USA TODAY Sports’ Michael Middlehurst-
Schwartz breaks down the game of the newest Oakland Raider: Alabama running back Josh Jacobs.
USA TODAY Sports
ALAMEDA, Calif. – Just like old times, Mike Mayock was game for the traditional “Stump the Truck” exercise he used to engage in during his years as lead draft guru for the NFL Network.
Only this time, Mayock was actually on the clock.
The Oakland Raiders’ rookie GM nonetheless decided to play along during the latter stages of the draft on Saturday after a getting a text-message request from one of his former colleagues, producer Charlie Yook. And yes, he stumped the crew in the production truck – the objective is to dig up highlight footage of an obscure prospect – by texting back the name of Quinton Bell.
The twist? Bell, a defensive end from Prairie View A&M, was the Raiders’ seventh-round pick and Mayock’s final selection in his debut draft. The timing was such that the crew on the set at Mayock’s old job mentioned his “stump” pick at nearly the precise moment when the real pick was announced at the draft in Nashville.
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“I thought we could have a little fun with it, and it was cool,” Mayock said after the draft.
It was an interesting convergence of old job meets new job. The selection of Bell symbolized of how the process is supposed to work as Jon Gruden’s personnel chief. Internally, scouting coordinator Teddy Atlas III kept pushing for Bell, a 240-pounder who runs the 40 in 4.4. Mayock was ultimately convinced. Add with the made-for-TV element, theatre won – at least on that pick.
Yet whether the Raiders will be big winners in replacing ousted GM Reggie McKenzie with Mayock – with no experience calling war room shots – is still to be determined.
The Raiders, coming off a 4-12 finish, just had arguably the most important draft in franchise history, with three first-round picks and four choices among the top 35. Since 2002, Oakland (which will soon be Las Vegas) has had one winning season, one playoff berth.
For all the pressure on Gruden, who came from TV himself last year with a 10-year contract worth $100 million, there’s a new layer with the unconventional hire of Mayock. How Mayock operated – and after sending many of the scouts home, due to trust issues – was one of the most compelling storylines of the draft.
When Mayock ran into Ozzie Newsome while out for dinner during the Senior Bowl week, he asked the Ravens’ long-time GM if he had any advice.
“He said, ‘Mike, all I can tell you is that having an opinion is a hell of a lot easier than making a decision,’ “ Mayock recalled of the exchange with Newsome. “You kind of feel the weight of that in the draft room.”
He knows. Shortly after the draft — when the Raiders selected four players who played for either Clemson or Alabama in the national championship game, and placed a premium on leadership — Mayock joked that would have essentially been Miller Time at that point. Not now. He must live with the picks, beginning with defensive end Clelin Ferrell, whose selection at No. 4 overall stunned draftniks.
“The difference is just ownership, skin in the game,” said Mayock of the TV comparison. “It just meant something different this week for me.”
On TV, Mayock approached his role as if he were the GM for 32 teams. Now he’s the GM of one, although a feel for the other 31 is essential.
“His leadership in a tough situation was impressive,” Gruden, the Raiders coach, told USA TODAY after the draft. “He came out of television and had an unbelievable amount of intel on the players because of what he’s been doing for the last few years.”
We’ll see. The instant grades (from the likes of USA TODAY’s Nate Davis) don’t matter so much now. The quality of any team’s draft class will be revealed in time.
Even so, that didn’t stop Gruden from some quick, post-draft analysis as he chatted in the parking lot at the team’s headquarters. “I think we had a good draft … as long as the coaching doesn’t screw it up.”
During his years at the NFL Network, Mayock developed immense respect. He was, after all, one who rated Khalil Mack (traded away last year by Gruden) as the best player in the 2014 draft. And he pounded the table for Alvin Kamara, who turned out to be a steal for the Saints.
But, remember this: Mayock also rated Johnny Manziel over Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater, and thought Blaine Gabbert was a better prospect than Cam Newton. Oops.
Maybe Ferrell, Mayock’s first pick as GM, will come to represent whether this works for the Raiders. After Mack was dealt to the Bears, the Raiders defense ranked last in the NFL in sacks and scoring. It will be easy for fans and observers to judge Ferrell by a Mack standard.
Already, at least one former Raiders executive, Mike Lombardi, questioned the methods that led to the pick – and noted in his column for The Athletic that the late Al Davis would have never drafted a player without having a 40 time. Ferrell didn’t run the 40 at the combine, Clemson’s pro day or private workouts.
“Does it bother me that he didn’t run a 40? Yeah, a little bit it does,” Mayock said. “Especially because he’s such a hard worker and everything. Jon and I had the conversation … it kind of went to I just said, ‘Listen, we’ve got three years of tape. If we can’t figure out if this kid can rush the passer and set an edge, it’s on us, not on him.’ ”
The performance of the players will provide a certain bottom-line measurement for Mayock, in concert with the team’s won-loss record as Gruden seeks to ignite the type of resurgence with the franchise that he achieved during his first stint as Raiders coach from 1998-2001. Yet the chemistry between the two – Gruden has ultimate say in personnel decisions, but is relying on Mayock to make the picks – also has a make-or-break dynamic.
McKenzie, who has since landed with the Dolphins as Assistant GM, stayed aboard after Gruden’s hire despite opportunities for potential GM jobs elsewhere. Yet less than a year later, he was out, seemingly due to a lack of chemistry and philosophy. Now Gruden is working alongside a long-time friend, touting their similar philosophies in viewing players – although both admit they’ve had constructive debates when fueled by different opinions.
“You have to work with somebody,” Gruden said. “Some head coaches have more authority to make picks than others, but I’ve always deep down felt if you had the right battery – a combination of scouting and coaching and studying, can get along with people, respect each other – it could be a unique situation.”
No doubt, it’s unique. It was striking to hear Gruden talk about how Mayock energizes him. Energy is one of the trademarks of Gruden’s coaching style – as in nobody brings more. Maybe he’s met a match.
During the draft, Gruden said the environment was spiced by ribbing with Mayock.
“Every time one of the guys he liked more than me got drafted, he’d rub it in my face a little,” Gruden said. “Then when my guys got picked … we had a lot of back and forth.”
Mayock mentioned how he needed to get it right in assessing whether to trade up or back, and still draft targeted players.
“You’re trying to tell Coach Gruden, ‘Trust me, if we trade back 10 spots, our guy’s still going to be there and we’ll pick up another pick,’ “ Mayock said. “And Jon’s staring at you and you’re just sitting there going, ‘Man, it’s a lot different than NFL Network … and that guy better be there in 10 picks.’ “
The draft is over, but Mayock is undoubtedly still on the clock.