ALAMEDA, Calif. — Talent and character.
The Raiders sought this combination, general manager Mike Mayock said Thursday evening, when approaching a signature draft in which the franchise owned eight picks, including three in the first round. These traits coexist in what they regard as “foundational players.”
He and coach Jon Gruden believe they found three.
Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall, Alabama running back Josh Jacobs at No. 24 and Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram at No. 27 were entrusted Thursday to help guide the Raiders into the future. They were selected as part of a draft class that will expand Friday when the team owns the third pick of the second round.
This is scheduled to be the Raiders’ final draft before a 2020 relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas.
The team finished 4-12 in 2018.
“We’re building our football team, whether we want to admit it or people like it or not,” Gruden said. “We’re building our team, and we need building blocks. We have some in place, and we needed these three first rounders to come in here and inherit that responsibility. This is a tough job. This franchise is moving to Las Vegas. It’s very, very challenging. You’ve got to have a lot of maturity.
“We wanted guys who weren’t only great football players and talents but guys who could handle the circumstances of being front-line players, leaders and also having a lot of maturity to handle the move of the franchise. … We did a lot of work on their character. Mayock and I truly believe that’s the winning edge in all the great players we’ve been around.”
No doubt, the impending Las Vegas move underscored the importance of off-field maturity.
To that end, Mayock said that the Raiders asked all 112 prospects they interviewed about living close to the Las Vegas Strip and whether that would be a problem.
“All 112 of them said, ‘No, Coach. It’s going to be fine,’” Mayock said. “We didn’t find one guy that admitted Las Vegas would be an issue. So they all lied to us.”
But the Raiders believed some.
Ferrell, for example, was raised in a military family. His mother served in Operation Desert Storm. His father took two tours in Vietnam before, when Ferrell was 13, passing away to cancer. Ferrell overcame adversity and became a two-time All-American at Clemson and a cornerstone to a defense that won the national championship.
In Nashville, Tennessee, Jacobs wore a suit jacket themed to depict a rose growing out of concrete. He was homeless for a period of his life. Now, he’s in the NFL. Shortly after Abram was drafted, he spoke to Raiders reporters in a conference call. He was asked what his first purchase will be with his first NFL paycheck.
“Nothing,” Abram said. “I’m not buying anything. I plan to save a lot of my money.”
The Raiders met with Ferrell during the combine in March and hosted him at their facility this month. At the combine, the team privately interviewed him inside an Indiapolis hotel.
“This kid went through so much,” Mayock said, “and all he was was this ball of positive energy. … Every guy we talked to at Clemson talked about ‘Cle.’ … He had been through a lot. He had dealt with adversity. Playing in a national championship game to him was nothing. He’s going to come out here, and to him, it’s not going to be a big deal. He’s been through worse. He’s going to understand how to handle this, how to handle Vegas.”
The Raiders are coming to Las Vegas.
They’re bringing Ferrell, Jacobs and Abram with them.
Friday’s Draft on TV and Radio
Round 2: 4 p.m. ESPN
Rounds 2 and 3: 4 p.m. KTNV-13, NFLN, KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
Rounds 2 and 3: 5 p.m. ESPN2