2017 NFL Draft: Grades for Every Oakland Raiders Pick
The grades for the Oakland Raiders’ 2017 NFL Draft haul reflect a strong start that took a turn for the worse on the final day of action.
It’s all over, the 2017 NFL Draft is in the books and the Oakland Raiders have to be feeling fairly good about their nine new additions to the roster. Even if that is the case, that doesn’t mean all of them earned respectable grades.
Before we dig too deep into my draft grades for the Raiders, though, I want to clarify how it is I came to these conclusions. These are my two main focuses when determining the letter grades for each pick: the value of the pick based on the point in the draft and whether or not the selection actually addresses some sort of need for the team.
Realistically, though, you shouldn’t take these grades all too seriously. My classifications for each pick will likely vary from another’s, as they should. That’s largely the point of draft grades isn’t it–that they’re subjective and based on a particular person’s opinion of a player’s value and the needs of a particular team?
No matter which way you choose to look at it, here are my Raiders draft grades following the finish of the 2017 NFL Draft. It was a good haul for Oakland, although I will admit that I was disappointed by the lack of value with some of their later additions.
Cornerback, Ohio State
In terms of football ability, Gareon Conley was a steal at No. 24 overall. However, the risk he comes with after recently being accused rape is a huge gamble to take, especially in the first round. Apparently general manager Reggie McKenzie was comfortable with that risk.
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So I’m guessing the Raiders had done their homework and felt confident that Conley was an innocent man. Or maybe the lack of charges and a passed polygraph were enough to convince the Oakland front office they didn’t have anything to worry about. Either way, potential legal issues are never the type of baggage you want a draft pick to bring with them.
I’m sure the talent Conley shows on the field, though, made it worth the potential waste of a first-round pick. Especially with their issues in the secondary, the former Buckeye can step in and make things better immediately. He looked like a shutdown cornerback at times in college, using his mix of athleticism, instincts and smarts to routinely give opposing receivers headaches.
Again, I love the pick from a football standpoint. But with that dark cloud hanging over his head, it could be a devastating blow for McKenzie and this franchise if it turns out Conley did actually do something wrong. Hence, the B+ instead of an A.
It’s a great thing to see the Raiders taking it seriously in terms of fixing the secondary. Fielding the No. 24 pass defense again in 2017 simply shouldn’t be an option. The drafting of Conley was a good start, but Obi Melifonwu is another huge step in the right direction.
Put simply, Melifonwu is an absurd athlete. Just look at his 2017 Combine performance if you need further proof. The guy was easily one of the best athletes of the class, which had scouts drooling over him over the last couple of months. However, questions about his toughness and polish kept him from being the first-round pick some thought he could be.
It worked out well for the Raiders, though. They watched a Day-1 talent fall into their laps near the end of the second round, instantly improving the overall outlook of this Oakland secondary. While I wouldn’t expect him to play much as a rookie with Reggie Nelson still in the mix, Melifonwu shouldn’t have much trouble developing into a starter before long.
When that time comes, he’ll team with Karl Joseph to form one of the best young safety duos in the NFL. It’s going to be a slow and steady process for a guy who has some kinks to work out. When he’s finally unlocked his true potential, though, the former Husky could take this league by storm.
Defensive Tackle, UCLA
The defensive talent just keeps piling up for the Raiders. Oakland went into this offseason knowing they needed to find an answer at the three-technique. Free agency came and went, yet they failed to do so. Instead, they lost one of their best defensive tackles, Stacy McGee, to the Washington Redskins and released Dan Williams.
The addition of Eddie Vanderdoes, though, is a step in the right direction. In terms of talent and potential, this pick should have received an A. However, between the injury and weight issues, the UCLA product has watched his stock consistently waver since landing in Pasadena in 2013.
When he’s on top of his game, though, Vanderdoes has the makings of a superstar along the interior. He’s got excellent burst off the snap, and displays rare quickness for a man of his size. If he can harness his potential, I have little doubt he’d fill the Raiders’ need for an interior pass rusher admirably.
A 2015 ACL tear put a real damper on Vanderdoes’ career, and his 2016 campaign showed little progress. Based on his efforts during the pre-draft process, though, it appears the former Bruin is ready to shine. If he unlocks his immense upside, this will turn out to be one of the biggest steals of the 2017 NFL Draft. Be aware of the boom-or-bust potential, though.
Offensive Tackle, Florida
At this moment, Austin Howard and Marshall Newhouse make up the right tackle depth chart for the Raiders. While they could definitely be in a worse situation, things could also be better at Oakland’s weakest spot along their near-elite offensive line.
I’m guessing this selection is aimed at addressing the lack of reliable options at right tackle. David Sharpe started for two years on the left side at Florida, but will likely move to the right side in the NFL due to a lack of athleticism and movement skills. Still, based on his size and skill set, that seems like the best bet for the former Gator.
Sharpe is a mountainous man at 6-6, 345 pounds, and shows it on film. He often struggles with quicker edge rushers, failing to keep them from rounding the corner and putting pressure on the quarterback. However, he’s got terrific power at the point of attack, allowing him to excel as a road grader in the run game.
With Howard routinely injured and Newhouse nothing more than an adequate backup, Sharpe will have opportunities to earn playing time as a rookie. If he can improve his footwork and do a better job of using his hands to slow down pass rushers, I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw significant snaps at some point in 2017.
Inside Linebacker, Wake Forest
For months now, I’ve been a proponent of the Raiders addressing the inside linebacker position sooner rather than later during the 2017 NFL Draft. They failed to do so during the first four rounds, but decided Marquel Lee would be their answer in the fifth.
Well, in my opinion, Lee was the wrong answer.
What the Raiders really need is a starting-caliber inside linebacker who can step in and set the tempo for this defense. Someone like Reuben Foster or Alex Anzalone (despite their health concerns) would have been much better additions to this Oakland defense that has seen pitiful play in the middle in recent years.
Instead, Lee is the first to come in to address the position. With the former Demon Deacon, the Raiders are getting a productive player with good size who doesn’t necessarily have the other attributes needed to be a starter. He was exposed at Wake Forest’s Pro Day as an average athlete, and doesn’t possess the speed to be a reliable option in coverage.
I envisioned the Raiders finding a playmaker at linebacker who could step in and start from Day 1. Instead, they’ll be forced to settle for someone like Ben Heeney or Cory James manning the middle. It could be worse, but an upgrade is absolutely still needed moving forward.
Safety, Washington State
Yes, I know this was only a seventh-round pick. However, even at this point in the draft, it’s safe to say it was essentially wasted. There’s a very good chance nothing ever comes of Shalom Luani with the Raiders, or any other NFL team.
There just isn’t much to the former Washington State safety who never really stood out on film. Sure, he tallied a handful of interceptions and a sizable amount of tackles during his days with the Cougars. However, in terms of his physical tools, there’a no real indication that he has a future in the league.
Not only is he a below-average athlete, but Luani often struggled in a number of areas in college. He missed far too many tackles, and often found himself on the wrong end of touchdown catches. I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon, which it makes it difficult to imagine the Raiders even finding space for him on the practice squad in 2017.
I hate to write off Luani before his NFL career has really even begun. Unfortunately, that’s essentially what I’m doing based on what I’ve seen and heard from others within the scouting community. Maybe he’ll use this grade as motivation to prove me wrong, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.
Offensive Tackle, Alabama State
One of the more intriguing small-school prospects of the 2017 NFL Draft, Jylan Ware spent most of the pre-draft process garnering little attention from scouts. However, after putting on a show at Alabama State’s Pro Day, he found his way onto several team’s radars.
Ware is an exceptional athlete with outstanding size at 6-8, 295 pounds. While he could use to add some muscle to his long frame, he also possesses enough strength at the point of attack to warrant a longer look. The Raiders seemed to agree with that assertion, giving him a call in the final round of the draft.
At this point, Ware is a project who doesn’t figure to see the field anytime soon. However, with a couple of years of coaching and experience with an NFL team, I could see him capitalizing on his natural tools to become a rotational option at offensive tackle. Especially with Howard a constant liability and Donald Penn running out of gas, Oakland could use a piece of clay to mold.
The former Hornet is an intriguing talent who could turn into a solid starter. Then again, he could never amount to anything more than a late-round flier from a small school. With the way the offensive line talent is trending in this league, though, Ware is worth a look for the Raiders.
Running Back, North Carolina
The last-minute deal for Marshawn Lynch made the running back position much less of a need heading into the 2017 NFL Draft. However, I’m not the least bit surprised they still decided to add a young runner to the mix with a late-round selection.
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What’s more is they filled a role that could be vacated by Lynch in the next year or so — whenever he decides he had his fun and is ready to return to retirement. Yes, Elijah Hood is a true power back who excels at wearing down defenses with inside runs. That skill set perfectly complements those of Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, who are both quicker, third-down type of backs.
So when Lynch calls it quits on the Raiders in a year or two, the trio of Richard, Washington and Hood can essentially fill all needs of the Oakland ground game. With that said, the North Carolina product is a one-dimensional talent who doesn’t offer much value outside of short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Still, for a seventh-round pick, I believe Hood is a solid get for this Raiders team. He fills a role with the potential to spend the early parts of his career learning from one of the best power backs in recent memory. His long-term outlook is limited, but he provides more value than most picks at this point in the draft.
Defensive Tackle, Toledo
Again, this feels like a bit of a wasted pick. The seventh round can be a guessing game, but there are definitely prospects who show more potential than others. In the case of Treyvon Hester, there’s little more than a very low ceiling.
The Toledo standout certainly made his mark during his college career. However, in terms of the overall talent and athleticism he shows, there isn’t much to make me believe he can have a significant impact in the NFL. Then again, not many former Rockets really do.
Hester flashed some pass-rushing prowess during his four years as a starter, racking up 13 sacks in the process. Unfortunately, that effectiveness with collapsing the pocket likely won’t translate at the next level. And it’s not like Hester really has the size or power to prove himself as a reliable run stuffer for Oakland.
The sad truth of the matter is Hester is highly unlikely to even make it through training camp. He was productive enough at Toledo to warrant a look as an undrafted rookie, but the Raiders felt it necessary to spend one of the final picks of the draft on him. It’ll prove to be a pointless pick before long.