NFL 2012 Draft–The Reggie McKenzie Era Begins

This week brings football fans the 2012 NFL Draft. I personally attended the draft in 2006, 2007, and 2008. I will not be at this one, but for Oakland Raider fans it will be the most unusual draft ever.

This is the first draft in almost half a century without Al Davis. The President of the General Partner and lifelong Raider passed away last year. He made all the decisions, and now his son Mark is moving the Raiders into a more traditional structure. Reggie McKenzie has been hired away from the Green Bay Packers to become the Raiders General Manager. He was an assistant GM with the Packers, and this is his first stint as the top personnel man. Mr. McKenzie played with the Raiders in the 1980s.

From his first day on the job, Mr. McKenzie has been unconventional. Yet he is going to do it his way, and this first draft will be interesting.

On an interesting side note, I have often said that professional sports (along with sales and the military) is one of the only areas in society where race truly does not matter. The NFL is a meritocracy. Al Davis was a maverick, but he was also always committed to civil rights. He hired the first black head coach of the modern era in Art Shell, the first Hispanic head coach in Tom Flores, and the first female executive in Amy Trask.

So it is interesting in how uninteresting it is at what transpired when Al Davis, who was Jewish, died. His son Mark hired a black GM. Then Mr. McKenzie fired the black head coach (Hue Jackson) and hired a white one. Hue Jackson was not “Reggie’s guy,” and Reggie was going to bring in his guy.

Yet what was more interesting than race was that Mr. McKenzie went outside of people he knew. Coming from the Packers, it was widely expected that McKenzie would raid the Green Bay staff for the next coach. Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers and assistant head coach and defensive coach Winston Moss were strong contenders. Capers had head coaching experience and Moss, like McKenzie, was a former Raider player. The bonds seemed solid.

So what does McKenzie do? He hires Dennis Allen, the Denver Broncos Defensive Coordinator. Allen had only been in that job for one season, and had never been a head coach.

Naturally the Raider Nation has every right to be scared. When the Detroit Lions brought in a first time President in Matt Millen and a first time head coach in Marty Morningwheg, the result was a disastrous 5-27 record the first two seasons. Morningwheg was fired but Millen never turned it around before the roof caved in during the infamous 0-16 season in 2008. Millen was a former Raider player who win 4 Super Bowls with 3 teams. That did not translate into success in the front office.

Reggie McKenzie has a fantastic pedigree. Yet he has never done this before.

So what happens now?

For one thing, Mr. McKenzie is not timid. He is slashing and burning to get the Raiders out of salary cap hell. This has led to some players such as Kamerion Wimbley being cut. Others such as Michael Bush signed elsewhere. Stanford Routt and his 10 million per year salary were shown the door. Reggie McKenzie is going to do it his way, and the Raiders went from being far over the cap to within a reasonable budget.

One problem Mr. McKenzie will have is that the Raiders do not have any draft pick in the first or second round. The Raiders have a compensatory pick at the end of the third round, spot 95 overall. The first round pick was traded away by Hue Jackson for Carson Palmer.

The one thing we know about Mr. McKenzie is that he comes from a successful franchise. Mr. McKenzie will most likely turn the Raiders into “Packers West,” which is not a bad thing.

So what does this mean from a draft standpoint?

The “Packers way” is not about drafting based on need. The Packers consistently pick the best available football player on their board regardless of position. The Packers have selected players at positions where they were already well stocked. This takes remarkable discipline.

So for those who like to see drafts based on need, that is most likely not what the Raiders will do.

We will know in three to five years how much or how little Reggie McKenzie had to do with the success of the Packers. He deserves as much time as possible.

After 9 straight non-winning seasons, the Raider fans want to win now. 7 straight 5-11 or worse seasons were followed by a pair of 8-8 seasons. Hue Jackson was given much of the credit for the improvement, especially on offense. So some will be tempted to blame Mr. McKenzie if the team backslides.

This would be a mistake. The Raiders have a rock hard schedule this coming year, especially the first 5 games. Those who believe the league hates the Raiders certainly have some ammo with this schedule.

The Raiders need to cut down on penalties, and critics point out they have never ever done this. This is false. Jon Gruden instilled discipline. After he left, the Raiders regressed in that area.

So while 2012 may be a tough year for the Raider Nation, this draft will be important for the Raiders even with so few picks.

The Al Davis era is sadly over, and the Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen era has begun.

Fans of the Silver and Black should watch this draft very closely.

eric aka the Tygrrrr Express

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