Oakland Raiders: 5 Prospects team should have drafted instead
The Oakland Raiders put together a solid haul during the 2017 NFL Draft, but these alternate picks would have made it even better.
For the most part, the Oakland Raiders walked away from the 2017 NFL Draft with a strong class of rookies. There were some questionable picks in the later rounds, but I was impressed with Reggie McKenzie and Co.’s work during the first two days of the weekend’s festivities.
Still, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t make changes if I could. While we obviously can’t go back in time, we can certainly speculate on what could have been. That’s what I’m trying to do here — look at alternatives for some of the Raiders’ picks during the 2017 NFL Draft.
Some may see this as a pointless exercise. To them, I say that looking at how things could have been better is never pointless. In fact, it’s a very common practice in the sports world, especially when it comes to fans who wish things would have panned out differently.
So let’s take a look at the Raiders’ 2017 draft class and see how things may have been better. I may not be an NFL general manager, but I have opinions on this team’s picks and I have no problem sharing them.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five prospects the Raiders should have drafted instead during the 2017 NFL Draft. Take it for what it is–a look at how things may have been different despite there being zero chance of changing the past.
Round 1: Kevin King, CB – Washington
Realistically, the decision to go with Gareon Conley in the first round wasn’t a bad move for Oakland. They added a starting-caliber prospect at a position of need, and they got a relative steal considering his overall talent and potential.
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However, the problem I have with picking the Ohio State product is the risk it comes with. I know he’s adamantly denied the rape accusations that surfaced before the draft, but Conley still has a dark cloud hanging over him. What’s worse is the situation isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
I’m confident the Raiders did their due diligence in investigating the situation before picking the former Buckeye. Chances are they saw and heard enough to convince them nothing would come of the accusation. Even if that is the case, them drafting him with such a significant question mark hanging over his head is troubling.
By drafting Kevin King instead, the Raiders get a comparable talent without the potential off-field issues. The Washington product was one of the fast risers of the 2017 NFL Draft, and for good reason. He’s got an exciting combination of size, speed and strength, which is why the Green Bay Packers jumped at the opportunity to draft him atop the second round.
I’m confident King will turn out to be as good of a talent as Conley, if not better. Drafting him would have given the Raiders an outstanding playmaker at cornerback minus the pending legal issues. Again, I do want to reiterate that I didn’t necessarily have a problem with the pick — I just believe minimizing risk is generally the best approach.
Round 2: Zach Cunningham, LB – Vanderbilt
Much like the Raiders’ first pick, I had no problem with the selection of Obi Melifonwu. In fact, I gave the pick an “A” when grading Oakland’s 2017 draft class. With that said, there is one thing I wasn’t happy about with the Raiders’ decisions on draft weekend.
As some of you may know, I’ve long been a proponent of the Raiders making a serious upgrade at inside linebacker. I understand why they didn’t go with Reuben Foster in the first round, and it’s not like Jarrad Davis was an option. Still, relying on mediocre play at inside linebacker isn’t going to get this defense over the hump in 2017.
The next best option after Day 1 was Zach Cunningham, an exceptional talent who was considered at times during the pre-draft process to be a first-round talent. Although there were some concerns about his tackling technique, he is an excellent cover linebacker — something the Raiders have lacked in recent seasons.
Melifonwu was a great pick, especially considering his absurd athleticism and upside. However, chances are he serves in a backup role until next season. On the other hand, drafting Cunningham would have addressed an immediate need with a proven, productive playmaker.
In the end, Cunningham came off the board a pick after Melifonwu to the Houston Texans. The Texans now have two outstanding young linebacker prospects, while the Raiders will have to settle on Ben Heeney or Cory James as their starter in 2017.
Round 3: Josh Johnson, S – Boston College
I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but I liked the Eddie Vanderdoes selection as well. The former Bruin is a former five-star recruit who showed immense potential early in his college career, but watched a torn ACL in 2015 put a damper on his development.
Although he carries some bust potential after his bounce-back season was a tad lackluster, the physical tools are there for him to be a star three-technique for Oakland. It’s that risk and injury history, though, that forced me to give the pick a “B” instead of an “A.”
In a hypothetical situation where the Raiders didn’t select Melifonwu in the second round, John Johnson would be a tremendous consolation prize in the third. He was selected by the Los Angeles Rams near the end of Day 2, but should see his stock rise in the NFL quickly considering the team’s need for competent safety play.
Johnson brings a lot of desirable traits to the table. He’s an instinctive cover man who does a great job of tracking the ball and getting his hands on it. Although not a hard-hitter by any means, he’s a reliable tackler who showed himself to be an asset against the run. The Boston College product offers outstanding upside, and is a more polished (albeit less athletic) prospect than Melifonwu.
I wouldn’t necessarily say I’d swap Melifonwu for Johnson. However, if the UConn product wasn’t in the mix, Johnson would have been a safer pick than Vanderdoes.
Round 5: Aaron Jones, RB – UTEP
Okay, I’m finally going to change my tune here. While I was supportive of the Raiders’ first four picks, I didn’t and won’t get on board with the selection of Marquel Lee in the fifth round. Oakland needed to address the linebacker position, but made a disappointing effort with that pick.
So let’s take that pick back and replace Lee with Aaron Jones, a super sleeper in the 2017 draft class.
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What I love about Jones is his excellent mix of size, speed and vision at the running back position. The former Miner re-wrote the school’s record books despite only playing for three seasons, using his well-rounded skill set to terrorize opposing C-USA defenses. Unfortunately, his status as a smaller-school prospect forced him to spend most of the pre-draft process flying under the radar.
It paid off for the Green Bay Packers, who grabbed him need the end of the fifth round. Even though they drafted three running backs, chances are he turns out to be the best of the bunch. The Raiders could have had the high-upside runner learning from Marshawn Lynch, but instead grabbed an underwhelming linebacker prospect.
Oakland took Elijah Hood in the final round to tie together their running back depth chart. However, he’s a one-dimensional option who only brings value in short-yardage situations. Having Jones in the mix, though, would have given the Raiders a true starter in the making.
Round 7: Collin Buchanan, OT – Miami (OH)
I’m all for drafting developmental offensive linemen in the final round. The Raiders have a near-elite front five, but could use some more young players to develop over the next couple of years. That was the hope with their selection of Jylan Ware at No. 231 overall.
I’m just not feeling the pick, though. The small-school product is all length and athleticism, but lacks experience and the strength to hold up at the next level. Instead of taking a shot in the dark with the Alabama State product, they should have given Collin Buchanan a chance on Day 3.
Yes, I know the former RedHawk went undrafted. However, he was easily one of the best players to not hear his name called during the 2017 NFL Draft. The New Orleans Saints scooped him up, and should see him earn a spot on the 53-man roster as a swing tackle.
Honestly, I believe Buchanan offers way more long-term potential than Ware. He spent three years as a starter at Miami (OH), and showed some impressive physical traits during that time. Although Buchanan still has plenty of work to do to carve out a role for himself in the NFL, Ware was essentially a dart throw at a target you can’t see.
It’s going to be at least a couple of years before Ware is ready to contribute, if he ever is. Buchanan, however, could have held his own if thrust into action as a rookie. Especially considering the Raiders’ instability at right tackle, the latter would have been a better pick.
The fact that I’m not sold on David Sharpe only accentuates my belief they need players who can contribute immediately.