It's NFL Draft season, and everyone is giving their opinion on what their team should do in order to finally catch up to the New England Patriots. The NFL Draft will start on Thursday, April 27th. I do not claim to be an expert (*cough cough* every intern at ESPN), but I do love the Oakland Raiders, and I do have a general sense of what kinds of players the team needs and how they can address it with this star-studded draft. Below, I will break down the Raiders primarily needs based on my opinion and the players that I feel would be perfect additions to the team. A 7 round prediction is difficult to do given 32 teams are picking from a pool and could literally pick anyone, so based on the 8 draft picks the Raiders have, the 8 listed players will be judged based on the approximate round they could be taken.
Cornerback (CB): In a passing league, cornerbacks are more valuable than they have ever been. The ideal cornerback is tall, over 6 ft, has long arms for physical press coverage, and is capable of playing all over the field. Regularly, the team's third corner (referred to as the nickelback because the formation is called the nickel package) is a starter rather than the first man off the bench. This means the top 3 corners on a team have to be able to defend the pass all game, no matter what. The Raiders were terrible against the pass last season despite the offseason addition of CB Sean Smith and the supposed ascension of recently traded CB David Amerson. If the Raiders are going to become long term postseason contenders and compete with teams like the Patriots, they need competent cornerbacks who can cover elusive receivers and give our pass-rushers the chance to get to the quarterbacks. What I wouldn't give for another Nmandi Asomugha....
Inside Linebacker (MLB): When you think of a dominant linebacker, a tackling machine, who comes to mind? For me, it's Ray Lewis, Mike Singletary, or Patrick Willis. There are plenty of other amazing examples, but these three all have similar traits: they are vocal, passionate leaders of the defense who can make tackles in the run game but also help in the passing game by covering running backs and tight ends downfield. Because the game is changing, the new age middle linebacker is no longer in the mold of a Dick Butkus or a Jack Lambert; now, they are built like bulky safety, able to run downfield with a running back and still tackle like the dominant linebacker he is. If the Raiders want to compete for a Super Bowl anytime soon, they need a truly dominant force in the middle of their linebacking core to compliment Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin on the outside.
Defensive Line (DL): I say defensive line for this one meaning they could draft either a defensive tackle or a defensive end. A defensive tackle's job is one of the most important: occupy blockers so the other defensive linemen and the linebackers can go make plays in the backfield. The defensive tackles that many try to emulate is Hall of Fame Warren Sapp. Sapp was famous for his ability to move quickly despite his size, as well as his strength at the point of attack.
In terms of defensive ends, the Raiders have All-World player Khalil Mack, oft-injured Mario Edwards, Jr., and a bunch of second and third tier players who are deployed rotationally. In order to rush the passer effectively without bringing additional players to blitz, the defensive ends have to create pressure off the edges and move the quarterbacks off their spots. Finding another player who can compliment Khalil and Bruce off the edge would make life so much better.
Safety (S): The safety position was addressed last season with 1st round draft pick Karl Joseph, and he's becoming a great strong safety, enforcing the middle of the field, with veteran free safety Reggie Nelson patrolling over the top. However, we still could use another safety or two for depth purposes. Nate Allen left in the offseason for Miami, and the safeties on the roster don't offer much in terms of reliable coverage. Adding another safety to deploy in the dime package or close to the line to play the run would be the smart move from a team that has drafted very well in the last 3 years.
Running back (RB): When you let your Pro Bowl running back (Latavius Murray) go in free agency, you would think running back would be a higher need for the Raiders. However, the teams drafted Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington last season, and both are excellent "scatbacks", meaning they are quick runners and capable pass-catchers out the backfield. The Raiders need a goal line/short distance power back, one capable of breaking tackles and gaining the tough yards.
Right Tackle (RT): On one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, the right tackle position isn't one of need, but depth and eventual succession. The position is solid with starter Austin Howard and recently signed free agent Marshall Newhouse, but in a draft full of good offensive linemen that can be developed over time, it would be a waste not to get at least one.
Round 1: Kevin King, CB
As mentioned above, what makes a great corner in today's NFL? A tall, lanky corner who can get physical with receivers but also play all over the field. Look no further than Washington CB Kevin King. King, an Oakland native and alum of Bishop O'Dowd High School, entered Washington as a safety, moved to nickel corner, and emerged as a starter at the outside corner position. That shows positional versatility, the intelligence to understand the defensive scheme as a whole, and the skill to gain a starting position in a very, very talented group of defensive backs, including fellow first round talents Budda Baker and Sidney Jones. Washington is cementing its status as "DB U" with recent first round draft picks Desmond Trufant and Marcus Peters, and King is next in line. Imagine: going from playing at O'Dowd to playing for your hometown Raiders? Talk about a dream come true for an Oakland native. King has received an increasing amount of attention since his stellar workouts at the NFL Combine and Washington's Pro Day. If he gets picked before the Raiders 24th overall pick, other corners available should include LSU's Tre'Davious White, another tall, lanky corner who was a 4 year starter, or Florida's Jalen Tabor, a very physical corner who could end up at the nickel position.
Round 2: Raekwon McMillan, MLB
Although he's not the top middle linebacker prospect in the Draft, Ohio State's Raekwon McMillan would be an amazing 2nd Rounder. A capable tackler in space and a leader on a young and talented Ohio State defense, McMillan has been a tackling machine, racking up over 100 tackles in the past couple seasons. He has also displayed capable zone coverage over tight ends and running backs. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer knows how to coach a talented defense, and McMillan served as the signal caller for the group. A vocal leader, plays strong against the run, and is capable of covering in the passing game? Sounds like a rookie starter to me.
Round 3: Carlos Watkins, DT
One of the most consistent players in some of the biggest games from last season in my opinion, Carlos Watkins was a starter at defensive tackle for Clemson for the last 2 seasons, and was a constant threat to the other talented teams of the ACC. Look no further than the semifinal playoff game against Ohio State. Watkins was able to beat the Ohio State offensive line throughout the game, generating pressure and sacking elusive quarterback JT Barrett. As a rotational pass rusher and run stuffer in the Raider's 4-3/3-4 mix defense, Watkins would make an immediate impact.
Round 4: Obi Melifonwu, S
How does Connecticut keep getting these freakishly athletic safeties? A few years ago, Byron Jones wowed teams at the NFL Combine with his numbers. This year, Obi Melifonwu blew people away with his performance. Unfortunately, he is a raw talent at the safety position, lacking the splashy highlight reel plays that the top safeties possess, but he makes up for it with his obvious talent and ability to learn the position. Drafting him would give the Raiders a defensive back that could be taught the dime safety position near the line of scrimmage, and another talented player to add to the defense.
Round 5: James Conner, RB
This one time All-American was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2015 while dealing with a torn MCL, underwent successful chemotherapy and treatment, was declared cancer-free, and did this all while training for a successful 2016 season for the Pitt Panthers. I'll say that again in case I wasn't clear. While rehabbing his torn MCL and getting ready for the next season, this man beat cancer and was still one of the top backs in the ACC. Raiders, do me a favor. Draft this man. He is a talented player who is capable of running hard between the tackles, and HE BEAT CANCER. If that's not a champion, I don't know what is.
Round 6: Isaac Rochell, DE
A pass-rushing defensive end who can play in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 front? Yes, please. Include the fact that he would only be needed on a rotational basis in our already talented outside linebacker and defensive ends, and this seems like a great pick.
Round 7: Avery Gennesy, T
A development tackle who can fill in at either RT or LT, depending on the needs of the team.
Round 7: Conor McDermott, T
A development tackle who can fill in at either RT or LT, depending on the needs of the team.
I am not a draft expert. I am just a Raiders fan who thinks that he knows football. I feel that this would be the best possible draft 8 total draft picks who fill in the needs on the roster of the Oakland Raiders. Obviously, a lot can change between now and Thursday the 27th, and of course they could pick completely different players, but I think this mock draft would address the needs on the team and help them compete for a Super Bowl.
Everything you need to know about the yay.