With the 2014 NFL Combine set to start on Saturday, the Oakland Raiders are in Indianapolis looking to find impact players. For the first time in an offseason under head coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie, the team has the ability to use both the 2014 NFL Draft and free agency to vastly improve their roster. That entire process starts at the combine.
“Obviously we’ve got needs we’ve got to try to fill and we’ve got a couple of avenues we can go about doing that,” Allen said at the NFL Combine. “One is re-signing our own players. Another is through unrestricted free agency and acquiring talent off of other teams and the last is the draft. I think, as we go through this process, we’ll have a better feel when it comes draft time what we need. I think when you get to the draft; you’re still looking for best player available. I think need comes in when you’ve got players of kind of an equal grade, I think you take need more into account”
The Raiders were unable to find impact players in the first two rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. Cornerback DJ Hayden and tackle Menelik Watson both missed significant time with injury. That doesn't mean they will never be contributors, they just were not as rookies. Allen and McKenzie don't have the luxury of missing again. With more than 60 million in salary cap space this offseason as well as a full complement of draft picks, the Raiders need to be competitive next season.
Allen and McKenzie are at the NFL Combine searching for those impact players. With the salary cap advantage, it allows the Raiders to truly focus on the best players available. With the ability to use all three ways to improve their roster Allen spoke about, they are not pigeon holed into picking for needs. That will allow the team to identify the players they want and go get them.
This NFL Combine is stacked with impressive athletes. With the number five selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Raiders will be in position to grab a franchise player. The Combine gives valuable physical, character, and medical information. One of the highest characteristics the Raiders search for is intelligence.
“We put a lot into that,” Allen said. “There’s a lot of things you can see by watching tape in evaluating the tape, but I think the most important thing when you’re evaluating players for your football team, a lot of times it’s the intangible things you just don’t see them on tape. So the psychological testing, the intelligence testing, the interview process, finding out about what makes a player tick, those are all the things that I think, I think when you make mistakes in acquiring talent, you generally make them based on what a player either does or doesn’t have in his heart or in his head, not necessarily what his physical abilities are.”
With the plan in place for the Raiders brass, the evaluation begins tomorrow. All drafts are important, but this is paramount for the Raiders. This is their chance to build their winner.
“Listen, obviously next year we’ve got the AFC West, which we had three playoff teams in that division,” Allen said. “We’ll play the NFC West next year as part of our schedule. So yeah, there’s obviously a sense of urgency of trying to get better. I don’t know that it’s any more so than any other year, but we want to try to improve this football team and we’re going to try to get this organization back to winning championships, which is what this organization needs to be able to do.”
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