HENDERSON, Nev. -- "I think I have to stick to my gut after all the information is collected, after everything is in. And when you make decisions, you have to take everything into account -- you have to take all of the coaches' opinions, you have to take all the scouts' opinions. Jon [Gruden] and I sit down and gather and grind it together to come to a consensus. But at the end of the day, the best way I feel good about myself is when I know that I feel good about that kid, from A-Z. And if I make a mistake, it's for the right reasons." -- former Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, on his draft philosophy, April 22, 2021.
Obviously, neither Mayock nor former coach Jon Gruden are still with the Raiders -- Gruden resigned abruptly amid his email controversy on Oct. 11 and Mayock was fired on Jan. 17 -- but their third and final draft class together remains for the new regime of GM Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels to evaluate.
And who doesn't like to do some, well, evaluating?
Because after more raised eyebrows, questions and flat-out misses in their first two drafts, especially with their early picks, their 2021 draft class was more than solid, even if their first pick was panned and no one would have really yelled had they simply swapped the draft positions of those first two picks, instead taking free safety Tre'von Moehrig first and following with offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood in the second round.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and in our recent NFL Nation re-draft of the first two rounds, that's exactly what I should have done.
Alas, I went in with the mentality that a right tackle was the Raiders' primary need then and, knowing that Leatherwood would be kicked inside to right guard five games into his rookie season, I figured, why not draft a premier rookie guard in the first place? So I took Alijah Vera-Tucker in the first round and, with Moehrig gone, protected slot cornerback Nate Hobbs by taking him in the second. Leatherwood, for what it's worth, went undrafted in our two-round exercise.
But back to reality.
Aside from Leatherwood, how impressive was Las Vegas' 2021 draft class? Pro Football Focus ranked it No. 4 in the NFL based on first-year production, behind the New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs.
A look, then, at the Raiders' 2021 draft class:
OL Alex Leatherwood (Alabama)
Draft slot: First round (No. 17 overall)
The skinny: The selection seemed a reach on draft night, even if he was an All-American and the Outland Trophy winner, as he had a second-round grade by most draftniks. And it was seemingly confirmed when Leatherwood, after a rough start at right tackle on a reimagined offensive line, was moved to right guard in Week 5. He started all 17 games, as well as the playoff game at the Cincinnati Bengals, but according to PFF, Leatherwood led all NFL offensive linemen with 65 quarterback pressures allowed. Plus, he was tied for third in penalties among all NFL linemen.
He can only improve, and it will be interesting to see whether he stays on the interior or goes back to tackle in McDaniels' more modern scheme. Here's an idea: keep him at guard and sign Trent Brown, who is already familiar with McDaniels' offense from their time together last season in New England, to play right tackle. I kid, I kid. Kinda.
FS Tre'von Moehrig (TCU)
Draft slot: Second round (No. 43 overall)
The skinny: Moehrig falling into the Raiders' lap in the second round made many wonder, simply, why? He had first-round talent, after all, and was seen as the best safety in the draft. Instead, he was the third safety taken, after Jevon Holland and Richie Grant. Las Vegas could not have been happier.
Moehrig might not have been the ballhawk he was in college -- he had just one interception after getting seven picks in three seasons at TCU -- but his coverage skills, particularly as a single-high safety, were more than welcomed. He started all 17 games and finished with 52 tackles (33 solo) with six passes defensed and was named to the PFWA's all-rookie team. Pro Football Focus had him with nearly as many interceptions plus forced incompletions (six) as he had completions allowed as the primary coverage defender (nine). He should be a building block for new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.
DE Malcolm Koonce (Buffalo)
Draft slot: Third round (No. 79 overall)
The skinny: Of course, comparisons were made early to another former edge rusher from Buffalo the Raiders once drafted. And it was unfair to compare Koonce to Khalil Mack. Still, Koonce might have been the most efficient member of this draft class, with two sacks in his first two games (Washington, at Kansas City). He played in five of the Raiders' last six regular-season games, but was inactive for the playoff game at Cincinnati. Keep an eye on Koonce in Graham's scheme, which has 3-4 sensibilities.
OLB Divine Deablo (Virginia Tech)
Draft slot: Third round (No. 80 overall)
The skinny: A converted safety, Deablo was slowed in training camp with a knee injury and primarily played special teams early in the season. He replaced high-priced second-year signee Cory Littleton in Week 14 and it was Deablo who spoke out publicly after the 48-9 loss at Kansas City that week, essentially challenging his teammates' intensity. Deablo played in all 17 games, starting the final five, finishing with 39 tackles (24 solo) with a pass defensed. He also flashed in the playoff loss to the Bengals with eight tackles.
S Tyree Gillespie (Missouri)
Draft slot: Fourth round (No. 143 overall)
The skinny: Initially seen as a potential steal and starter, Gillespie was used mostly on special teams, as he only had 13 defensive snaps in his 11 games (the Raiders went 8-3 whenever he played). Gillespie missed six games -- he went on IR with a hamstring injury on Nov. 17 -- but returned for Las Vegas' last three games and the playoff game at Cincinnati. Gillespie finished with eight tackles, one solo.
CB Nate Hobbs (Illinois)
Draft slot: Fifth round (No. 167 overall)
The skinny: Hobbs was a revelation in camp and preseason, won the starting nickel job and never looked back. He was PFF's highest-graded rookie corner last season and, at 78.4, was the Raiders' second-highest graded defensive player, behind Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby. Yeah, Hobbs, who played 16 games and missed one with COVID, was that valuable. Even if he only had one interception and three passes defensed.
Still, Hobbs was a chess piece for then-DC Gus Bradley with a sack among his four QB hits, a forced fumble and 74 tackles. PFF had him allowing just 0.7 yards per coverage snap, seventh among cornerbacks with at least 250 snaps, and he also had a 78.8 PFF run-defense grade that was 11th among corners.
C Jimmy Morrissey (Pittsburgh)
Draft slot: Seventh round (No. 230 overall)
The skinny: The lone member of the draft class to not appear in a regular-season game for Las Vegas, Morrissey opened the season on the practice squad, with the Raiders having two centers in starter Andre James and veteran signee Nick Martin. The Texans claimed him Oct. 20 and he started four of the five games he appeared in for them.