Abram was at Gruden’s practice every day the rest of the week, just watching.

On Friday night, Gruden said: “I wanted the safety. I wanted this safety. Physical, tough, smart, loves football. I didn’t want just a safety. I think it’s hard to teach tackling now. They don’t practice it. You gotta find some guys that are really eager and interested in making tackles. This guy’s a throwback Raider safety. He reminds me of Jack Tatum and George Atkinson and Charles Woodson and some of the guys we’ve had walk through here. The middle of our defense, we need to strengthen that. Man, was I happy to get him.”

When Ferrell, Jacobs and Abram came into the facility Friday afternoon, it was easy to see why Gruden and Mayock zeroed in on them. Ferrell got emotional talking about being a leader on a storied franchise. Jacobs said he wanted to play special teams, just so he could be on the field more. Abram sounded like a guy who’d taken an overnight class in Silver And Black 101.

“This place … what a rich history, what a culture, what an honor to be part of this franchise,” Abram said. “But the Silver and Black’s in need of a rebirth. Lotta great things can happen here. Antonio Brown’s here. We got a franchise quarterback. We got Vegas around the corner. It’s an amazing time in the history of this place. And we get to write the new history.”

Now a day-two postscript. Raiders were due to pick third in the second round, 35th overall. When the day started, two of the Mayock’s seven red-markered players were still on the board. Great, Mayock and Gruden thought; we’ll probably get one of them at 35.

Both red guys were there at 35. Mayock gambled, trading from 35 to 38 with Jacksonville and netting a fourth-rounder.

Both red guys, still there at 38. Mayock gambled, trading from 38 to 40 with Buffalo, netting a fifth-rounder.

At 40, they were still there. No more gambling. Mayock drafted the third of the red-markered guys, Clemson cornerback Trayvon Mullen.

What I found interesting, sitting with Mayock for 45 minutes as he digested his first night, was how much this GM job seemed like his calling. He did football games on TV, he dissected the draft on TV, and no one knows if he’ll be great at this or just okay; it’ll take years to know. But what I saw was a guy who had patience, which is the calling of good GMs. They’ve got to be willing to lose a guy they want to get the max value on a pick. Mayock showed that several times in this draft.

“I’m gonna give you a great quote that Ozzie Newsome said to me at the Senior Bowl,” Mayock said. “I’ve known Ozzie forever. He congratulated me on the job. I said, ‘Do you have any advice?’ He said, ‘Mike, having an opinion is a hell of a lot easier than having to make a decision.’ I thought that was so well said back then. And then I really felt the weight of it last night.”

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