ALAMEDA Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie learned a lesson about the NFL draft last year through no fault of his own.
"Try to keep your first-round pick," McKenzie said. "It will be more fun on Thursday when you've got one."
When McKenzie joined the Raiders, they didn't have a first-round pick, making the first night of the draft all about observation.
This time, he will have the third selection in Thursday's opening round the first of the Raiders' seven picks this year.
Barring a trade, McKenzie said he already has an idea who the Raiders will select in the first round as he continues to rebuild the franchise.
"Well, the key is drafting the best player," McKenzie said. "I don't think you can draft for need, especially in the first round. I think you draft the best player, try to fill that need down the line."
The Raiders, who have plenty of needs after a 4-12 season, should be able to land an impact player.
Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, Oregon defensive end/outside linebacker Dion Jordan or Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei could step in and provide help in the front seven.
Aside from offensive tackles Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma, there doesn't appear to be an offensive player worthy of being selected third.
McKenzie is committed to rebuilding through the draft, so it would take a very strong offer for the Raiders to give up the the third pick. He believes the best way to build a championship-caliber team is by drafting well and being selective in free agency.
"When you get guys that play together for a while, that's how you not only develop a core, but you develop that chemistry at each and every position," Mc-Kenzie said. "And that's how you win games in the fourth quarter you overcome adversity. That's how you become a champion. In doing that, you have to draft well. When you add certain players, they've got to mesh. So, yes, you want to build a team that way."
The Raiders are limited in free agency this year by "dead money" against their salary cap charges from players no longer on their roster but they will be an estimated $50 million under next year's cap.
Though relying on young players points to more struggles ahead, McKenzie isn't conceding the 2013 season.
"We're trying to compete now," McKenzie said. "(It) will depend on the players' performance on the field, but we're trying to add players (who) can help this team win, help this team compete. To say that we're just going take our lumps and play ball, that's not the goal here. The goal here is to compete each and every week and win games.
"We'll see how that goes from training camp on, but the start is now. The moves that we had to make, we made them, and we will continue to make them through training camp."