From a roster standpoint, the Las Vegas Raiders' most important development came in April in Nashville, where the team had a historic amount of capital in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Raiders were the 12th team in NFL history with three first-round draft picks, accumulated through trades of stars Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, and the pressure was on to ace the selections by landing impact players.
Clelin Ferrell (Defensive end, Clemson)
During the Raiders’ downturn starting in the early 2000s, they developed a reputation for becoming enamored of risky prospects’ potential and reaching too high in the NFL Draft to select them. If the naysayers are right, the new brain trust of general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden might have repeated the same sin with this year’s top selection. Neither scouts nor analytics pegged Ferrell as a high first-round pick before the Raiders chose him fourth overall.
The Raiders were desperate for a pass rusher above all else, however, and decided the two-time national champion was the best option. Ferrell racked up 21 sacks during his final two seasons at Clemson and was named a permanent team captain. His leadership qualities were major selling points for Mayock and Gruden, both of whom preached the importance of having a “character guy” to build around.
Josh Jacobs (Running back, Alabama)
The Raiders’ second first-round pick, 24th overall, also drew a fair amount of scrutiny. Advanced metrics are conclusive in finding that it’s not a smart investment to take a running back in the first round, but Gruden has regularly railed against analytics. He and Mayock agreed they had to draft the 5-foot-10, 220-pound bulldozing runner after watching his college film. Jacobs has a similar style to—and should fill in immediately for—Marshawn Lynch, who retired after two seasons with the Raiders. Jacobs isn’t especially fast for a ball-carrier, but few are better at breaking tackles.
Johnathan Abram (Safety, Mississippi State)
The hard-hitting 6-foot, 205-pound safety might have been the Raiders’ final first-round selection, but he already appears to have the most star power. Abram slipped to the bottom of the first round after being projected as high as the top 10, and the Raiders might have found a steal with the 27th overall pick.
He has drawn rave reviews from both coaches and teammates and has become a fan favorite for his brash demeanor on HBO’s Hard Knocks. Abram isn’t flashy in terms of causing turnovers—he only had two interceptions in college—but he’s a fierce backline defender who rarely lets anyone get past him.
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.