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Raiders begin building with cleaner, less risky NFL Draft

The grading part should be easy. Boring, maybe, but uncomplicated.

Just write down the same letter for 32 teams.

I = Incomplete.

The idea won’t go over well with those whose obsession it is to evaluate how each NFL franchise performs during the league’s annual draft, assessing which succeeds and fails, which reaches and plays it safe, which improves its roster and doesn’t.

It’s a lot easier than you might believe, given nobody knows anything.

It’s all guesswork, really, surmising how potential might either blossom or fall short, and that goes for those players selected by the Raiders.

Only time will prove if they overreacted by taking defensive Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall instead of grabbing a higher-rated prospect and perhaps still getting the Clemson star later in the first round, or if drafting a running back (Josh Jacobs) at No. 24 was also too early, although the season-ending injury to veteran Isaiah Crowell on Wednesday sure makes the pick look even more important now.

But while forecasting how the team’s draft will ultimately be judged on the field remains incredibly subjective, this isn’t: The class had a much different feel this year than last.

Cleaner. Fewer red flags to investigate. Players that other teams hadn’t passed on for medical or off-field issues.

Character also has an impressionistic quality to it. You never really know about a person. You can analyze one’s background and explore a player’s past to painstaking levels and still not be totally sure as to his makeup.

You just don’t know.

But while surface is all the Raiders have to go on for now, theirs is a 2019 class absent of those impediments that defined what then-general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Jon Gruden did at this time last year.

How much the firing of McKenzie and hiring of Mike Mayock has to do with such a dramatic shift is also debatable. Each draft is its own entity. And yet if anything became clear as the Raiders navigated their way through seven rounds, it was that the initial perception of Mayock’s role was greatly underestimated.

It’s true that Mayock doesn’t have as much juice as Gruden, but it’s not as if his cup is empty, and there were more signs of it last week than just Mayock talking Gruden off the ledge about possibly trading up from No. 24 out of fear someone was about to take Jacobs.

The Raiders stood pat, nobody selected the running back, and he was there, as Mayock predicted.

Not as much risk

“I couldn’t be happier with the way our relationship has developed,” Mayock said after the three-day draft. “(Gruden) is a guy with a strong opinion, and he brought me in to have an equally strong opinion, and I think that’s the important thing people have to understand. I didn’t come here to kind of just try to set a board.

“I came here to work with Jon and try and help him build a football team, a championship football team. … I think we complement each other because when I had a strong opinion, Jon listened. And when Jon has a strong opinion, I listen, and we go at it a little bit which is really good, but at the end of the day I think the important thing is when we make a decision, it’s a Raiders decision.”

Whether it was a first-round pick whose history included a serious leg injury or a third-round pick who was suspended in college and checked himself into rehab for marijuana use or a fourth-round pick with a knee issue or a fifth-round pick whose EKG at the combine showed irregularities or a sixth-round pick with suspensions and DUI charges in his past, the Raiders went heavy on risk in 2018.

They didn’t this time, at least not in the same way.

Ferrell. Jacobs. Hunter Renfrow. Theirs are stories defined by either leadership and hardship, and sometimes both.

Grading a draft is extremely subjective. So too are character assessments. Nobody really knows anything in the moment because time is the only constant that eventually brings clarity to the entire process.

But this was a cleaner draft for the Raiders than last year.

It owned a different, more positive vibe.

As far as Incomplete goes, that’s the best you can hope for until things get real.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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