Over the last few years, it became apparent that the motto here at The Draft Network—draft good players—was easier said than done for the Las Vegas Raiders. You’d be hard-pressed to find a team whose front office drafted worse from 2019 to 2021.
When we reflect on general managers’ tenures with their teams, their draft classes and team performance are often the measures we use to judge how successful they were. That’s bad news for Mike Mayock, the now-former general manager of the Raiders.
In the three years with Mayock at the helm, the Raiders finished 7-9, 8-8, and 10-7. It’s a shockingly decent result, considering how awful his draft classes were.
Las Vegas Raiders whiffed in 2019 first round
Let’s start with Mayock’s first trip through the NFL draft as a general manager. The Raiders had three first-round picks—including No. 4 overall—after trading away edge rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper. With three first-rounders, they had to land at least one long-term starter, right?
Wrong. The Raiders drafted defensive end Clelin Ferrell, running back Josh Jacobs, and safety Johnathan Abram with their three first-round picks.
Ferrell was a reach from the moment he was picked, and he’s recorded just eight sacks in his three seasons as a pro. In 2021, he didn’t start a single game. Abram missed nearly all of his rookie season with a shoulder injury. He’s tallied three interceptions, 11 passes defended, and seven quarterback hits in 28 starts.
The outlier here is Jacobs, who, to his credit, has been a solid contributor to the Raiders’ offense in his three years in the league. He surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in each of his first two seasons, finishing second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2019 and earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2020.
Fast forward to 2022, the Raiders elected not to exercise the fifth-year option on any of their 2019 first-rounders, including Jacobs. Mayock and then-head coach Jon Gruden couldn’t successfully draft a long-term impact player in that first round.
They did nail some of their later picks that year, adding edge rusher Maxx Crosby in the fourth round and receiver Hunter Renfrow in the fifth. Their second-round pick, cornerback Trayvon Mullen Jr., is also a starter. But whiffing three times in the first round is really bad.
The Ferrell selection looks even worse in hindsight since several prospects at the same position have been bigger contributors to their team. That includes Pro Bowlers Josh Allen (the edge rusher, not the quarterback), Brian Burns, and Montez Sweat, a staple of the Washington Commanders’ defensive front.
Raiders’ draft failures continued in 2020, 2021
So maybe 2019 just wasn’t Mayock’s year. It was his first draft as a GM, after all. He had a chance to redeem himself in 2020 with two more first-round picks.
He drafted wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and cornerback Damon Arnette with the 12th and 19th picks. Arnette wasn’t much of a contributor on defense, though Ruggs, after a slow rookie year, was off to a hot start in 2021.
However, what Mayock seemed to overlook is that off-the-field characteristics are just as important as what players do on the field. Neither Ruggs nor Arnette made it through their second year in the NFL before the Raiders released them for very serious and tragic off-field issues.
That makes it five straight swings and misses in the first round in two years for Mayock as a general manager. Unlike in 2019, Mayock didn’t make up for those misses with hits in 2020’s later rounds.
In fact, of the seven players the Raiders drafted in 2020, only two are still with the team—the last two they selected. None of the first five players drafted that year, all day-one and -two picks, are still with the team.
That brings us to the last draft of the Mayock era, the 2021 NFL draft. With the 17th overall pick in last year’s draft, the Raiders took Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood, another pick that was immediately identified as a reach.
It hasn’t worked out well. Leatherwood had to kick inside to guard after struggling as a tackle, gave up eight sacks as a rookie, and eventually finished the 2021 season as the second-most penalized player in the NFL.
The Raiders did get two starters later in the draft—safety Tre’von Moehrig and linebacker Divine Deablo—but Leatherwood was Mayock’s sixth straight whiff on a first-round pick. Mayock was relieved of his duties after Las Vegas was eliminated from the playoffs last year.
What could’ve been…
Las Vegas’ front office and scouting department honestly deserve a lot of credit for some of their hits in later rounds. Renfrow and Crosby have been two massive contributors to the team since they were drafted in 2019, and neither of them was drafted before Day 3. Moehrig, a 2021 day-two pick, had a solid rookie season as well.
The Raiders have shown that they’re moving in the right direction over the last few years despite questionable draft decisions. They broke their four-year playoff drought in 2021 and have improved on their record every season since 2018. Part of that success is because of the contributions of guys from recent draft classes, even if none of them were first-rounders.
Still, we’re left to wonder how much better this Raiders team could be if Mayock had been even slightly better at drafting in the early rounds, especially in 2019 and 2020.