With one week until the NFL Draft, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie took to the podium to hold his predraft press conference before starting his final preparations for one of the most crucial drafts in the history of the franchise.
After acquiring a long list of veteran free agents, McKenzie answered questions on pretty much anything and everything related on the team’s current situation heading into Thursday in New York City. Topics included: The quality of the 2014 draft class, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr, McKenzie’s draft history, picking a wide receiver, and more.
Here is the official transcript from the team’s official website:
Q: You have said that you want to take the best player available. Can you rank who you believe are the top five players in this draft?
Q: Do you feel like you have to take a quarterback?
“I’m not going to feel like I have to take anybody, really. There are some good players in this draft.”
Q: You talk about always taking the best available, but does what you have done in free agency alter at all your approach in the draft?
“No, it gives us a clear vision to where we are going, so it just helps in the process.”
Q: Is Johnny Manziel harder to evaluate than other quarterbacks? Is his skillset that different?
“I’m not going to say it’s harder to evaluate. You put on the film and evaluate him just like any other quarterback. Does he do things different? You can look at every quarterback and you are going to find a different thing that they do. So, to say he is totally different, no.”
Q: Have you been impressed with Blake Bortles, and if so, in what ways?
“Blake, he is one of those guys who came on at the end, as far as committing as an underclassman. So, a lot of work has been done with, not only him, all these underclassmen. We had 100 or so underclassmen come in [to the draft]. But with Bortles, just like all these quarterbacks these guys are talking about, you guys are talking about, we did everything that we had to do as far as his background and all this due process that we do. But, really it’s no different than any other underclassman, any other quarterback. We evaluate him just like the rest of the guys.”
Q: What are the challenges of evaluating a guy like Khalil Mack, who didn’t play at as high of a level of competition in college as some of the other guys?
“It’s been done in the past. There are a lot of good players that come from small schools and they do well, just like big schools. He can’t help who he plays against, but he has played against some good competition.”
Q: Would you be surprised if these are the picks that you end up with, or do you expect to move around a little bit?
“I wish I had the answer to that. Knowing that these are the picks that I have going in, whether I lose one or two because I move up or I gain a couple, this draft thing is … When you have 31 other teams, you have no idea who they want at a certain time and that’s what makes it fun – the uncertainty. But I cannot plan that at all. I can just be hard-headed and stubborn and say, ‘I am not moving,’ but that’s not my style. My phone line stays open on draft day.”
Q: A couple years ago, you said that you wanted to get more picks before the draft. Does that apply this year?
“If you ask me would I prefer 10 picks versus one, absolutely. Give me 10.”
Q: What positions would you say are the greatest areas of need for you right now?
“Well then I would be telling you what I would go after. (laughing) We are going to just try to add some impact players, just add to the foundation that we’ve built. We want some good players, some playmakers. Whoever is available at the spot that we are picking, that’s who we are going with. We are going to add some impact players. This is a good draft.”
Q: There were no running backs taken in the first round last year and maybe none taken in the first round this year. Has the game evolved to where you may not see a running back taken high in the draft like in previous years?
“I wouldn’t say that. I do think the colleges are using the running backs a little differently, I can say that. But to say that [a running back won’t be drafted high], I can’t say that because I’m sure next year we will be biting our tongue. There will probably be five running backs taken in the first round. You never know. The trend is what it is. You have these different spread offenses that I’m sure are going to factor into it. But, there will be some really good impact running backs in the near future, even this year.”
Q: Obviously you always want to nail a draft pick, you want to get it right. Is there more pressure this year considering back-to-back 4-12 seasons in the deconstruction and now you’re starting the reconstruction?
“It’s always my goal and the Raiders’ goal is to not only hit on your picks, but just to be right in everything that we do. This year, I am more excited. I can’t call that pressure. I am more excited because of the foundation that we’ve built and what we set forth this offseason. So, it’s much more exciting and yes, I do want to hit on every one of these draft picks.”
Q: When you say the foundation that you’ve built, do you mean the guys you have signed recently or…
“The process has been since I got here. We had to do some things, that has been well-documented as far as what we had to go through, but that’s done. What we were able to do, starting this offseason, it’s exciting.”
Q: What are some of the positions that you think are strongest or deepest in this draft?
“From a strength standpoint, you guys can see that there are a lot of positions that have some impact players. But, I don’t want to get in and say there are a lot of receivers. It’s been well-documented. You’ve got some receivers coming out in the this draft in comparison, some good size receivers. You’ve talked about the quarterbacks. You can go down the line – the offensive linemen are pretty strong. What I view is deep. You have 31 other teams that are going to that other positions are stronger. It’s all a matter of opinion. That’s why next Thursday will be a fun day, the whole weekend. The draft is a great way for the Raiders to get better.”
Q: You said that it’s your goal to not just hit on the picks, but get it right. Do you feel that in the past that you haven’t gotten it right or you have gotten it right?
“That doesn’t mean anything as far as what’s done in the past. It’s what I want. I want to get it right every year, every pick, every offseason, even with free agent signings. It’s all about getting it right. Will you be 100 percent? Absolutely [not]. Absolutely not.”
Q: Are you open to trading down in the first round?
“I am open to everything. Whether I stay at that pick, it’s all going to depend on who is calling, where you are moving, who is there when you are picking. There are so many variables. I cannot say what I am going to do without a doubt right now.”
Q: When you talk about some of those positions of strength in the draft, did that influence your free agency decisions in any way?
“Absolutely not. We want to make this team better. We were not going to wait until the draft to do it.”
Q: How much more extensive are background checks now to when you first got into the personnel business? Is there a lot more background work done on a player now?
“Probably so from a standpoint of the way you get the information. There are so many ways of getting that information now. When I first started, all of us scouts, we didn’t have cell phones, there was no texting. There is so much information that you can get nowadays. It was more word of mouth. You had to talk to the people there. So, the information, the way you can get it, how quickly you can access it is better. I would say it’s more in-depth, so you are going to get more information more quickly.”
Q: Are there guys at the top of this draft that can step in and be playmakers right away?
“Yes, I think so.”
Q: With the extra time before the draft this year, you have more time to gather background information. Is that a good thing or do you wish it had already taken place?
“We grow accustomed to what we normally have done, so these two weeks, you just have to adjust your schedule, but it gives more time to watch what is being placed out there through the media, so you have to hear a whole bunch, two weeks more of stuff.”
Q: Can that also be a negative, causing you to overthink things and over analyze?
“I’m sure [for] some people. I try not to. You can always here stuff and people talk, but no, you can’t let it. You don’t want to over analyze anything. You can over analyze if you get two weeks less, you really can. This thing is just more pronounced so you always hear it. I’m ready to get it going, but this is a change that I don’t think is going to be too much of an issue. You just have to adjust your scheduling of how you approach the draft.”
Q: How important are Pro Days, or are you mostly evaluating their tape?
“Pro Days factor in a lot because a lot of those workouts show you the health of a lot of the players. A lot of these players are injured at the end of the season, or they had some kind of surgery. So, you have to see if they’ve bounced back and are ready to go. It’s important.”
Q: This franchise has been known to put a lot of stock in a player’s 40-yard-dash. Where does that rank for you?
“It’s important, but like I’ve always said before, so is being a football player. When you talk about instincts and your ability to read and react, it’s being a football player that’s more so important than a 40-time.”
Q: How far ahead do you need to go to look back on a draft and see if it was successful or not?
“Really, you should know by year three what the player is.”
Q: Overall, talent-wise, is this draft the deepest you’ve seen?
“It’s been since 1994, so it would be hard to remember all those drafts. There have been some good players, but the depth, I would say it ranks up there. I wouldn’t say it’s the best.”
Q: Do you have a preference for whether the draft is held over two, three or four days like they’ve been talking about?
“I don’t have any preference really. As long as you can schedule it the right way. I like the way we’re doing it right now, so I have no issues there.”
Q: Do you feel extra pressure to draft guys that will help you win now instead of a guy for the future?
“No. You draft for the future. You don’t draft for right now. That’s not the way you do it. That’s not the way I do it.”
Q: Do you feel like you need a couple of guys that can make an immediate impact?
“Hopefully more than a couple, yes.”
Q: How much do you take into account the depth at a certain position when it comes up on your draft board? Like for example, with receivers. You have receiver as your next pick, do you maybe wait to draft a receiver later on because of the depth?
“It depends on how good that receiver is, it really does. If I feel like this receiver is close to the next, yeah, I’ll be more inclined to say that we can wait because we feel like these two guys are similar. But, if I feel like this guy is an impact player, I’m not going to bypass him because there are some other good, solid receivers. When you’re comparing great to good, I’d rather have great.”
Q: You seem set at the quarterback spot with bringing in Matt Schaub. Does that influence where you might take a quarterback?
“What it does is just give us some stability at that position. We needed that. Because we traded for Schaub, does that mean that we’re going to bypass a guy that we’ve got graded a certain way? No.”
Q: Is your board pretty much set at this point? What do you do this next week with all this free time you have?
“There’s never free time. We’re just talking through things right now, but it’s pretty much set.”
Q: Have you been fielding calls from other teams or does that heat up later?
“It’s going to heat up later. Guys are just calling; it’s more peripheral. I haven’t gotten a firm offer.”
Q: It was over a week ago now, but how hard was the call for you to make to trade Terrelle Pryor to Seattle?
“It’s always hard when not only trading a player, but to release a player. That, to me, is one of the toughest parts of my job, is to let a player know that he’s no longer a part of the team. However that happens, it’s a difficult thing. So, it was difficult.”
Q: How was that meeting with him?
“We couldn’t get face to face but we talked on the phone. It was good. Terrelle knew. It had been communicated to him.”
Q: Had there been talk ever of changing his position?
“No. As long as he was here, he was always going to be quarterback.”
Q: Was that his choice? Did he not want to switch positions?
“We never asked him to make a move, so he didn’t have a choice to make.”
Q: It seems like most GMs have to at least pretend that they’re interested in every player. How much of what you get on the phone is BS and how much is real?
“I would say 50-50. Some GMs just like to feel you out and try to angle their angle of how they want to do things. It’s a chess match.”
Q: Looking at some of the workout photos, it looks like DJ Hayden has gotten a little bit bigger. Are you happy with his offseason?
“So far it seems like all of those guys, the guys who have had surgeries and had some things that they needed to work on, for the most part everyone is looking very well. The guys have a chance to work with the players next week and it’ll be… I’m excited. Seems like we’re going into this offseason healthy, which is, first and foremost, what we want. I’m excited not only for DJ, but for all of these guys who are coming back healthy.”
Q: Will there be some guys that won’t be ready to get on the field yet?
“There will be some guys that will be limited. We’ll let the doctors handle that in the next couple of weeks. But there will be some guys that will be limited.”
Q: You have a lot of years evaluating talent, but being the guy calling the shots is a little different. Do you feel you’re better prepared to make decisions next week than you were a few years ago?
Q: Is Tyvon Branch fully ready to go?
“Yes. He’s ready.”
Q: Are you guys talking about moving Austin Howard to right guard? What are your plans for right tackle?
“What Coach Sparano likes with the offensive line is versatility. What else can this guy play? We already know he can play right tackle. We think he can play right guard also. So, let’s get the best five and see what happens. Whoever it is and wherever it is. First, we need to see who can play what. So, we want to take a look at Austin at right guard and see if he can do it.”
Q: Are you hoping that Menelik Watson can evolve enough to slide into that right tackle position? Do you feel like he’s ready to make that jump into a starting role considering how much time he missed?
“Yeah, we’re going to give him the opportunity to show what he’s got there. We drafted him to get ready to play on that offensive line. He’s got to go out there and compete and stay healthy, and show the coaching staff what he has. But, I have no doubt that he’s going to go out there and compete his tail off.”
Q: Do you have any evaluations, positive or negative, on Jason Verrett from TCU?
“I can’t tell you that. He’s definitely a player that we’ve watched. We’ll see how it goes in the draft for him. He’s a good football player.”
“We’ve talked about the team. The foundation has been laid. We’re working towards progress, continuous progress. The foundation, since I got here, has begun and we’re working to get things, the culture, the chemistry, right. This offseason, it’s starting to come to fruition. We brought in some players to compete, to make us better. When you bring in some good players, it forces competition. Competition makes us better. This year, we will be better.”
McKenzie quotes courtesy of Raiders.com