Raiders' draft theme: Speed and versatility to compete with Chiefs

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- There was a very specific goal and theme to the first draft class in Las Vegas Raiders history -- keep an eye on a certain AFC West rival while choosing players with speed and versatility to conceivably compete with the Super Bowl champions.

Oh, and address needs at receiver and in the secondary.

"Let's be honest," Raiders general manager Mike Mayock mused over the weekend, "the entire league is chasing the Kansas City Chiefs. But we're in same division. They keep getting faster and more athletic, more dynamic every time you turn around. Other teams have to do the same. We're trying to do that on both sides of the line scrimmage."

Of course, a million times of course, a draft class cannot be fairly graded until about three years after the fact.

But if we're looking at it from the perspective of the Raiders drafting guys who are fast and, yes, versatile, then Mayock and coach Jon Gruden accomplished their goal with this seven-man class that only once ventured west of the Mississippi River.

Talk about unconventional. Then again, these are unconventional times.

Because while all three of the consensus top-three wideouts were there for them at No. 12 overall, the Raiders chose the third-ranked of the bunch, albeit, the fastest player in the draft. Alabama's Henry Ruggs III blazed at the combine with a 4.27 40 time. He also scored touchdowns on 24 of his 98 career receptions, the highest career receiving TD percentage (24.4%) in the SEC over the past 20 seasons. And Ruggs caught four slant passes last year, with three going for scores at an average of 31.8 yards after the catch per reception.

"I'm very confident," Ruggs said. "I know when I'm on the field I can do everything. I'm not afraid to show that. I'm not going to shy away from any challenge or any competition.

"I bring an explosive playmaker, a great receiver, a great all-around receiver. A guy that can make a positive impact."

The Raiders stayed unconventional with their second first-round pick, taking a physical cornerback in Ohio State's Damon Arnette at No. 19, despite many draftniks giving him a third-round grade.

No matter, the Raiders had him that high on their board, right?

"I'd say I'm a physical corner, competitive corner, dog, all the above," said Arnette, who did not give up more than one touchdown in any of his four years with the Buckeyes and whose 3.8 yards allowed per attempt in man-to-man defense led the FBS. Also, his 37.9% completion percentage against as the primary defender in 2019 was the lowest in the Big Ten.

"And I feel like the Raiders, we're going to do the same thing. We are going to go out there, run fast, hit hard, execute and that's the type of football player I am. Bring some juice, you know what I'm saying?"

More such "juice" came with the Raiders' next pick -- in the third round, No. 80 overall -- courtesy of the most versatile player in the draft, Kentucky's Lynn Bowden Jr.

Now, Bowden is the reigning Paul Hornung Award winner and was an AP first-team All-America selection as an all-purpose player. He led the SEC in rushing (1,468 yards) despite playing receiver for the first month of the season. Oh, and he finished the year as Kentucky's quarterback.

Bowden will start his pro career as a 6-foot-1, 206-pound running back for the Raiders.

"Ultimately, he'll probably be what we call a ‘Joker,’ which is what I love in Jon's offense," Mayock said. "It's somebody who can do multiple jobs."

South Carolina's Bryan Edwards, a big receiver at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, will have just one job -- the "X" receiver opposite the speedy Ruggs.

"Bryan Edwards is a different cat," Mayock said. "Bryan Edwards is a guy that if you go three receivers on one side and put him on the other side, let him run down the red line. You throw him back shoulder fades, slants, all the big-body throws where you think he can win. He's physical, he's tough, he's got great hands."

The Raiders went with a self-described "special teams war daddy" in Clemson hybrid linebacker/safety Tanner Muse with their third third-round pick, No. 100 overall, sticking with the versatility theme.

And while Las Vegas traded up in the fourth round get a road grader at No. 109 in Clemson's athletic John Simpson, the third-ranked guard in the draft, the Raiders closed out their draft 30 picks later with a shot heard 'round Kansas City.

That's where diminutive Louisiana Tech cornerback Amik Robertson, all 5-foot-9, 183 pounds of him, was picked.

"They got the best DB in this class," said Robertson, who had 14 career college interceptions, of the Raiders. "Ballhawk, corner, nickel, safety, whatever -- the best hybrid in the class that can force turnovers and get the ball back to the offense.

"I fit in perfectly. I'm a big versatile player. Wherever they put me, I'm going to make an impact. Easy. If that's corner, nickel safety, special teams, too. If they want me to slide in and match up with Tyreek Hill, that's what I'll do."

Look at it this way -- if the Raiders believe they got their offensive counterpart to Hill on offense in Ruggs, perhaps they got someone to slow Hill on defense in Robertson.

What's that saying, if you can't beat 'em, become 'em?

The Raiders have lost 12 of their past 14 meetings against the Chiefs.

So, did the Raiders get better than Kansas City with this draft?

"That's a loaded question, that's a tough question," Mayock said. "They're the world champs. ... All they do is get faster. They drafted that great running back from LSU [Clyde Edwards-Helaire] then they drafted Willie Gay, the linebacker I love. They keep getting faster and keep raising the bar. I don't know the answer to that just yet.

"We feel like we got better in free agency, and I know we feel like we got better in the draft. Nobody is going know how much, or if at all, until we get out on the field and compete. That's the thing I love about it."