ALAMEDA -- Is this finally the end of the Raiders' first-round curse? No more fiascos? Really?
Maybe Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack is the hex-ender, maybe he's everything the Raiders have wanted and needed for almost two decades -- and almost never got out of their first-round picks.
Mack, the Raiders' pick in the NFL draft Thursday, should be better than Rolando McClain or Robert Gallery, more focused than JaMarcus Russell, and healthier than Darren McFadden.
Mack should be more productive than Fabian Washington, Michael Huff or Darrius Heyward-Bey, and more instantly important than Sebastian Janikowski or Nnamdi Asomugha.
Mack should be the Raiders' best first-round pick since Charles Woodson in 1998, and my oh my, that is a very long time.
If you watched coach Dennis Allen beam and giggle minutes after the Raiders landed Mack with the fifth overall pick, you sure got a sense of how long ago it really was.
Allen didn't just look pleased that Mack fell out of the top four, after he was at times projected to go in the top three.
Allen looked relieved, relaxed, overjoyed and possibly set free.
Meanwhile, general manager Reggie McKenzie looked antsy and exhausted, but I think that's just how he gets during the draft. Or maybe hoping and waiting for Mack to get to them took a little toll.
"When we started this process, we were totally clear that we wanted to add some impact players to our football team," Allen said.
"This is an impact player. This guy will have an impact on our football team for the 2014 season, there's no question about that."
So, Reggie, if you had the first overall pick, would you still have taken Mack?
"I didn't have the first pick," the Raiders general manager said in a singsong voice.
"We liked Khalil. We liked him a lot."
Other teams -- the teams that have won over the past 11 seasons, while the Raiders have not -- have built themselves up using first-round picks as their foundations.
Not the Raiders.
They've either traded away their pick (in 2011 and 2012), been unlucky enough to watch the better players go ahead of them, watched good talents fade once they put on the Silver & Black, or simply whiffed the pick.
We'll still have to see how Mack performs -- remember, McClain was a highly acclaimed pick in 2010, and now he's out of the league.
But if Mack is who McKenzie and Allen think he is ... or even half of how they described him on Thursday ... he should be one of the Raiders' best players the first time he suits up.
The Raiders signed a slew of older veteran free agents a few months ago, just to hold things together in 2014.
The way to get this team to the same level as Kansas City or Denver or above, though, is to reload with true young stars, and Mack seems to fit that profile exactly.
A young star. A game-changing pass rusher who could keep sacking quarterbacks for a decade.
Someone who grades out "A-1" off the field, according to McKenzie.
When's the last time the Raiders had a blue-chipper like that? Usually, they're getting beat by those guys.
"Absolutely, I saw a lot of similarities between him and Von Miller," Allen said of the star Denver linebacker that he coached as a rookie in 2011.
"And the thing that really was attractive about Khalil Mack was the fact that he understands how to rush the passer. And he understands how to rush the passer with power."
After this, the Raiders can turn their attention to landing more and more playmakers.
Maybe they get a receiver, they definitely need a quarterback of the future -- really, they could use young talent at every position.
But it had to start with some good luck, and that came when Jacksonville surprised everybody by selecting quarterback Blake Bortles with the third pick.
That guaranteed that the Raiders would get either Mack or receiver Sammy Watkins.
I think they liked Mack better than anybody except No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, and now we will see if the Raiders' faith is well placed.
"He's a real man," Allen said of Mack. "He's a football-first guy, and he's got tremendous work ethic, and he's a team player.
"Those are all things we look for in adding to our football team."
It's easy to say that now, with Mack in the fold. Actually, it was easy to say and see that all these previous years, when there was nobody like Mack on this team.
There is now, at least one. That's a start.
Mack's main chore with Oakland will be rushing the quarterback. PAGE 6