Reggie McKenzie’s stint as general manager with the Oakland Raiders has been up and down, with more downs than ups. He has made some smart moves and done some nice things. He fixed one of the most disastrous cap situations in the entire league and set the Raiders up to build their roster in a way that shouldn’t come back to bite them financially in future years. Now the question is whether he can build the team back up after the deconstruction.
McKenzie has found a few bargains in free agency, but he has struggled to do much in the NFL Draft. As we stand here today, two years of draft classes have only produced two guys that you can say are truly NFL talents — Sio Moore and Mychal Rivera. D.J. Hayden and Menelik Watson both showed flashes of NFL talent, but injuries impacted their respective opportunities to adapt to the NFL.
Four of McKenzie’s 16 draft picks are no longer with the team, including fourth round pick Tyler Wilson, who was unable to make the final roster in his rookie season. There are also a few guys like Tony Bergstrom, Brice Butler and Juron Criner who may not be with the team much longer.
There are also players who could still turn out to be something but at the moment are huge question marks. Aside from Watson and Hayden, much is thought of running back Latavius Murray, who sat out his rookie season with an injury. Stacy McGee, a sixth round pick who saw significant time as a rookie, also looks like a promising player who could stick around for a while. And that’s about it as far as McKenzie’s picks are concerned.
In this year’s free agency period, McKenzie made it clear that it was still his intent to build the Raiders through the NFL Draft. Rather than use his league high cap space to go out and get young talent to build around, he signed veterans who can give the Raiders one last season while showing the youngsters how to conduct themselves as professionals. The free agent class is clearly intended to be a complement to the draft picks McKenzie hopes to build around.
It isn’t a bad plan, but it relies on a very successful draft to work out, and that’s something McKenzie has not yet proven he can pull off. If he is able to find a handful of NFL caliber players who can make big contributions as rookies, things could turn out very well. If not, it could be a disaster big enough to result in McKenzie looking for a job next offseason instead of offering jobs.