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Andy Furillo: Pressure off Raiders in draft? Hardly, McKenzie says

General manager Reggie McKenzie has made some shrewd draft-day selections, including All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack, Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr, and NFL All-Rookie Team wide receiver Amari Cooper.
General manager Reggie McKenzie has made some shrewd draft-day selections, including All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack, Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr, and NFL All-Rookie Team wide receiver Amari Cooper. The Associated Press

Numerologists will note that the Raiders have the 14th, 44th, 75th, 114th, 143rd, 154th, 194th and 234th picks in next week’s NFL draft. The process will take three days, or four fewer than the seven reported in Genesis needed to create the world.

It was easier to get things done in those days.

Biblically speaking, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has sparked an an Exodus-like movement out of the NFL wastelands, his draft picks have been so good. He nailed it in 2014 with All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack and Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr, and he landed keepers the same year with offensive lineman Gabe Jackson, defensive tackle Justin Ellis and defensive back T.J. Carrie.

Last year, McKenzie scored with NFL All-Rookie Team wide receiver Amari Cooper, star defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., wow-factor tight end Clive Walford and linebacker Ben Heeney. Through the draft, McKenzie has given Raiders fans a core of young talent that will blossom and grow whether they root for the team that plays its home games in Los Angeles, Las Vegas or San Antonio, although everybody knows it belongs in the Oakland Coliseum fixer-upper. Maybe McKenzie can draft an arbitrator to settle the differences between Raiders owner Mark Davis and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf so they can get going on the rehab project.

Having become adept at the draft, McKenzie also seems to have figured out the mystery of free agency. His signings of center Rodney Hudson last year and Kelechi Osemele last month made the Raiders’ offensive line one of the league’s best. McKenzie also has improved the team in the secondary and at linebacker and wide receiver, while making the right moves to resign Donald Penn at left tackle and retaining depth by holding onto nine of the team’s eligible free agents.

The Raiders’ talent level might be its highest since the team last made the playoffs in 2002.

On Friday, McKenzie made no pronouncements about who he thinks is the 14th-best player in this year’s draft or where any prospects might register on his hierarchy of needs. He did say, though, that there is a consequence to his having stocked the shelves with a roster that some experts think is good enough to win the AFC West.

“Honestly, I think it’s more pressure,” McKenzie said, when asked if he felt an easing of scrutiny on him to not botch the draft. “You guys write about how good Khalil, Amari and Derek and all these guys are. How can that not put pressure on me? We’ve got to continue to get really good players in here, so we’re looking forward to build on that.”

Experts believe Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland will be the most talented player available at No. 14. Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves IIIalso has been mentioned as a possible Raiders draft target.

Again, none of this was confirmed by McKenzie, who didn’t mention any of the estimated 253 names that will be announced during the draft. If the Raiders have a philosophy, McKenzie said it’s to take the best available player who can help immediately, which sounds sensible enough. He said it’s not unusual for a team to deal a couple of lower picks to get a higher one if it “is falling in love with a certain player, ” but he didn’t say if the Raiders held such romantic interest.

“There’s always players that you really like, but I have zero idea who will be there, when, so you can’t get too excited about a guy, unless you’re picking first,” McKenzie said. “I’ve seen players (we wanted) taken right before me, so it’s tough.”

However, McKenzie added, “Let me tell you something. When we get our player, we’re going to love him.”

McKenzie’s partner in the collaborative effort to get the Raiders back into the playoffs joined him for Friday’s draft discussion. McKenzie and coach Jack Del Rio said they talk to and listen to each other often and all year, not just in the week before the draft, to go over the team’s needs. Together, they have produced a team expected to win more games than it loses, perhaps several more.

“Raising expectations is one of the goals I had from Day One,” Del Rio said. “I think you’re going to get what you demand and what you expect, if you commit to it and work at it. So, yeah, I wanted us to think in those terms last year, and that hasn’t really changed.”

The Raiders will hold their rookie camp May 13, then come organized team activities, followed by the mid-June mandatory minicamp and preseason drills – all of which Del Rio characterized as “leading into a big year.”

You get the sense that this time he’s right.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo

NFL draft

  • When: Thursday, 5 p.m. (Round 1); April 29, 4 p.m. (Rounds 2-3); and April 30, noon (Rounds 4-7)
  • Where: Chicago
  • No. 1 pick: Los Angeles
  • 49ers’ first pick: No. 7
  • Raiders’ first pick: No. 14
  • TV: ESPN, NFL Network
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