Oakland Raiders: Revisiting Reggie McKenzie’s laughable NFL Draft history

Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images /
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Oakland Raiders
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images /

Former Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie deserves a lot of credit for the work he did, but his string of awful NFL Draft classes can’t be ignored.

To call this season of Oakland Raiders football tumultuous would be an understatement as vast as saying, “gee, the universe sure is a big place.” With all of the comings, goings, hires, firings, and the avalanche of new faces around the organization, it’s been tough to keep track of everybody without a scorecard.

Such is the natural process of an organization in full-out rebuild mode as they try to find which pieces fit and which pieces don’t.

And it is a process. The problems inherent within the organization and roster of this team aren’t something that can be fixed overnight, by waving a magic wand, or the return of the last coach who had sustained success with this team.

To build this roster correctly and to steer it toward having sustained success over the long haul, means having to make some hard and even unpopular decisions – and there have been many unpopular decisions thus far in Jon Gruden’s second go ’round with the team.

And guess what? There are going to be plenty more unpopular decisions to come, so buckle your seat belt, strap on a helmet, and be prepared for it.

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As he’s torn down the roster and accumulated a ton of draft capital with which to rebuild this team, Gruden has turned the focus to talent evaluation. Most people are skeptical that he’ll put the three first-round picks he’s got in 2019 (and two first-rounders in 2020) to good use.

Most seem to think he’ll waste all of that first-round talent and the Raiders will be no better off than they were before he arrived. It’s an amazing reversal from the halcyon days of last year when Gruden was viewed almost like a conquering hero, returning to liberate the land from the jaws of darkness.

That it hasn’t happened overnight has quickly soured many on the man.

And as public opinion on Gruden has gone south, one of the most fascinating byproducts is that public opinion of former GM Reggie McKenzie has received a big boost.

Now, let’s give credit where credit is due. After the death of Al Davis, McKenzie took a job nobody wanted and spearheaded a franchise in absolute shambles and disarray. And McKenzie did a fantastic job of navigating this team through salary cap hell. He made the tough calls, made some unpopular decisions, and got this team back on stable footing once more.

For that, and more, McKenzie deserves bushels of credit and gratitude.

Yet, one of the underlying narratives among many is that he left this team in good shape and that Gruden inherited a “playoff caliber” roster. That’s the takeaway from many countless articles and talking heads, in the wake of McKenzie’s firing. According to many, McKenzie the talent evaluator was spot on.

Yeah, okay. As has been written here before, nothing could be further from the truth of things. It’s almost like after a break up, when you’re lonely. All you remember are the good things that made you happy — and forget all about the time they crashed your car, killed your fish, or broke your heart.

Did McKenzie pick up some solid players over the course of his tenure? Absolutely. The 2014 draft class that yielded Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, and Gabe Jackson is the zenith of his years as Oakland’s top dog. It’s a hell of a class and one that he deserves credit for.

However, beyond that, McKenzie’s track record as a talent evaluator is decidedly mixed, bordering on poor. And the so-called “playoff caliber” roster he is leaving behind is nothing more than a mirage in the desert. It’s all smoke and mirrors with the 2016 playoff team an aberration in his seven-season tenure.

That overachieving 2016 squad is the outlier of a tenure in which the talent McKenzie the GM accrued posted a 39-70 record. With 12 of those wins coming in 2016, that’s an average of 4.5 wins for every other season McKenzie manned the big chair, which isn’t a great win total no matter which way you slice it and certainly makes 2016 look like a bit of a fluke.

Yet, despite that data set, the previously mentioned article published here received some pushback, so let’s look at yet another data set that shows McKenzie’s record as a talent evaluator was less than sterling, shall we?

To do that, let’s take a look at McKenzie’s draft history, since there seems to be no better way to gauge just how effective he was in identifying and drafting talent. And to be perfectly fair, we’re going to toss out McKenzie’s first draft in 2012, since he was pretty well operating with both hands tied behind his back thanks to Hue Jackson’s ill-conceived trade for Carson Palmer.

So, starting with McKenzie’s first draft, in which he had a full slate of picks, let’s see how he did and judge based on that.