After I graded Trent Baalke’s moves since becoming General Manager of the 49ers, a lot of people asked if I’d go through the same process with several other GMs in the NFC West and throughout the league. Since producing daily content is a basic requirement to maintain a website like this, that’s simply not going to happen. The Baalke post took me untold hours over a period of about a month. I took breaks and did other things in the meantime, but there’s no way I’m going to grade a half dozen or more GMs, even if it would add context to the grades I gave Baalke (about half of the critical responses to that post were from people who thought I graded the Baalkester too harshly, with the other half complaining I was way too easy on him).
HOWEVER, seeing as this is “Bay Area Sports Guy,” it’s only fair to put on my professor’s spectacles and take a look across the Bay to the Oakland Raiders and see how Reggie McKenzie has performed.
It’s stating the obvious that these two stepped into vastly different situations. Baalke was an internal promotion after the 49ers and Scot McCloughan “mutually” parted ways. McCloughan may have admitted to drinking on the job at times, but he put together a pretty talented roster thanks to some high draft picks, along with several other jewels he unearthed in the draft and free agency. The 49ers weren’t in salary cap hell, either.
McKenzie’s situation was a little like buying a deeply discounted home, as-is, because it was previously foreclosed. The Raiders provided an opportunity McKenzie may not have gotten elsewhere, but once he stepped inside the front door, it was clear that the previous tenants had trashed the place. The cap situation was an absolute mess. Hue Jackson had mortgaged the future with a trade for Carson Palmer. Quarterback was a problem, but the rest of the team was nearly devoid of upper-level NFL talent as well.
Baalke’s job was to push a contending team to the top, while McKenzie was tasked with an incredible amount of demo work before constructing an actual team. Let’s see how he’s done so far.
Course No. 1: Drafting
I’m going to copy this next paragraph over from the Baalke post, so bear with me:
I’m not one of those people who judges drafts based on who a general manager could’ve taken instead. Over 200 players are drafted each year, and All-Pros are drafted in the later rounds all the time. So cherry-picking by saying, “Oh, he could’ve gotten so-and-so three picks later” isn’t fair. However, each draft should add some starters and hopefully at least one star-type player.
It couldn’t have been easy for Mark Davis to convince many exec-types to even consider the Raiders gig, with the aforementioned cap situation and a pathetic, ravaged collection of 2012 draft picks. The Raiders didn’t have their first or second round picks due to the Palmer trade, and Al Davis sacrificed a third-rounder to take Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft.
That being said, McKenzie took lemons and made sour milk in his first draft. The first player he chose didn’t play a snap in 2014. And as you can see above, Tony Bergstrom has only played in nine games throughout his career. Burris is the only other player on this list who’s still employed by the Raiders, but he was the team’s lowest-rated player in 2014 by Pro Football Focus.
2012 Grade: C+ (Tough to judge a guy’s drafting abilities when he’s neutered by previous decision-makers.)
There’s a danger in judging drafts too early, and look no further than D.J. Hayden to see why. If Hayden — who’s missed 14 games due to injury in his career, after almost dying in college due to a freak heart injury suffered during a practice collision — becomes a player worthy of his draft position, this draft suddenly looks pretty decent.
Unfortunately for McKenzie, Hayden hasn’t shown a whole lot. Quarterbacks had a rating of 110 and three touchdowns when targeting him during his rookie season; that moved to 121.6 and six touchdowns this past year. Raiders fans are understandably upset over the team’s abysmal record with first round picks, so it’s tempting to label Hayden a bust. It’s a little early for that, but he needs to start producing very soon.
Menelik Watson was chosen after McKenzie traded back from the No. 3 overall pick (the Dolphins took Dion Jordan, who hasn’t done a thing) for Hayden’s spot and the No. 42 pick. Apparently everyone involved in that trade was doomed for mediocrity.
After that, the draft got interesting.
- Sio Moore regressed a bit from a very nice rookie season, but despite his overly celebratory ways, the Raiders have gotten some production out of their third round selection.
- Tyler Wilson fooled a lot of people who thought he was the best quarterback in camp — his NFL career stalled out before it began.
- Nick Kasa played a bit during his rookie season and missed 2014 with a torn ACL.
- Latavius Murray has the talent to be a star if he can stay on the field — he might end up getting looked at as McKenzie’s best “value pick” a few years down the road.
- That is, unless Mychael Rivera turns into one of the league’s better receiving tight ends — 96 catches, 941 yards and eight touchdowns in two seasons isn’t too shabby, considering the other skill position guys around him.
- Stacy McGee, Brice Butler and David Bass have all contributed some during actual NFL games (Bass as a Chicago Bear, but still).
2013 Grade: C- (McKenzie should’ve gotten more for the No. 3 pick, both in terms of picks and who those picks became. If the grade appears harsh, it’s because Hayden doesn’t look anything like a top-15 pick so far. Obviously, that could change. There probably isn’t a true star in this bunch, but there’s some late-round value here.)
Draftniks loved Khalil Mack going in, so when he fell to No. 5 and the Raiders grabbed him, there was a tendency by some to consider this almost an effortless pick for McKenzie. But not everyone was sold.
An OLB from Buffalo that NOBODY heard of six weeks ago, was just taken before guy who ripped up the SEC. Good luck #Raiders
— Damon Bruce (@DamonBruce) May 9, 2014
Who received the second-highest score in all of football from PFF this season? J.J. Watt (+107.5) is clearly the league’s most dominant player, but Khalil Mack scored a ridiculously high +55.3. He came into the league as a great run-stopper, and became a better pass rusher as the year went along.
As for that guy who ripped up the SEC, well …
The Raiders drafted Derek Carr 14 picks after Johnny Manziel went off the board, and Carr performed about as well as one could expect for a rookie thrown into that situation. Is he a surefire All-Pro? No, but the Raiders won’t have to make some ridiculous trade for a washed-up veteran quarterback this offseason for the first time in a while (we’ll get to that in a bit).
One thing with a team like the Raiders that’s great for rookies: they’ll get every chance to show they can play from the very beginning. Gabe Jackson seized his opportunity and became the team’s starting left guard. Justin Ellis was named to the Sports Illustrated All-Rookie team, along with Carr and Mack. Keith McGill impressed the coaches late in the season, while T.J. Carrie had better coverage numbers (86.1 QB rating against, one touchdown allowed) than Hayden while playing close to the same number of snaps. Shelby Harris and Jonathan Dowling both finished the year on the team (Dowling on IR).
2014 Grade: A (This draft probably saved McKenzie’s job.)
Total Grade for all three drafts: B-
Course No. 2: Free Agency
Undrafted free agents: K/P Eddy Carmona, DE Wayne Dorsey, TE Kyle Efaw, T Kevin Haslam, CB LeQuan Lewis, FB TréShawn Robinson WR Travionte Session, CB Conroy Black, LB Kaelin Burnett, WR Derek Carrier, WR Brandon Carswell, DT Dominique Hamilton, S Aaron Henry, P Marquette King, T Dan Knapp, LB Mario Kurn, WR Thomas Mayo, G Lucas Nix, S Chaz Powell, WR Rod Streater
Veterans: DB Brandon Underwood, CB Ron Bartell, G Mike Brisiel, DB Pat Lee, LB Philip Wheeler, DE Dave Tollefson, C Colin Miller, OL Ed Wang, QB Matt Leinart, WR Duke Calhoun, DE Andre Carter, CB Brandian Ross, RB Jeremy Stewart
2012 Grade: C+ (Wheeler was outstanding; Brisiel was good; Ross and Carter were OK; Leinart was a zero; they got two decent UDFAs in King and Streater; no cap damage. Overall there was a lot of activity and not much in the way of results.)
Undrafted free agents: LB Billy Boyko, DB Adrian Bushell, P Bobby Cowan, C Deveric Gallington, S Shelton Johnson, TE Brian Leonhardt, G Lamar Mady, WR Sam McGuffie, QB Kyle Padron, LS Adam Steiner, DT Kurt Taufa’asau, WR Conner Vernon, T John Wetzel, RB Deonte Williams, DB Chance Casey-Thomas, DE Eric Harper, WR Greg Jenkins, TE Jeron Mastrud, DE Ryan Robinson, C Andrew Robiskie, DB Mitchell White, QB Matt McGloin
Veterans: DT Pat Sims, LB Nick Roach, LB Kevin Burnett, DT Vance Walker, T Alex Barron, CB Tracy Porter, CB Mike Jenkins, S Usama Young, RB Rashad Jennings, S Reggie Smith, WR Josh Cribbs, DB Charles Woodson
2013 Grade: B- (Very similar to the year before — Jennings played the role of Wheeler: a great FA signing who left after one year in Oakland; Sims, Burnett and Woodson had solid seasons; Roach and Porter were OK; cap went unscathed.)
Undrafted free agents: LB Bojay Filimoeatui and CB Jansen Watson, WR Mike Davis, LB Carlos Fields, WR Noel Grigsby, T Dan Kistler, T Erle Ladson, TE Jack Murphy, WR Seth Roberts, TE Scott Simonson and FB Karl Williams
Veterans: CB Carlos Rogers, DL C.J. Wilson, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, T Donald Penn, OL Kevin Boothe, WR James Jones, DL Antonio Smith, CB Tarell Brown, LB LaMarr Woodley, DE Justin Tuck, T Austin Howard, RB Kory Sheets, WR Vincent Brown
2014 Grade: D (Saved from an “F” because Donald Penn was good and Justin Tuck contributed some, and McKenzie didn’t crush the budget with a bunch of long-term deals. Alright, James Jones wasn’t bad. That’s three guys who weren’t awful. Otherwise, this was one of the more depressing shopping sprees in football history.)
Total Grade for all three years of free agency: C- (I’m dropping this a half-grade from the actual average because McKenzie actually had money to spend in 2014 and squandered it on a bunch of past-their-prime vets.)
Course No. 3: Trades
- 3/30/12: Acquired RB Mike Goodson via trade with Carolina in exchange for OL Bruce Campbell
- 4/28/12: Lions acquire pick No. 148, Raiders acquire picks No. 158 and 230
- 7/23/12: WR Louis Murphy traded to Carolina for undisclosed conditional draft choice
2012 Grade: C (McKenzie didn’t get much done in this area of General Managing.)
- 4/1/13: Acquired QB Matt Flynn via trade with Seattle in exchange for a fifth-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft and a conditional undisclosed 2015 selection
- 4/2/13: Traded QB Carson Palmer and a 2013 7th-round (219th overall) pick to Arizona Cardinals in exchange for Arizona’s 2013 6th-round pick (176th overall) and a conditional 2014 draft choice
- 4/27/13: Sent 1st round pick (No.3) to Dolphins for 1st round pick (No. 12) and 2nd round pick (No. 42)
- 4/27/13: Sent 4th round pick (No. 100) to Cardinals for 4th round pick (No. 112) and 6th round pick (No. 181)
- 4/27/13: Sent 6th round pick (No. 176) to Texans for 6th round pick (No. 184) and 7th round pick (No. 233)
2013 Grade: D (Matt Flynn was bad and expensive, the Cardinals made out like bandits in the Palmer trade, and McKenzie should’ve gotten more for the third overall pick.)
- 3/21/14: Raiders trade 6th round selection to Houston for Matt Schaub
- 4/21/14: Acquired 7th round selection (Jonathan Dowling) in 2014 NFL Draft via trade with the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for QB Terrelle Pryor
- 5/9/14: Sent No. 67 pick (Billy Turner) to Dolphins for No. 81 pick (Gabe Jackson) and No. 116 pick (Keith McGill)
2014 Grade: D- (No hindsight required to know that the Schaub trade was dreadful.)
Total Grade for all three years of trades: D (This is clearly not McKenzie’s strong suit.)
Course No. 4: Overall Impact
Teams are carried by their coaches and best players. Did McKenzie add any of the team’s best players over the last three years? I went through the top 10 players in terms of Annual Value (Pro-Football Reference’s flawed yet interesting rating system) and top 12 in Pro Football Focus grades (I added a couple more spots because PFF loves kickers and punters), then looked at all of the team’s Pro Bowl (also flawed) and All-Pro players. I placed “*” next to players brought in by McKenzie.
- C. Palmer: 10
- M. Brisiel: 7*
- C. Carlisle: 7
- L. Houston: 7
- J. Veldheer: 7
- P. Wheeler: 7*
- S. Wisniewski: 7
- M. Burris: 6*
- T. Kelly: 6
- B. Myers: 6
- M. Schaughnessy: 6
- S. Janikowski: 30.3
- S. Lechler: 18.6
- J. Veldheer: 16.5
- M. Reece: 16.2
- L. Houston: 12.4
- P. Wheeler: 11.9*
- D. Bryant: 10.5
- C. Palmer: 9.6
- R. McClain: 9.5
- S. Wisniewski: 8.1
- M. Goodson: 6.6
- R. Seymour: 6.4
2012 Pro Bowl
- R. Seymour
- S. Lechler
- S. Janikowski
- J. Condo
2012 First-Team All-Pro
2012 McKenzie Stars: 4-of-26 (15%)
- L. Houston: 8
- K. Burnett: 7*
- N. Roach: 7*
- P. Sims: 7*
- R. Streater: 7*
- K. Barnes: 6
- M. Brisiel: 6*
- R. Jennings: 6*
- T. Pashos: 6
- T. Porter: 6*
- T. Pryor: 6
- V. Walker: 6
- C. Woodson: 6*
- S. Janikowski: 18.7
- S. Wisniewski: 11.4
- S. Moore: 10.7*
- P. Sims: 8.1*
- L. Houston: 7.4*
- M. McCants: 6.4*
- M. Reece: 5.0
- A. Holmes: 4.6*
- R. Jennings: 3.8*
- U. Young: 3.0*
- M. Rivera: 2.7*
- R. Streater: 2.6*
- J. Mastrud: 2.6*
2013 Pro Bowl
- M. Reece
2013 First-Team All-Pro
2013 McKenzie Stars: 18-of-27 (67%)
- K. Mack: 7*
- M. Burris: 7*
- A. Smith: 7*
- J. Ellis: 6*
- S. Moore: 6*
- J. Tuck: 6*
- C. Woodson: 6*
- T. Brown: 5*
- D. Carr: 5*
- A. Howard: 5*
- D. Penn: 5*
- S. Wisniewski: 5
- K. Mack: 55.3*
- D. Penn: 19.3*
- S. Janikowski: 11.3
- J. Tuck: 6.5*
- M. King: 4.4*
- G. Jackson: 3.7*
- L. Asante: 3.5*
- C. Casey: 2.1*
- D. Autry: 2.0*
- B. Butler: 1.4*
- R. Lumpkin: 1.2*
- T. Branch: 0.9
2014 Pro Bowl
- M. Reece
2014 First-Team All-Pro
2014 McKenzie Stars: 21-of-25 (84%)
Strengths: Could be seen as the anti-Al Davis because he refuses to mortgage the future; threw the fans a bone when he signed Charles Woodson; found a promising young cornerback and cornerstone for the defense in consecutive picks; didn’t draft Johnny Manziel.
Weaknesses: Fired Hue Jackson and replaced him with Dennis Allen, in the process convincing Mark Davis to take a more prominent role in selecting the team’s latest coach; hasn’t gotten back all that much in trade — his trades for quarterbacks were comically bad; not a great judge of veteran talent or cornerbacks in general; had a lot of cap space to work with heading into 2014, but he blew a lot of that money on aging vets; couldn’t retain Rashad Jennings or Jared Veldheer.
Overall grade for Reggie McKenzie: D+ (Grade goes down from a C- average for all three disciplines because his first coaching hire failed, plus there’s an alarming lack of star power AND depth on this team. Lastly, the NFL is probably the easiest North American professional league for GMs to make a quick turnaround … the Raiders won eight games in the year before he arrived and just 11 games since. So far, McKenzie has proven he can take a team apart, but he still hasn’t quite put it back together.)
If McKenzie can pull off another draft like the 2014 class, convince a much better group of veterans to take the Raiders’ money in 2015 (maybe focus on guys who are under 30 — just a suggestion), and Jack Del Rio can work some magic, the Raiders have a chance to become a respectable team for the first time in a while. A team could do much worse than a Mack/Carr nucleus … in fact, they could lead the Raiders to great things in future seasons. On the other hand, it’s pretty remarkable that McKenzie has a job when you look at those win-loss records.