Hired by the Oakland Raiders' as the team's General Manager (GM) in 2012, Reggie McKenzie was given the impossible task of turning around the fortunes of a team that had not had a winning season in almost ten years.
Four years on, and after many early struggles; are the Raiders finally showing signs of making a comeback towards NFL relevancy?
A Tough Start
Joining the Raiders in January 2012, McKenzie was thrown into a tough situation. The team was without a first, second or third round pick in the NFL draft due to previous trades for Carson Palmer, Joe Barksdale and the selection of Terrelle Pryor in the 2011 supplemental draft.
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The linebacker-turned GM had little to work with, and, as a result, just one player drafted that year (backup offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom) still remains with the team. A disappointing season of four wins and 12 losses ensued.
2013 proved to be an equally disappointing season for the Raiders, and another that ended with a 4-12 record. A forgetful free agency that included the signing of players such as Andre Gurode and Nick Roach was followed up by a largely frustrating draft.
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Cornerback DJ Hayden has never shown any signs of living up to his first-round draft selection, whilst second round pick, British-born Menelik Watson, has been limited to just twelve starts in his three years due to consistent injury problems.
The shining light of that Oakland draft class has proven to be current starting running back Latavius Murray, a steal in the sixth round.
Franchise Stars Drafted
Entering the 2014 season, Oakland had plenty of available cap space, and were not afraid to use it.
Current offensive line starters Donald Penn and Austin Howard were picked up, as was Justin Tuck who provided some much-needed locker room leadership. Big money was also spent on LaMarr Woodley and Antontio Smith, neither of which provided the production levels expected, however.
Perhaps though the real turning point in McKenzie's tenure with the Raiders thus far were the early round draft selections in 2014.
All-pro defensive superstar Khalil Mack was selected in the first round, promptly followed by franchise quarterback Derek Carr, giving Oakland the key foundations of the team upon which to build around.
Despite a disappointing season which culminated in a 3-13 record, the Raiders were able to secure some solid talent in free agency before the 2015 season. Starting level caliber players like Rodney Hudson, Michael Crabtree and Dan Williams were brought onboard.
Another first round draft success, Amari Cooper, was selected in the first round, and went on to become the first ever receiver in team history to top 1,000 receiving yards in his rookie season.
A final record of 7-9 (the same number of wins as the previous two seasons combined) showed some real signs of progression, and gave the team it's first real signs of hope for a few years.
Fast forwarding to the present day, the Raiders have already gone about their business early in the 2016 free agency period, securing the services of coveted top offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, linebacker Bruce Irvin and a true number one cornerback in Sean Smith.
The moves have largely been met with praise throughout the league, and Oakland's ability to finally encourage high-end free agents to sign with the Black & Silver is further evidence that the team is really starting to make some progress.
It remains to be seen the impact that these newest signings will have on the team, and whilst Oakland still has areas of the team that need addressing (and they may well do so in next month's draft), they're a team on the upwards trend and are no longer seen as the laughing stock of the league. Quite a turnaround from where the team was just a few years prior.
Notwithstanding a rocky start in the first couple of years as the team's General Manager, Reggie McKenzie has been slowly and quietly going about his business, reconstructing a team through high-quality draft picks and smart free agency acquisitions.
The part that he has played in the resurgence of the Raiders as a force to be reckoned with should not be underestimated.
Whilst the Raiders are not exactly ready to make a push for Super Bowl glory just yet, the Autumn Wind is certainly starting to howl again.
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