First-year Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie met with the Bay Area media Wednesday, fielding questions for more than 30 minutes on how he approaches the NFL draft, his philosophy, what he learned from Al Davis and what people can expect from the Raiders in two weeks.
Among other things, McKenzie said he is staunchly opposed to trading away future draft picks, Terrelle Pryor for now is envisioned as the No. 2 quarterback, the Raiders aren’t interested in appearing on “Hard Knocks,” he intends to draft the best player available every time and the focus is upon selecting players who love football.
The NFL draft is scheduled for April 26-28. The Raiders have five picks as of now, with one in the third round, one in the fourth, two in the fifth and one in the sixth. Here is the entire transcript from the gathering at Raiders headquarters in Alameda:
Intro: “I’m like Sgt. Schultz, I know nothing. Is it OK if I turn all of these (recorders) off? Well good evening, guys. How’s it going? Am I going to take a lead from you guys or just start out with questions? Well, my only thing, guys, we’re in the beginning tags of our draft meetings, Been going on a couple of days so we’re looking forward to getting our draft board exactly the way we want it and also excited to see all the players around and working out and getting familiar with the coaching staff. So this is an exciting time and we’re just going to try and see if we can get better each day. But the draft preparations are going very well. All the scouts are in and getting this board the way we want it.”
What does your board actually look like, colors, numbers, grades, etc…?
“Our draft board is probably like many others. Grading systems vary, but we have a numbering grading system from first round down to free agents. To read that is all a number grade and we value both on the field and off the field. We take into account the character of guy, the medical aspect. So it’s an extensive process but it’s not, we try not to make it rocket science. At least, I don’t. The bottom line is trying to figure out of the guy can play And then if he can play, how good is he? Then you try to stick him in the right spot. And then you try to figure out the person, as far as his will to play the game, of the field issues, coachability, all of that play a part in it. But the medical really plays a major role.
You even take a look at first-round talent since you don’t pick until No. 95?
“We’ll take a look at them. We’re going to go through the process. When Cincinnati’s pick, from us, comes up, we’re going to figure out who’s the guy on the board that we would like to have. But we’ll go through that process. I need to go through that process, being my first year, I want to go through that process. Second round also. Even the third round.
Best-player available situation?
How much have old scouts had to adapt to you and vice-versa, or standardized across the league?
“Bits and pieces are standard because evaluations are how your do it, and the process and they’ve had to dust quite a bit. But it’s, when I got on board we’ve been together the Senior Bowl, of course the Combine, and so we’re on the same page now. But it was a little adjustment for us.”
Q: Has this process gone as you planned when you talked with Mark Davis during the interview process?
McKENZIE: First of all, Mark Davis has been excellent in allowing me to do it the way we needed to do it, as far as change is concerned.
It’s gone much better than I expected, it really has. So it’s going pretty good.
Q: What’s been better?
McKENZIE: You know, trying to get the building the right way, the facility, the computer system, for the information and the view of film and how we can better work within our personnel department.
It’s a lot of work that got done to get it the way we needed to get it done—to have a draft room ready for the meetings and also the draft. It’s come along very well.
Q: You’ve said you’re in a best-player-available situation at No. 95. What positions do you see as a need that you can address in the draft?
McKENZIE: You know what? When I talk to the coaching staff about (it), we need depth. We feel like we’ve got players that we can line up at a lot of spots. And we’ve got some good players. But when you talk about a guy goes down, who do we have? A guy goes down here… we need depth at a few spots. Quite a few spots. And some of these guys, it’s going to play out with the competition that we already have. The coaches are going to have to get to know some of these guys who are already on the roster. But we need some depth, regardless. To compete and hopefully win jobs. And that’s what we’re targeting. When we say best player, whether it’s D-line, linebacker, O-line, tight end… I mean, it doesn’t matter. We want to get a good player. We’ve got five picks, we need to make ‘em all count.
Q: Do you see Terrelle Pryor as a viable possibility as a backup QB this year?
McKENZIE: Absolutely. Yep. Hopefully our quarterback coach and offensive coordinator, the staff, can work him starting next week’s voluntary minicamp. And see if we can get him rolling. It’s going to be a constant evaluation. But they need to find out how good he is and how good he can be.
Q: He’s a possible No. 2 QB?
McKENZIE: That’s his goal right there and that’s the goal that the coaches are going to try to get him going.
Q: You need to decide that before you think about adding a veteran for the No. 2 QB spot? First you’re going to see if Pryor can do it?
McKENZIE: Yeah, I think that’s a natural progression, absolutely. They need to know what he is, how he can throw the ball, how he picks it up and get him on the field. So next week, I think, it’s going to be a great tell-tale sign for the coaching staff. Not just for the quarterback position, but many of those positions.
Q: Is it important to have that done before the draft?
McKENZIE: It’s not imperative that you have it before. But I know, as far as they’re concerned, it’s a good measuring stick for them. If we see guys, whatever position it is, the draft is going to take care of itself, regardless of who does well next week in practice or not.
Is team need referred to anywhere on your draft reports?
“Well, at this point we’re not looking at needs. Now when I get the coaches in and start banging heads with those guys and finding out what they really would like to have, then that’ll come into play. But the decision from Day One, when I talk to the head coach, we’re gonna get the player available.”
So if you have a guy who’s just a tiny bit better, you still won’t take the player you need?
“When we talk about who’s better and how much are they better, it’s a fine line there. And you probably look at the need a little bit, especially if you don’t see any other players at that spot later on. But if there’s a vast difference, we’re gonna get the best player. I’m not gonna reach down to get a player because we need this position. That hasn’t turned out good in my past years when that was done.”
Philosophies on foot speed
“You know what? Speed is always gonna be important. But if you’re insinuating that speed only? No, we’re not looking for just guys that run fast. Course we love size, and we’re gonna emphasize size. But we’re gonna make sure they’re good football players. Make sure they’re tough, they understand the game, and size and speed will always matter.”
Anything you learned from Al Davis on that front?
“Well, the importance of to what degree that size and speed are important… It is hard to find 6-6, 311-pound defensive linemen that are athletic. And then to top it off, that are good. So if you get a chance to get one, you take him. More so than the 6-1, 285 guy. There’s a difference. Offensive linemen recognize the difference. But that’s what I mean. It plays a part. But when it all comes down, can the guy play football? And when we’re evaluating that, we make sure they’re all good football players.”
Get a sense that you’ll have a strong turnout for voluntary practices?
And is Darren McFadden good to go?
“He’s good to go. I don’t know if the head coach is gonna let him do a whole lot. He’ll be out there, but I don’t know how much. I have no idea how much he’s gonna push many of those guys that are coming off of injuries from last season. But they all will be out there.”
Q: If a player doesn’t necessarily have the characteristics you’re looking for, might you still take him?
McKenzie: Depends on when you say, might fit the characteristics, what do you mean?
Q: Might not have the size, might not have the speed you want . .
McKenzie: But if we have him at a certain spot on the board, that’s going to be our guy. We put him there for a reason. So if he was a shorter corner than is ideal and we got him in a certain spot and we think he’s special, we’re going to take, the way the board is set up, we’re going to just go by the board.
Q; Care less about strength and speed in the later rounds?
McKenzie: No, speed and strength and size, it all has a part in putting the board together. Not going to try and alter it as we go.
Q: How has it gone with college players you have in, is it you that meets with them?
McKenzie: what about ‘em?
Q: How is that process going, is it you that meets with them?
McKenzie: It’s gone well. No, no, I don’t meet with them. The coaching staff, you get a little bit of time to meet with them, then the weightlifting staff, they get to work ‘em out in the weight room, monitor their weight room stuff and the on-field stuff.
Q: How much interaction have you had with Carson Palmer? Do you have a sense of how much he’s buying in to the new system, regime?
McKenzie: Other than meet and greet, that’s to my extent, hello, and exchange pleasantries, but the coaching staff is very excited and he’s very excited to be here. So it’s been very positive in regards to Carson.
Q: Talks about what teams HBO wants for Hard Knocks, is that something you would be interested in down the road, cameras here to have that kind of publicity?
McKenzie: If you ask me, I say no. I wouldn’t want to have HBO here, but I’m sure some of the players, and I don’t know if coach would want to have those guys here. Don’t ask me because my answer is stay away.
Q: Think you might be deciding vote . . .
Q: What would be your reservations?
McKenzie: Just to be around, I think this training camp is a long time with your team and not to be publicized throughout the country. I like Raider business to stay Raider business. That’s all. You want people to be comfortable, let their guard down, and not have that group here, I think it would be a little different. Players and coaches, act a little different when TV cameras are rolling.
What do you think of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III?
You can’t go wrong with either one of those guys. In every aspect. Their knowledge of the game, their character, their leadership and their skill. Those top teams, if they’re looking for a quarterback, they’re in the right spot. All you gotta do is just sit there and pick whichever one comes your way. I don’t think you can miss on either one of those two.
Both players further along than Rodgers?
I don’t think so. We didn’t have to play A-Rod. Those two guys are still going to take their hits now. It’s not going to be peachy-keen for those guys. But they’ll get it done, I think.
With just five picks, do you shy away from high-risk, high-reward guys?
Unique situation – your first draft and your first pick isn’t until 95. You going to be restless that first night? You going to be OK that Thursday night?
Absolutely not. I won’t be OK. It’s hard to sleep now. It’s an exciting time. This has been … Coach Davis, this has been his deal since the Raiders were the Raiders. So, I am the new guy. This is my first time drafting after a legend has been drafting for the Raiders for so long. So, it’s huge. But I am excited about it and I am looking forward to it. There are still so many people in the organization, so I get to hear everything about how he used to do it.
If there is a guy you want, but the mood in the room says ‘no,’ do you still get your guy?
Once we made the decision, we’re not going to think back and start listening to a whole bunch of coaches or scouts. If the board tells us to do one thing, that’s the way we’re going to do it. And everybody will know that going in. That’s why you spend all this time setting the board.
Q: What are the chances of your trading into the first or second round?
A: “You know what, there’s always ways of trading up, trading into, trading back. It’s just a matter of what you’re willing to give up, or what do you want to receive out of the deal. So, if a team comes to ask for something huge, just to offer me if I want to get into the first round but I got to give them my first born, that’s not going to happen.”
Q: What’s your philosophy of trading future draft picks?
A: “I do not want to trade future picks. Usually, you consider that if it’s a future seventh if you need a guy going into the season, something happens. But, I don’t like to even consider trading future picks, especially high ones.”
Q: Do you have access to backlogged scouting reports? Looked through them?
A: “Yes. Yes. Absolutely. Yes.”
Q: Name a few players you had a hand in drafting from the third round or later at Green Bay?
A: “Quite a few. As early as the William Hendersons in the third round, as a fullback when nobody really even had him, but we felt really good about the guy. Going into William & Mary and getting Darren Sharper in the second round, a lot of people thought that was a huge reach grabbing a kid like that. Even down to the latter rounds, Donald Driver in the seventh round. We really liked him and we were excited that he was still there in the seventh round. We liked the kid. We can go on and on. Mark Tauscher the next year, in the seventh round. Just getting guys late, then they turn out to be … you knew they were good football players but you didn’t know how good they were going to be. Desmond Bishop, out here from Cal, a few years ago, sixth round. He’s a big-time starter. You can find starters the last couple, three rounds, but you just got to have the board to, when they’re there, you take them. It’s not an exact science. You’re going to hit and miss but if you stick to what you believe in, hopefully, you hit more than you miss.”
Q: Have you had good success in Green Bay getting guys who loved football and most misses were injuries, etc?
A: More than not yes. We feel like we were pretty good number one with character guys. We were not blind-sided by certain guys. The ones that we took that had a little bit of risk we knew about it. The key and we always talked about it is make sure they’re good football players who want to play football. That holds true with me. You have to make sure they really love the game and make sure that they’re good football players. Then all of the other stuff, how they test, how they play, what kind of skills they have, that all plays a part in how you evaluate them.
Q: Expect GMs to test you as the rookie?
A: Absolutely. Absolutely. They’ll try to come to me and try to get a trade that’s in their favor. That’s part of being a rookie.
Q: What will Mark Davis’ role be in draft?
A: In picking players?
Q: In the room?
A: I’m sure he’s going to be in the room and before that he’ll want to know how the board is coming. He’s going to be in a supportive role for myself and staff like he’s always been. He’s going to be there in support.
Q: How do you scout small-school players?
A: Small-school players are hard because of that. You get one guy that jumps out not only physically but you watch the tape skill wise. Number one you want to make sure they dominate the league they’re in. Then number two, if they had a chance to play in a bowl game you see how they competed against upper competition. Then you evaluate that. But if you don’t get a chance to see them against different competition or higher competition you just got to go with your gut with what you see on tape and what you see in person at their pro day of if they were invited to the combine you see how they competed against other guys just from an athletic standpoint. You try to get as much information as you can in contrast with what you don’t have.
Q: Importance of Wonderlic test?
A: You recognize it and then you try to apply it to how he plays. But it’s more a football intelligence, football instincts that you’re concerned more with than Wonderlic score. Certain positions you probably look at it a little stronger, mostly your quarterbacks and stuff like that.