ALAMEDA — If there were any lingering doubts, they were dispelled Wednesday. These are not your father's Raiders. And for the first draft in nearly 50 years, they most certainly are not Al Davis' Raiders.
General manager Reggie McKenzie, appearing at a press conference to discuss the team's draft plans, painted a picture that seemed to take the Raiders out of their maverick mode of operations and place them firmly in the mainstream. Drafting for character .<TH>.<TH>. balancing size and speed against other characteristics .<TH>.<TH>. refusing to trade future picks. It would have been anathema to Davis.
Another point of departure: The former team owner who passed away last October wouldn't have admitted to being nervous about the upcoming draft.
"I won't be OK," McKenzie said, referring to the run-up to the first round, which kicks off April 26. "It's hard to sleep now. It's an exciting time. Coach Davis, this has been his deal since the Raiders were the Raiders. So I am the new guy. This is my first time drafting after a legend has been drafting for the Raiders for so long."
The legend seemed to lose his touch in recent years, though, spending first-round draft picks on underachievers like quarterback JaMarcus Russell, offensive lineman Robert Gallery, linebacker Rolando McClain and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. The Raiders and their fans hope that McKenzie, who spent 18 years in the Green Bay Packers' personnel department, can reverse the trend.
Wednesday, McKenzie said he and his scouts are in "the beginning stages of our draft meetings." He immediately fired former coach Hue Jackson upon accepting the GM job in January, but has left the personnel operation largely intact. That means the scouts who answered to Davis for years are getting used to a new style.
"They've had to adjust quite a bit," McKenzie said. "But we've been together at the Senior Bowl, of course the combine, and so we're on the same page now. But it was a little adjustment for us."
McKenzie said the Raiders will use a numbering system for prospects, grading players from first round all the way down to rejects. They will take into account talent, medical history and character, and by the time the draft gets underway, they hope to have a board that is practically etched in stone.
"It's an extensive process, but .<TH>.<TH>. we try not to make it rocket science," McKenzie said. "At least, I don't. The bottom line is trying to figure out if the guy can play."
Under Davis' watch, that frequently translated to whether a guy could run. The Raiders' draft haul over the past decade includes some of the fastest 40-yard runners at the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, including Heyward-Bey, Carlos Francis, Fabian Washington, Stanford Routt, Jacoby Ford and Taiwan Jones.
It was said the Raiders of the 2000s could always put together the fastest 4x100 relay team in the NFL. They rarely fielded the best football team.
McKenzie made it clear he, too, is looking for speed and size - and a lot more.
"Speed is always gonna be important," he said. "But if you're insinuating that speed only? No. We're not looking for just guys that run fast, no. Of course we love size, and we're gonna emphasize size. But we want to make sure they're good football players. Make sure they're tough, they understand the game, and size and speed will always matter."