INDIANAPOLIS — As the Raiders push forward to one of their most important drafts in recent memory, a critical step was taken this week in Indianapolis. To be sure, the ground they covered at the NFL scouting combine will go a long way in determining how well they utilize the 11 picks they eventually will have to work with next month.
Needless to say, it’s high time the Raiders step up their draft game. After fumbling one draft class after another, the result is a roster devoid of impact defensive players outside of defensive end Maxx Crosby and a top-heavy offensive group that needs help on the offensive line and at wide receiver.
And oh, by the way, the decision to move on from long-time quarterback Derek Carr means an urgent search for the future face of the franchise.
The task of which falls on the shoulders of general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels, whose first year on the job provided a sobering realization of the decision-making mistakes of previous regimes and how much work needs to be done to build a championship-caliber team.
“We want to improve our homegrown talent,” Ziegler said. “That’s something that hasn’t materialized here over the years.”
Ziegler and McDaniels attacked this week in Indianapolis, specifically, albeit not exclusively, at quarterback. They formally sat with multiple quarterback prospects, including each of the highest-ranked candidates, as well as a slew of playmakers, offensive linemen and defensive players.
“We need tough, smart, explosive players, period,” McDaniels stressed. “And we need to do that on offense. We need to do it on defense. We need to do it in the return game.”
The last five days didn’t necessarily set the Raiders’ draft board, but it pushed them closer to a decision on where to go with the seventh overall pick.
The options are multiple. They range from using it as a chip to move up to secure Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, or staying put and drafting Kentucky quarterback Will Levis or Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson.
The Raiders’ meetings with the various quarterbacks were described as detailed and business-like, And while there was time devoted to pleasantries and getting to know one another, pertinent and probing questions were asked and football acumen was tapped into.
As McDaniels described, the interviews were designed to create an impression rather than a final evaluation. And he is specific in the key traits he prioritizes.
“You got to have a great leader, who’s got to be able to have mental and physical toughness. No question about it,” McDaniels said. “There’s going to be a ton of adversity in a National Football League season. And whether it’s physical things you’ve got to have to battle through or the mental toughness to endure a couple losses and keep going. And those kinds of things are always going to be prerequisites for us.”
But it is more than that, obviously. “He’s got to be able to move the ball, score points and take care of it,” McDaniels said.
It still doesn’t guarantee the Raiders will use their first pick on a quarterback. As this week proved, there are a number of defensive playmakers and offensive linemen worthy of that pick as well.
Among them are Northwestern offensive tackle Peter Skoronski, Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson, Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson, Clemson defensive lineman Myles Murphy and Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez.
The combine shined a bright light on the depth along the defensive line, with multiple prospects putting on jaw-dropping shows athletically. It gives the Raiders a chance to come up with early-impact players beyond just the first round. And it fits with Ziegler’s roster construction philosophy,
“I think having a strong defensive line sets the tone for the rest of the defense,” Ziegler said.
The last few days at the combine provided more clarity, but no final decisions. Free agency opens in two weeks, and the Raiders’ work in that phase will help guide some of their draft decisions. Ahead are personal visits with a core group of draft prospects and a slew of Pro Days to get in-depth looks, with the quarterbacks figuring prominently.
Make no mistake, though, it was time well spent in Indianapolis. And it sets up what Ziegler and McDaniels hope is a pivotal offseason for the Raiders.
“There’s so many avenues to acquire players now,” McDaniels said. “I think it’s just do our due diligence, try to do our work, get it in, and make the smartest decision for our football team. I think that’s what we’re going to try to do every day.”
Contact Vincent Bonsignore at [email protected] Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.