GM Reggie McKenzie addresses the media. Photo by Tony Gonzales
McKenzie: We are in the beginning stages of our draft meetings. Been going on a couple of days, so we’re looking forward to getting our draft board exactly the way we want it, and also excited to see all the players around and working out and getting familiar with the coaching staff. So this is an exciting time, and we’re just going to try to see if we can get better each day. The draft preparations are going very well. All of the scouts are in and getting this board the way we want it.
Q: What can you tell us about your system for evaluating talent? Not any secrets or anything, but just nuts and bolts. Do you affix numbers to players, are there letter grades, are there colors like blue-chip? Not so much what’s on it, what does the board look like?
McKenzie: Our draft board is probably like many others. Grading systems vary, but we have a numbering grading system, and from 1st round down to free agents to rejects is all a number grade. We value both on the field and off the field. We take into account the character of guys, the medical aspect. So it’s an intensive process, but we try not to make it rocket science. At least I don’t. Bottom line is to try to figure out if a guy can play. And then if he can play, how good is he? Then you try to stick him in the right spot, and then you try to figure out the person. As far as his will to play the game, off the field issues, coachability… All of that playing a part of it, but the medical really plays a major role.
Q: With you guys not picking until 95, how much time do you even spend on looking at the guys who you’re pretty confident will be gone 1st round?
McKenzie: We take a look at them. We’re going to go through the process. When
Q: Are you a pretty much a ‘best player available’ kind of guy?
Q: You’re working with a scouting team that was largely in place before you got here. How much are they having to adapt to your scouting style, or vice versa, or is a lot of that kind of standardized across the league?
McKenzie: Bits and pieces are standard, but because evaluations are evaluations, it’s how you do it and the process. They’ve had to adjust quite a bit. When I got on board we’ve been together at the Senior Bowl and of course the Combine, so we’re on the same page now. But it was a little adjustment for us.
Q: I’m sure when you sat down with Mark [Davis] when you were talking to him about the job, you sketched out maybe the way you’d like the future to roll out. How closely has it matched to what’s happened leading up to the draft?
McKenzie: First of all, Mark Davis has been excellent and allowed me to do it the way we needed to do it as far as change is concerned. It’s gone much better than I expected. It really has. So it’s going pretty good.
Q: What’s been better?
McKenzie: Well, trying to get the building the right way, the facility, the computer system, as far as the information and the viewing of film and how we can better work within our personnel department. There’s a lot of work that got done to get it the way we needed to get it done, to have a draft room ready for the meetings and also the draft. It’s come along very well.
Q: I know you said picking at 95 it’s a situation of going for the best player available, but what do you see as a huge need that you can address in the draft with a 95 overall pick?
McKenzie: What I talked to the coaching staff about, we need depth. We feel like we’ve got players that we can line up a lot of spots, and we’ve got some good players, but when you talk about a guy goes down, we need depth at a few spots, quite a few spots. With some of these guys it’s going to play out with the competition that we already have. The coaches are going to have to get to know some of these guys who are already on rosters, but we need some depth regardless to compete and hopefully win jobs. That’s what we’re targeting. We’re targeting, when we say best players, whether it’s d-line, linebacker, o-line, tight end, it doesn’t matter. We want to get a good player. We’ve got five picks. We need to make them all count.
Q: When you talk about depth, do you see
McKenzie: Absolutely. Hopefully, our quarterback coach and offensive coordinator and the staff can work him starting at next week’s voluntary mini-camp and see if we can get him rolling. It’s going to be a constant evaluation, but they need to find out how good he is and how good he can be.
Q: He’s a possible number two then? It’s possible he could be the number two quarterback?
McKenzie: That’s his goal right there, and that’s the goal that the coaches are going to try to get him going.
Q: Do you decide that before you look to bring a veteran in to be the backup? Is it first, see if [Terrelle] Pryor can do it?
McKenzie: Yeah, I think that’s the natural progression, absolutely. They need to know what he is, how he can throw the ball, how he picks it up, and get him on the field. So next week, I think it’s going to be a great tell-tale sign for the coaching staff. Not just for the quarterback position, but many of those positions.
Q: Is it important to have that mini-camp before the draft so the coaches have a slightly better sense of what you have?
McKenzie: It’s not imperative that you have it before, but I know that as far as they’re concerned, it’s a good measuring stick of them. If we see guys, whatever position it is, the draft is going to take care of itself, regardless of who does well next week in practice or not.
Q: Talking about looking for the best player available, is there anywhere on your board at all where need is even referred to?
McKenzie: At this point, we’re not looking at needs. When I get the coaches in and start banging heads with those guys and figuring out what they really would like to have, then that will come into play. The decision from day one, when I talked to the head coach, we’re going to get the best player available.
Q: If you have a guy that’s just a little bit better, but there’s a guy right behind him that’s in a position of need…
McKenzie: When we talk about who’s better and how much are they better, it’s a fine line there. And then you probably look at the need a little bit especially if you don’t see any other players at that spot later on. If there’s a vast difference we’re going with the best player. I’m not going to reach down to get a player because we need this position. That hasn’t turned out good in my past years when that was done.
Q: Speed has always been a big part of the Raiders development and the way you draft. What are your philosophies on that? Is there going to be a change in the way the Raiders go about things now that Al Davis has passed?
McKenzie: Speed is always going to be important, but if you’re insinuating speed only, no. We’re not looking for just guys that run fast. No. Of course, we love size, and we’re going to 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.
Q: Can you expand on what you may have learned from Al Davis on that front? What you may have taken from him?
McKenzie: The importance of to what degree that size and speed are important. It is hard to find 6’6” 311-pound defensive linemen that are athletic, and to top it off, that are good. So when you get a chance to get one, you take him, more so than the 6’1” 285 lbs. guy. It’s a difference. Offensive linemen recognize the difference. That’s what I mean. It plays a part. But when it all comes down, can the guy play football? And when we’re evaluating guys we make sure that they’re good football players.
Q: You mentioned the voluntary workouts coming up. Do you guys sense that it’s going to be a strong turnout for the guys showing up?
Q: And is [Darren] McFadden good to go? Is he going to be any way limited?
McKenzie: He’s good to go. I don’t know if the head coach is going to let him do a whole lot. He’ll be out there, but how much? I have no idea how much he’s going to push many of those guys who came off of injuries from last season. But they all will be out there.
Q: If the best player available might not possess the characteristics [size, speed] that you’re looking for, might you still go on him?
McKenzie: If we have him at a certain spot on the board, that’s going to be our guy. We put him there for a reason, so if he’s a shorter corner then ideal, but we got him in a certain spot, that means we think he’s special. The way the board is set up, we’re going to just go by the board.
Q: In the past you’ve mentioned your success in later rounds. Is it less about strength and speed at that point, is it more about something else, trying to find hidden gems?
McKenzie: No, it’s still speed and strength and size. It all has a part in putting your board together, so we’re not going to try to alter it as we go.
Q: How has it gone with the guys that you’re allowed to have in ahead of time? Is it you that meets with them or is it everybody? For the guys that you might take and the guys that you’re allowed to have in?
McKenzie: It’s gone well. I don’t meet with them. The coaching staff, you get a little bit of time to meet with them. Then the weight lifting staff, they get to work them out in the weight room and monitor their weight room stuff and their on the field stuff.
Q: How much interaction have you had with
McKenzie: Other than meet and great, to my extent, just hello and exchange pleasantries, but the coaching staff is very excited and he’s very excited to be here. So it’s been very positive in regards to Carson.
Q: Is 'Hard Knocks' something that you’d be interested in down the road for this team, to have HBO cameras around and get that kind of publicity?
McKenzie: If you ask me, I say no. I wouldn’t want to have HBO here, but I’m sure some players, but I don’t if Coach would want to have those guys here, but don’t ask me, because my answer is, ‘stay away.’
Q: What would be your reservations?
McKenzie: Just to be around, I think training camp is a long time with your team and not to be publicized throughout the country. I like Raider business to stay Raider business. That’s all. You want people to be comfortable, to let their guard down. I think by having that group here, I think it would be a little different. You know players and coaches act a little different when TV cameras are on.
Q: Since you’re not going to have the first pick of the draft, I can ask you, what do you think of the two quarterbacks, Luck and Griffin?
McKenzie: You can’t go wrong with either one of those guys, I think at every aspect, I’m talking about the knowledge of the game, their character, their leadership and their skill. Those top two teams if they’re looking for a quarterback they’re in the right spot. All you have to do is sit there and pick whichever one comes your way. I don’t think you can miss on either one of those two.
Q: Are they further along than say when you took Aaron Rodgers when he dropped to 20th?
McKenzie: I don’t think so, further along. I think they’ll be ready to go. We didn’t have to play A-Rod. We waited awhile to play him. How would he have played if he had played right off the bat? He probably would have taken his bumps and bruises early, but we knew he was going to be a pretty good little player when he had the opportunity to get out there. Those two guys are still going to take their hits now and it’s not going to be all peachy-keen for those two guys, but they’ll get it done I think.
Q: With just the five picks and you mentioned lots of areas where you need depth, do you shy away from guys who are high-risk, high-reward type players?
Q: This is your first draft in charge and your first pick isn’t until the third round; are you going to be kind of restless that first night or are you going to be okay on that Thursday night?
McKenzie: Absolutely not, I won’t be okay. It’s hard to sleep now. It’s an exciting time. Mr. Davis this has been his deal since the Raiders were the Raiders, so I’m the new guy. It’s my first time. I’m drafting after a legend that has been drafting for the Raiders for so long. So it’s huge. But I’m excited about it and I’m looking forward to it.
Q: Are their notes from previous drafts in there or things you can go back and look at?
McKenzie: No, not notes, just thoughts of people. You still have so many people in this organization, so I get to hear everything about how he used to do it.
Q: How does it work out if there’s a guy you want, but the mood in the room thinks you should go elsewhere? Do you listen to them more or do you say no, I have my guy?
McKenzie: Once we make the decision, we’re not going to think back and start listening to a whole bunch of, whether it’s coaches or scouts, if the board tells us to do one thing, that’s the way we’re going to do it. And everybody will know that going in. That’s why you spend all this time to set the board. You don’t wait until draft day to start making decisions on how we’re going to pick them. Now, the decision to pick if two guys are there at the same level, then it’s a discussion and we’ll have a discussion, but it’s usually with the head coach.
Q: Is there a chance that you could trade in, maybe not the first, but can you trade into the second?
McKenzie: I think there’s always ways to trade up, trade in to, trading back, it’s just a matter of what you’re willing to give up or what do you want to receive out of the deal. If a team comes and asks for something huge just to offer me if I want to get into the first round, but I have to give them my first born, that’s not going to happen.
Q: This team has traded future picks a lot, what’s your philosophy on that?
McKenzie: I do not want to trade future picks. Usually you consider that if it’s a future 7th, if you need a guy going into the season, something happens, but I don’t like to even consider trading future picks, especially high ones.
Q: Scouting reports over the years, are they backlogged somewhere? Can you check against guys on your scouting staff and what their reports were on specific players, even guys that you didn’t take so you can get an idea that maybe this guy was right?
McKenzie: Yes, absolutely.
Q: Can you name a few other picks, besides Aaron Rodgers, that you were particularly proud of?
McKenzie: Quite a few. As early as William Henderson in the 3rd round as a fullback when nobody really even had him. We felt really good about the guy. Going into William & Mary and getting Darren Sharper in the 2nd round and a lot of people thought that was a huge reach grabbing a kid like that. Even down to ladder rounds with Donald Driver in the 7th round. We really liked him and we were excited that he was still there in the 7th round, but we liked the kid. We could go on and on, Mark Tauscher the next year in the 7th round. Just getting guys late and then they turn out to be, you knew they were good football players, but you didn’t know how good they were going to be. Desmond Bishop out here from Cal a few years ago, 6th round. He was a big time starter. You can find starters the last couple, three rounds, but you have the board and when they’re there, you take them. It’s not an exact science, you’re going to hit and miss, but if you stick to what you believe in, hopefully you hit more than you miss.
Q: Have you found that as a group at Green Bay that you were pretty good at assessing guys that really wanted to play football, loved to play football, that when you missed it was more because of injuries or something else?
McKenzie: More than not, yes. We felt like we were pretty good, number one, with some character guys. We were not blindsided by certain guys. The ones that we took that had a little bit of risk, we knew about it. But the key as we always talked about was, make sure they’re good football players who want to play football. That holds true with me. You have to make sure that they really love the game and make sure that they’re good football players. All the other stuff, how they test, how they play, what kind of skills they have, that all plays a part in how you evaluate them.
Q: Any rookie player in the NFL is going to be tested by veteran players to see what they’ve got. Do you expect yourself to be tested by executives from around the league?
McKenzie: Absolutely. They try to come to me and try to get me a trade that’s in their favor. That’s part of being a rookie.
Q: What role will Mark Davis play in draft selection?
McKenzie: I’m sure he’s going to be in the room and before that, wanting to know how the board is coming. It’s going to be in a supportive role for myself and staff like he’s always been. He’s going to be there in support.
Q: What are the difficulties in scouting the guys that went to smaller schools? How do you judge how they did against their opponents and how that’ll translate?
McKenzie: Small school players it’s hard because of that. You get one guy that jumps out, not only physically, but when you watch the tape skill-wise. Number one you want to make sure they dominate the league that they’re in. Number two, if they had a chance to play in a bowl game, see how they competed against upper competition. Then you evaluate that. But if you don’t get a chance to see them against different competition, higher competition, you just have to go with your gut and what you see on tape and what you see in person, at their pro day or if they’re invited to the Combine, see how they competed against other guys, just from an athletic standpoint. But you try to get as much information as you can in contrast to what you don’t have.
Q: How much attention do you pay to a Wonderlic score?
McKenzie: You recognize it, then you try to apply it to how he plays. But it’s more football intelligence, football instincts that you’re concerned more with than the Wonderlic score. Certain positions you probably look at it a little stronger, mostly your quarterbacks and stuff like that.