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Will the Raiders bungle another NFL Draft? Mayock may be different

Will the Raiders bungle another NFL Draft? Mayock may be different
Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden speaks to reporters at the NFL football team's facility in Alameda, Calif., Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) (Jeff Chiu / AP)

The most interesting team of this week's NFL Draft?

The Oakland Raiders.

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They hold four picks in the top-35. They have a new general manager in Mike Mayock, but their coach, Jon Gruden, has a lot of clout in the draft room.

What will they do?

Here's what they should do: In light of Gruden's draft performance last year and the makeup of this draft class and Oakland's roster, they should keep it simple.

Make no trades to climb, and pick the best player available at 4, 24, 27 and 35.

My advice to the Raiders matches the prescription of ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

"Just put four names in there," McShay said in a draft call with reporters this week, "and, you look at how much better that football team is with those four players."

McShay suggested if the Raiders keep it simple, they could land a defensive tackle such as Quinnen Williams, followed by end Clelin Ferrell, running back Josh Jacobs, and a good cornerback from a deep group.

While trading multiple picks to go up the draft for a player can pan out — see Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes — McShay noted successful NFL teams tend to make more picks. He said he senses Mayock, hired in late December, prefers the volume approach.

"Now," he said, "can he talk Jon into that? That's the big question."

Gruden's two bad trades in last year's draft, his first draft after owner Mark Davis gave him a massive contract to leave ESPN, point toward Mayock trying to convince Gruden to simplify the approach.

Gruden gifted the Steelers with a third-round pick in return for a release candidate, receiver Martavis Bryant, who'd been on the trade block for months and had one year left on his contract.

The previous day, when Gruden traded down five spots from No. 10 to the Cardinals, who were clearly targeting a quarterback in Josh Rosen, he got far less draft capital than had the Bucs when they made nearly an identical trade, descending five spots from No. 7 so the Bills could land quarterback Josh Allen.

Set aside whether Gruden should've traded Khalil Mack in September, which he did.

That he made it known two-first round picks would be the price, it didn't make a lot of sense, then, that he also included a second-round pick (in return for a Bears third).

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So, Gruden, at least this early in his tenure, is probably a lot better at designing and calling an offense, than working the trade market, which, like NFL coaching, is its own sophisticated realm.

As for taking the best player available, it's easier said than done -- but not doing so last year in the first round worked against Gruden.

The Raiders passed on safety Derwin James to take offensive tackle Kolton Miller. This was a need-driven selection, which isn't to say Miller can't evolve into a good tackle.

Gruden would say the Raiders had invested two premium draft picks in other safeties, leading them to pass on James at No. 15.

I think Team Spanos, which took James with the 17th pick, wanted Gruden and others to believe it would draft Miller.

Hence the surprising NFL Network report, close to Draft Night, floating the Miller-at-17 scenario, although Team Spanos had a solid left tackle, Russell Okung, who was coming off a good season and under contract for multiple years.

James won All-Pro honors as a rookie. He gives Philip Rivers, the 37-year-old San Diegan, a better chance of finally reaching a Super Bowl.

What's more, I think James is a more valuable player than the perennial All-Pro receiver the Giants recently dealt, Odell Beckham Jr., to the Browns for a package that included this year's 17th pick.

Gruden gushed over James last season, especially after seeing him make a terrific play to deny the Raiders a touchdown.

This time around, will Gruden show more discipline and savvy in the draft?

Better teamwork at least, seems likely within the Raiders' brain trust.

Where Gruden inherited GM Reggie McKenzie, a pro's pro, he hired Mayock, a former senior draft analyst with the NFL Network.

"Jon didn't bring in Mike just to watch tape with him," McShay said. "I think he needs a sounding board, and they'll work together."

Anyone who loves football and doesn't care which teams win the games, should pull for Mayock and Gruden to figure it out.

Too often, the Raiders are no fun to watch. Since appearing in Mission Valley for the 37th Super Bowl, they own one winning season in 16 years.

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