With the Oakland Raiders offseason now under way, this seven-round mock draft should give us a good idea of how they could approach the 2017 NFL Draft.
With the way the Oakland Raiders played in 2016, there’s a lot to like about this team moving forward. They made their first playoff appearance in 13 years, and saw some of their young stars shine brighter than many could have even imagined.
Most of the pieces are in place for the Raiders to be a force for years to come. However, there are still some issues that need to be ironed out this offseason before we can start talking about another Super Bowl appearance.
Free agency will be a great way to address the issues currently facing this roster. However, we’ve also seen the impact a strong draft class can have. General manager Reggie McKenzie will likely be looking to do similar damage during the 2017 NFL Draft, which is why it only seems fair to take an early look at what could happen with Oakland’s seven picks.
Will McKenzie and Co. focus on upgrading the defense, or will adding the final piece or two to the offense be the top priority? Which of their top draft needs will the Raiders try to fix in late April?
Instead of asking all of these questions, let’s take a look at what could go down on draft day. Ahead, you’ll find my seven-round mock draft that focuses on fixing the Raiders’ current issues while commenting on the stock of the players mentioned.
Note: Currently, the Raiders own all seven of their original picks and no extra picks.
In my opinion, the Raiders’ top draft need right now sits at middle linebacker. Not only are three of their current players at the position scheduled to hit free agency this offseason, but it’s not like any of them have proven they belong atop the depth chart.
So instead of settling on Malcolm Smith or Perry Riley Jr., the Raiders should draft a playmaker in the first round. The 2017 draft class is loaded at the top with inside linebacker talent, although I wouldn’t expect Rueben Foster to be available at No. 24. Jarrad Davis, however, could very well be on the board.
The Florida product is an exciting prospect who checks off all of the boxes at inside linebacker. Not only is he an excellent run defender and pass rusher, but he’s even capable of making plays in coverage. To top it all off, he’s a well-respected leader and locker room presence who was the driving force of the Gators defense in 2016.
The Oakland defense needs a tone-setter at inside linebacker who can tie a pretty bow around this talented defensive group. Bringing aboard Davis in the first round would be a terrific direction for the Raiders to go in come April. If he’s still available at No. 24, it seems to be a no-brainer for the Raiders to pull the trigger.
As we saw in 2016, the Raiders pass defense needs a lot of work. They finished the year ranked 24th in the NFL, and had several games where they were absolutely shredded through the air. While the starting lineup of defensive backs is strong, Oakland needs some more depth heading into 2017.
It also doesn’t help that the Raiders’ current No. 3 cornerback, D.J. Hayden, is headed for the open market. With the former first-round pick unlikely to be re-signed, the team will be left with T.J. Carrie as as the only quality option behind the starters. That needs to change. Insert Kevin King, a terrific cornerback prospect who has the potential to develop into a starter in the near future.
The former Husky star didn’t get the attention he deserved during the last year or so, due in part to the presence of potential first-round pick Sidney Jones. However, in the coming months, there’s a very good chance he starts to rise up draft boards. Between Combine/Pro Day workouts and scouts diving deeper into his film, King could quickly emerge as one of the better cornerback prospects of the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Raiders need more than two quality contributors at cornerback, because today’s pass-happy NFL requires it. If they think they’re going to succeed with just Carrie behind Sean Smith and David Amerson, they’re sadly mistaken. Adding King in the second round, though, would point this Oakland secondary in the right direction.
Based on the way the Raiders’ defensive tackles played in 2016, they need some help at the position moving forward. One guy who could step in from Day 1 and get the job done is Jaleel Johnson.
The Iowa product has all the makings of an impact player along the interior. Not only is he a force against the run, but he provides an exceptional pass-rushing presence from the inside–just ask the 7.5 sacks he racked up last season. That’s exactly what the Raiders need to make life that much easier on Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
With Johnson, though, it’s the little things. The former Hawkeye does a great job of exploding off the football and using a powerful punch to put blockers on their heels. The violence and determination he plays with is rare among defensive tackles, which makes him all the more intriguing of a talent.
The main concern is Johnson’s consistency when it comes to being a difference maker. While the effort is there, he tends to disappear at times and does go through hot and cold streaks. If he can improve on his game-to-game impact, there’s no denying he’d provide a big boost for this Oakland defense. It may even be enough to convince the Raiders to part ways with Dan Williams, a potential cap casualty.
Throughout the draft community, there’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to Julie’n Davenport. The small-school star has turned a lot of heads in the past couple of months, but the valuations and projections are all over the board. Some see the Bucknell product as a potential first-round pick, while I obviously have him going in the fourth round. Why all of this hype for a player from a program not exactly known for producing NFL talent? Look no further than Davenport’s physical tools and body of work.
The former Bison boasts a 6-7, 305-pound frame to go with impressive athleticism for his size. He was also a four-time All-Patriot League selection, which shows just how dominant he’s been throughout his college career. Unfortunately, being a man among boys at the FCS level doesn’t always translate to success as a pro.
The Senior Bowl will be our first opportunity to see how Davenport holds up against top-tier college talent. If the small-school product can hold his own and carry that success over on a bigger stage, we may see his stock soar.
Right now, Davenport is essentially an unknown. However, if he shines, I could see the Raiders giving him a shot. With Donald Penn getting up there in age, Austin Howard always hurt and Menelik Watson set to hit the open market, Oakland could use some more upside at offensive tackle. Davenport is just the type of gamble that could pay huge dividends in the future.
Put simply, I’m convinced the Raiders need a new tight end this year. Lee Smith is coming off a broken leg, Clive Walford continues to underwhelm in between injuries, and Mychal Rivera has already hit his ceiling as a decent receiving option with limited blocking abilities.
That’s why I think they could target someone like Cole Hikutini in the middle rounds. While I’m not entirely convinced the Louisville tight end will be available at this point, he could slide—and that’s where Oakland could get the steal.
Hikutini is a terrific tight end prospect with amazing athleticism and receiving skills. He spent this past season providing Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson with a reliable weapon, racking up big yards and finding the end zone on several occasions. While he’s also an unpolished run blocker, the physical tools are there for him to develop into a capable in-line tight end.
The Raiders offense is already dynamic with an MVP-caliber quarterback, two tremendous receivers and a three-headed monster at running back. Oh, and the elite offensive line helps. However they’re still in need a playmaker at tight end who can strike fear in opposing secondaries. While Hikutini isn’t yet a finished product, he could easily grow into that role and shine for Oakland in the very near future.
To be honest, Travin Dural could come off the board much earlier than this. However, at this very moment, I think is stock is a bit lower than it will be come April. A large part of why Dural doesn’t get the credit he deserves is because LSU has been plagued by poor quarterback play during his time with the team. That obviously hurt his production, and the focus on Leonard Fournette and the ground game didn’t help either. When you look at the tools, though, there’s a lot to like about the Tigers’ receiver.
Not only does he possess good size at 6-2, 205 pounds, but Dural also supposedly boasts sub-4.4 speed. That mix of speed and size isn’t easy to come by in the NFL, which is why there’s so much intrigue when it comes to the LSU receiver.
Despite all of that, Dural could slide a bit considering his lack of production and the overall depth of the 2017 draft class. There is a ton of receiver talent coming into the league this offseason, which could force some players to tumble a bit on draft day. That could be the case for the LSU standout, which is why I have him going to the Raiders here.
Realistically, Oakland could use some more depth out wide. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are the stars of the show, and Seth Roberts has quietly proven himself to be sneaky-good No. 3. However, with Andre Holmes headed for free agency and not much else behind him on the roster, Oakland needs an injection of youth at wide receiver. The possible selection of Dural would undoubtedly achieve that.
In the seventh round, you can’t expect much more than a flier with some upside. When it comes to Dante Barnett, that’s exactly what the Raiders would be getting. Sure, the Kansas State product isn’t exactly a star. Barnett is coming off a rocky senior season during which he often struggled on the field to make a big impact for the Wildcats. However, there have also been glimpses of playmaking ability throughout his career. That should be enough to warrant a seventh-round pick.
It also helps that the Raiders could use some added depth at safety. With Nate Allen set to enter free agency, Oakland is left with very little proven talent behind starters Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph. While Barnett obviously isn’t proven either, he’s another option to secure some snaps and make an impact on special teams.
What I really like about Barnett, though, are his intangibles. Time and time again, Kansas State folks talk about the safety as both an impact player and outstanding leader on and off the field. The culture appears to be changing with the Raiders, which is why it only makes sense to continue bringing in more high-character players. It’ll also be imperative with a possible move to Las Vegas looming in the near future.
I don’t know if Barnett will ever be anything more than a long shot in the NFL. However, between his intangibles and well-rounded skill set, I don’t see why he couldn’t develop into a solid backup safety. It’s not like you can really ask for much more from a seventh-round pick.