ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — For a general manager who preaches building through the draft, Reggie McKenzie has struggled to find impact players his first two years in Oakland.
With all of his picks on the first two days for the first time in three drafts with the Raiders, McKenzie is looking to add players who can be part of the foundation of the rebuilding project in Oakland.
“It’s my goal and the Raiders’ goal to hit on my picks, and to be right in everything we do,” he said. “This year, I’m more excited. I can’t call it pressure. I’m more excited because of the foundation that we’ve built this offseason.”
The Raiders enter the draft with the fifth overall pick and also have choices near the top of the second, third and fourth rounds. Oakland has traded its fifth- and sixth-round picks away but does have three selections in the seventh round.
The Raiders didn’t pick until 95th overall in 2012 because of previous deals. But McKenzie was unable to find any hidden gems as none of the six players selected started a single game last season.
Oakland had premium picks a year ago, but first-round cornerback D.J. Hayden was hampered as he recovered from heart surgery and struggled in his limited playing time. Second-round offensive lineman Menelik Watson barely made it on the field because of injuries.
“I want to get it right every year, with every pick,” McKenzie said. “Will you be 100 percent right? Absolutely not.”
Here are five things to watch with the Raiders when the draft starts Thursday night:
QUARTERBACK QUANDARY: The Raiders entered the offseason in need of finding a starting quarterback. After trading a sixth-round pick for Matt Schaub in March, McKenzie no longer needs to fill that hole through the draft.
“That’s still a position that we’ll look at, but I think what it does is, you don’t feel that pressure that you have to go out there and try and draft a quarterback,” coach Dennis Allen said. “You kind of let everything fall to you now.”
WIN NOW: The Raiders have spent the first two years under the leadership of McKenzie and Allen tearing down the franchise after years of poor management under late owner Al Davis. Now they are in the rebuild mode, but owner Mark Davis is losing patience after consecutive four-win seasons. McKenzie said that does not put pressure on him to find players who can contribute immediately.
“You draft for the future,” McKenzie said. “You don’t draft for right now. That’s not the way I do it.”
GOING DEEP: One of the deepest positions in this draft is receiver, where more than a dozen players are projected to go in the first three rounds. Even after adding veteran James Jones in free agency, the Raiders could look for a playmaker in the draft. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is considered the best of the group, but the Raiders also could wait to get a quality receiver in the second or third round.
“If I feel like this guy is an impact player, I’m not going to bypass him just because there’s some other good, solid receivers,” McKenzie said. “When you’re comparing great to good, I’d rather have great.”
DRAFT DEALINGS: McKenzie has not been shy about making draft-day trades. He has moved down in the draft four times in his first two years to add additional picks, including dropping nine spots in the first round last year to take Hayden 12th overall and add the pick for Watson in the second round.
“That’s what makes it fun — the uncertainty,” he said. “But I cannot plan that at all. I can just be hardheaded and stubborn and say, `I’m not moving.’ But that’s not my style.”
UNDRAFTED GEMS: A GM’s work is not done once Mr. Irrelevant is picked. McKenzie has done a good job finding some gems in the undrafted free agent market with receiver Rod Streater, quarterback Matt McGloin, punter Marquette King and offensive lineman Lucas Nix all making contributions the past two years after joining Oakland as undrafted free agents.
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