Mike Mayock knew he’d raise eyebrows Thursday after the Raiders selected offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood with the 17th overall pick in the opening round of the 2021 NFL Draft. And according to the general manager, he isn’t sweating mixed reviews.
“We knew it would be controversial,” Mayock said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We completely understand that.”
Leatherwood, who played college football at Alabama, was considered a first-round “reach” by NFL analysts. The 22-year-old, however, impressed Raiders brass immensely.
“[Offensive lineman coach Tom] Cable has been all over him for months now. [Jon] Gruden loved this guy. Our scouts loved this guy. And what I like is, when the second floor in our building, which is all the coaches, and the third floor, which is all the scouts, when we’re united on a conversation like Leatherwood, that makes me feel really good about the pick,” Mayock explained.
The Raiders GM made it clear to reporters after the first round that the team was always set on Leatherwood despite what “draft experts” had to say.
“He was the highest-rated player on our board at that time, offense or defense,” Mayock said.
Mayock also noted the Raiders have a plan set for their new prized tackle.
“He can play inside and outside, but he’s going to start for us at right tackle Day 1 and we’re going to see if he can hold on to that job,” he said.
Regardless of the outside noise, Leatherwood is a national champion, who, in 41 games for Alabama, was a three-year starter at both guard and left tackle.
“We did an awful lot of homework on this young man,” Mayock said. “I spoke to [Alabama coach] Nick [Saban] at length about a bunch of his players — because they were loaded of course — but we feel like he’s a great fit for what we do.”
Leatherwood, for his part, also responded to critics who don’t believe he’s worthy of a first-round pick.
“I mean, it definitely put a chip on my shoulder. It bothered me a little bit,” Leatherwood said after being drafted.
“At the same time, I’m not a media guy. I’m not the type of dude to get caught up in all that garbage, because I know what my film said about me and the GM and the coach, they know that as well. I’m just grateful that they watched that film and saw me as good enough to be the 17th overall pick. I’m more than excited to get to the program and prove them right,” he continued.
The Raiders taking Leatherwood wasn’t uncharacteristic of the franchise, which has a recent history of head-turning first-round picks.
Last year, they shook up mock drafts after grabbing cornerback Damon Arnette at 19th overall. Then, in 2019, the Raiders chose defensive end Clelin Ferrell at No. 4. Both Arnette and Ferrell were projected to go much higher in their respective drafts until the Raiders came out of the woodwork.
Head coach Jon Gruden is entering his fourth year with the Raiders, who went 8-8- in the AFC West last season.
Heading into Day 2 of this year’s draft on Friday, the Raiders currently have three picks in the top 80 at their disposal, No. 48 in the second round and back-to-back picks in the third round with No. 79 and No. 80, overall.
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