The Oakland Raiders need to make the most of their eight picks during the 2017 NFL Draft with a move to Las Vegas looming large on fans’ minds.
The Oakland Raiders are currently in a state of flux. After finally emerging as a contender in 2016, the team has now found itself a new home in Sin City. Unfortunately, they’ve still got a couple of seasons during which they’ll (potentially) continue playing in the Bay Area.
If they plan on keeping fans interested in attending games, the Raiders at least need to keep themselves in the hunt. This roster is obviously strong, but proved a season ago there are still holes. A few noteworthy moves were made during free agency with more potentially on the way, but the focus should now be on making upgrades via the 2017 NFL Draft.
A loaded class, though, should make that fairly easy. Having eight picks to work with gives general manager Reggie McKenzie more than enough firepower, especially with only a few noteworthy needs. Still, it’s unclear how that glorious weekend at the end of April will play out, especially for this Raiders team.
So instead of sitting on our hands waiting, let’s speculate. Here’s my seven-round mock draft for the Raiders, focused on filling needs and putting prospects in the round where they’re currently slated to fall on draft day.
Note: The Raiders received a seventh-round pick from the Seattle Seahawks in a trade for defensive back Dewey McDonald.
At this point in time, it’s unclear what the Raiders’ plan is at running back. They let Latavius Murray walk via free agency, leaving them with only DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard and Taiwan Jones at the position. Jamize Olawale could also be an option to receive some carries in 2017.
Still, that’s not an inspiring group at a position that needs to see more consistency. And right now, it seems like the pursuit of Marshawn Lynch is at a standstill, with their chances of signing him likely taking a hit with the move to Las Vegas.
That means the Raiders could absolutely target a running back in the early rounds. Even with Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook likely gone by No. 24, the team could find itself an excellent consolation prize in Christian McCaffrey. And boy would the Stanford product thrive in the Raiders offense.
I’m confident McCaffrey can be a workhorse back in the NFL despite not possessing overwhelming size. He’s more powerful than you’d think upon first glance, and offers the athleticism, agility and vision to make big plays in the ground game. Tie in the fact that he’s a nightmare as a receiver out of the backfield, and you’ve got the perfect addition to this offense.
Here he is—the guy so many Raiders fans are clamoring for. What’s better is instead of having to spend a first-round pick on him, they get him on Day 2.
Jarrad Davis has the makings of an outstanding inside linebacker at the next level. Not only is he a great leader with a contagious passion for the game, but he’s an outstanding player who is constantly making plays with his tenacity, smarts and athleticism. While not an elite prospect, Davis has everything you’re looking for in a standout linebacker.
It just so happens the Raiders could use an influx of young talent at the second level of their defense. Linebacker was one of the team’s worst positional groups a season ago, and little has been done to alleviate the issue this offseason. Unless Zach Brown is signed in the coming days, the position will remain one of the team’s top needs.
Davis fits the bill as an impact player who would be an easy upgrade over Jelani Jenkins–or anyone else on the depth chart, for that matter. The Raiders need another leader on defense who can bring this group of playmakers together. The Florida product can be that guy, and so much more, for the next decade.
We all know the Raiders have issues to address at cornerback. Starters Sean Smith and David Amerson are solid starters, but are both coming off a 2016 campaign during which they didn’t live up to the hype. Depth is also a concern after D.J. Hayden left via free agency.
It doesn’t help that the Silver and Black failed to add any capable free agents to replace Hayden. That leaves only T.J. Carrie as the experienced backup, which isn’t going to cut it if the Raiders are planning on improving on last season’s No. 24 pass defense. With free agency nearly over, it looks like the draft will have to be the new plan on attack.
Thankfully, there are a number of playmaking cornerbacks available during the 2017 NFL Draft. One who has garnered a lot of attention during the pre-draft process is Rasul Douglas, a big, lengthy cover man who turned heads in college with his ability to create turnovers.
There are some concerns about his long speed and ability to stick with speedier receivers. Douglas proved to be a better zone cornerback in college, and will likely be limited to that role. However, with his mix of size, instincts and knack for getting his hands on the ball, the former Mountaineer is well worth the roll of the dice.
After missing on some of the top interior defenders during free agency, the Raiders must look elsewhere to find an impact player. They failed miserably to get consistent play from their defensive tackles in 2016, and can’t afford a similar result this upcoming season.
Luckily for them, there are a number of options available during the first few rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft. While I wouldn’t put it past the Raiders to target an interior rusher during Day 1 or 2 of April’s draft, I think a talent such as Eddie Vanderdoes makes a ton of sense if he’s still on the board in the fourth round.
A former five-star recruit, Vanderdoes looked like a star in the making early. He immediately stepped in and wreaked havoc for the Bruins, amassing 10 tackles for loss and three sacks in his first two seasons. Then, in the first game of his junior season, a torn ACL saw his draft stock take an ugly tumble. He didn’t look like the same player in 2016, which is why he’s seen as a potential Day 3 prospect.
Still, the raw tools is there with Vanderdoes. If he can continue to bounce back as a rookie, we could start to see some of the dominant play that made NFL scouts drool over him in the first place. The Raiders landing him would be a big step towards solving their defensive tackle woes.
I’ll admit that defensive end isn’t the biggest of needs for the Raiders. With players such as Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and (potentially) Aldon Smith on the roster, it’s not like they’re thin on pass rushers. However, in today’s NFL, you can never have too many players capable of racking up sacks.
Plus, it’s not like Smith can be counted on at this point. And the depth on the edge isn’t all that impressive, with no one besides Mack and Irvin notching more than 2.5 sacks a season ago. More options are needed behind the team’s two star players, and there just so happens to be one mid-round talent worth a serious look.
Based solely on the stats, Joe Mathis isn’t all that exciting of a prospect. He notched only nine sacks during his time at Washington, adding one forced fumble and 77 tackles along the way. However, this pick is more about upside.
Prior to a season-ending foot injury, Mathis looked like a rising star for the Huskies defense. In only six games, he amassed five sacks while routinely flashing insane bend and burst off the edge. If it wasn’t for the injury, there’s no telling how big of an impact he could have made by season’s end. The Raiders would love to have that type of potential to mold over the next couple of years.
Right now, the Raiders have two capable starting safeties in Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson. Unfortunately, with Joseph an injury liability and Nelson getting up there in age, the team could use a couple of extra bodies on the back end heading into 2017.
The losses of Nate Allen and Brynden Trawick only exacerbated that need. With both bailing during free agency, the Raiders are left with Keith McGill as the lone backup on the roster. While I wouldn’t count out another free agent being added eventually, the draft will also provide an opportunity for the Silver and Black to secure some depth.
That’s where a talent like John Johnson could come into the equation. The Boston College product has flown under the radar for much of his college career, but started to garner some NFL attention this past season. He’s quietly proven to be a reliable cover man at safety, and offers the mix of size and athleticism needed from today’s defensive backs.
Johnson is still a work in progress as a run defender and isn’t going to be an enforcer at the next level. However, his underrated coverage skills and developing awareness against the pass could make him a worthwhile investment on Day 3.
Grabbing Douglas in the third round was a great start to fixing this secondary. However, based on the current cornerback depth chart, more talent is needed out on the outside before the Raiders can truly feel confident at the position.
The need at cornerback wasn’t addressed during free agency. In fact, the offseason so far has only hindered the Raiders at the position, with No. 3 cornerback Hayden bidding the team farewell to join the Detroit Lions. That move left them with little quality depth to speak of, which is why this selection makes sense.
Drafting another cover man in the final round gives the Raiders more options in subpackages. And with Nate Hairston, the team would be getting a potential impact player who could easily develop into a starter not far down the road. Based on what we saw during his short time at the position for Temple, the ceiling is very high.
Hairston made a move from wide receiver to cornerback late in his college career. However, during his brief time on defense, he showed immense potential, displaying the athleticism, instincts and flexibility needed to excel. Considering his rawness, Hairston is definitely a project. The upside is there, though, for this project to yield considerable results with some time and coaching.
When it all comes down to it, you can never have too many capable cornerbacks in today’s NFL.
As we all know, the Raiders are pretty much set at wide receiver right now–at least at the top of the depth chart. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree form one of the NFL’s best receiving duos. Behind them, Seth Roberts and Cordarrelle Patterson should provide solid depth.
At this point in the process, though, the Silver and Black could use a project at the position. I’m not talking about a long-shot who may or may not ever develop into a capable No. 4 or No. 5 receiver. No, I’m talking about a guy with the upside and physical tools to eventually turn into a serious playmaker.
The Raiders would be getting exactly that with Ricky Seals-Jones. While the former five-star recruit failed to live up to the hype at Texas A&M, it’s difficult to deny the potential is still there. Not only does he have ridiculous size at 6-5, 243 pounds, but we’ve seen brief flashes of the ball skills to get the job done in the NFL.
It’s a gamble, but a low-risk one—especially with the Raiders’ second seventh-round pick. Seals-Jones could be nothing more than a busted former top recruit, but he could also turn out to be a guy who simply wasn’t fit for the college game. Maybe this coaching staff could bring out the best in the intimidating receiving prospect.