Mike Mayock’s old draft takes should give Raiders hope about new GM

Oakland Raiders general manager Mike Mayock has been providing the football watching world with his opinions of draft prospects for over a decade. But — like all of us here on the internet — it never mattered before if he was wrong.

His belief that Johnny Manziel should be a top-10 pick didn’t set back a franchise. His thoughts that Cam Newton shouldn’t be picked until the latter half of the first round didn’t cost a team an MVP and a trip to the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, a few teams could’ve benefitted from listening to Mayock when he said he’d take Khalil Mack with the No. 1 pick in 2014. Jadeveon Clowney went first overall that year, while Greg Robinson, Blake Bortles, and Sammy Watkins were all taken before Mack was selected by the Raiders.

Now for the first time in his career, it matters that he winds up right more often than he’s wrong.

Mayock, 60, spent a brief period as a defensive back in the NFL in the early 1980s before his broadcast career began. He eventually joined NFL Network in 2004 and gave us 15 offseasons’ worth of opinions. Inevitably, he missed sometimes.

But does his history of draft takes give us reason to believe he’ll be a disaster for the Raiders? Or, conversely, that he’s the man for the job? Let’s investigate.

Mayock’s best takes

Khalil Mack

As mentioned earlier, Mayock was a huge fan of Mack.

“I’m going to tell you right now, I’d take him with the first pick,” Mayock said in February 2014, via PFT. “You talk about a guy like Clowney, who’s just got superhuman abilities, versus this kid, if I had a choice between the two, I think I’m going Mack.”

He stuck with that evaluation and had Mack at the top spot in his rankings into May, just ahead of Clowney — even when it was obvious at that point that the latter was going to be the No. 1 pick.

Mack has since proved Mayock right with three first-team All-Pro nods, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Award, and 53 career sacks. That’s nearly double Clowney’s 29 career sacks.

Mayock could’ve had Mack on his team too, but Raiders head coach Jon Gruden forced the pass rusher out with a trade to the Bears a few months before the new general manager was hired.

Alvin Kamara

For reasons that are still hard to explain, Kamara was a backup at Tennessee who touched the ball, on average, fewer than 13 times per game. That’s why the Saints got a steal in the third round.

But it’s hard to imagine he would’ve been on the board if Mayock had been the general manager of a team with a second-round pick:

He even made Kamara a first-round selection in his only mock draft of 2017 — slating him at No. 29 to the Packers.

Kamara has made two Pro Bowls in as many years, won the 2017 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, and already has 31 career touchdowns.

The 2013 pass rushers

Mayock isn’t a guy who is negative on many prospects, but he dumped some water on a couple of overhyped players in 2013.

“I have a little different opinion than what I’m hearing a lot of people have on these — quote — 4-3 defensive ends,” Mayock said in February 2013, via NFL.com. “I’m not as high on these guys as some people are. For instance, I don’t think Bjoern Werner or Damontre Moore are top-10 players. They might go in the top 10, but I don’t see it that way.”

At the time, that was quite the statement. Here’s a mock draft from analyst Tony Pauline for USA Today from just a couple weeks prior that had Werner at No. 2 and Moore at No. 3.

A horrible NFL Combine for Moore dropped him all the way to the third round. Werner’s hype slowed too and he wound up at No. 24 overall to the Colts. Moore finished his NFL career with 10 sacks, Werner only managed 6.5. Moore is now a pass rusher for the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football.

Mayock’s worst takes

Johnny Manziel

In a decade of ranking quarterback prospects, Mayock doesn’t have many big whiffs. His worst year was easily 2014 when he raved about Manziel.

It’d be one thing if Mayock had been judging Manziel solely on his abilities on the field, but it was his persona that apparently won over Mayock most.

“If I’m a GM in the top 10 and I had to take a quarterback today, it would be Johnny Manziel,” Mayock said on Path to the Draft in March 2014. “A lot of it is on the strength of defensive coordinators not wanting to deal with that style of play, and me buying into the kid. I’m buying into the kid as a competitor more than anything.”

Manziel flamed out of the NFL after two tumultuous seasons that included substance abuse and accusations of domestic violence. He’s now making a comeback bid with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, but had five touchdowns and seven interceptions for the team in 2018.

Mayock’s opinions of the rest of the 2014 quarterback class weren’t great either. He had Blake Bortles at No. 2 — one spot ahead of the quarterback Mayock inherited with the Raiders, Derek Carr. The Vikings’ first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater was tied at No. 5 with Zach Mettenberger, who is now in the AAF.

Blaine Gabbert/Cam Newton

His other worst quarterback take was three years earlier in 2011 when he loved Gabbert but wasn’t so sold on Newton.

“He’s my No. 1 quarterback,” Mayock wrote of Gabbert in April 2011. “He comes out of a spread offense, and his footwork needs to improve, but he has all the rest. He’s athletic, has a big arm, loves the game of football, has anticipation to throw into small windows, and the accuracy to back it up. He could be the first guy off the board.”

Gabbert proved to be a bust for the Jaguars, who traded up six spots to pick him. Now, the quarterback is a journeyman backup with a 13-35 career record as a starter with 48 touchdowns, 47 interceptions, and a 71.7 passer rating.

The best quarterback of the class — by a significant margin — turned out to be Newton.

“It’s always been about the kid, not the quarterback,” Mayock wrote before the draft. “I buy into Newton the quarterback. Mechanically, he’s so much better than Tim Tebow or Vince Young, both first-round picks. I’ve never been positive that football was critical in his life, but I’m starting to buy into the fact he cares. My only concern is after you pay him millions, will he still want to be the best quarterback in football?”

Newton was MVP in 2015 and has smashed the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. He’s not a perfect player, but the Panthers have to feel great about picking him instead of Gabbert.

Aaron Curry

Many were very convinced that there was zero chance the Wake Forest linebacker wouldn’t turn out to be a good player in the NFL. Mayock was one of those people.

“Aaron Curry might be the safest pick in the draft,” Mayock said in 2009, via the Los Angeles Times. “He’s done it over time. He’s a fifth-year senior. He’s clean off the field; you’re going to hand him $30 million or $40 million and he’s going to be like Matt Ryan. He’s going to put it in the bank and he’s going to go to work.

”He can play in the 3-4 scheme or the 4-3. He does everything well, and he’s extremely coachable. You can insert him Day 1, and he’s a starter, your defense is better, and you don’t have to worry about him getting in trouble.”

Curry wound up as the No. 4 overall selection for the Seahawks, but he definitely didn’t make the defense better. He was a complete bust and got traded away to the Raiders for peanuts in his third season. Curry started only nine games for the Raiders and retired in 2013.

So, what’s the ruling?

Everyone who shares draft thoughts publicly is just asking to get owned, eventually. All things considered, it’s pretty impressive how few terrible takes Mayock presented in over a decade at NFL Network.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden had more whiffs in way less time at ESPN. A brief sampling:

Mayock’s biggest mistakes were opinions that probably weren’t that unique either. Curry was an extremely popular prospect, and Gabbert over Newton wasn’t too controversial at the time.

For the most part, Mayock didn’t have many hot takes. He kept things positive and talked about most players without going overboard with superlatives. The few times he really loved a player more than most, he was often correct.

It’s probably not the best idea to hire Smart TV Man to run your NFL team, but the Raiders have reason to be optimistic that Mayock could be a GM who drafts well. That’s especially important this season, when the Raiders have three first-round picks.

Hopefully — for his sake and the Raiders’ — Gruden will stay out of the way.

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