Jon Gruden: Raiders need more out of recent draft classes

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Yes, there will be an added sense of urgency come next week's NFL draft for Jon Gruden in his return as Oakland Raiders coach.

And it's not because he will be involved with selecting players for the first time since 2008, when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or the expectations that come with his huge contract.

Rather, as Gruden said at the NFL owners meetings, recent Raiders draft picks have not exactly panned out.

"It's one of the reasons we were so busy in free agency," Gruden said.

Indeed, Oakland has added 21 players since the end of the season and re-signed four of its own unrestricted free agents.

Still, Gruden is eager to see what the younger players still on the roster have to offer.

"Our last three draft classes, we've got to get more production from those guys," Gruden said.

"There's a lot of unknown right now. We need [Gareon] Conley to come back and be a corner for us. Jihad Ward and Obi Melifonwu, these are second-round draft choices. Have not seen them on tape very much. We need to see where they are, fast."

The Raiders have selected 26 players in the past three drafts, and only four could be considered full-time starters in receiver Amari Cooper, defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr., strong safety Karl Joseph and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes.

"We need more out of our draft classes, from 2015, 2016, 2017," Gruden added. "A lot of those guys have been hurt. A lot of those guys are still a mystery."

Hence Gruden's desire to push the youngsters with "competition, versatility and depth" in free agency and the upcoming draft.

"We had a lot of needs," Gruden said. "Our secondary was decimated. Our linebacking corps -- we didn't have any numbers. Two of our defensive linemen were free agents. A lot of issues."

Eleven of the Raiders' additions were on defense, with six defensive backs, three linebackers and two defensive linemen. Two of the four re-signed unrestricted free agents play defense in tackle Justin Ellis and free safety Reggie Nelson, and three of the five tendered exclusive-rights free agents also were on the defensive side of the ball in linebackers Shilique Calhoun and James Cowser and safety Erik Harris.

The Raiders have the No. 10 overall pick in next week's draft, and while they've been linked in numerous mock drafts to Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, Reuben Foster's legal issues in Santa Clara, California, might have the San Francisco 49ers eyeing Smith at No. 9.

Gruden said the draft would be "interesting" because the Raiders have so many picks overall, 11, with two in the fifth round and four in the sixth.

Still, trading down is not out of the question. Nor is Gruden pulling the plug on a recent draft pick.

"We're not going to ever downplay a young player's development," Gruden said. "But you can't wait around forever. You can't save a bad idea forever."