The Raiders began free agency relatively quiet but have since made some new additions and are working on bringing Marshawn Lynch on board. General Manager, Reggie Mckenzie, has his hands tied this offseason, as the team has made it known that their priority is to get extensions for Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, and eventually Khalil Mack done. With that being said, the team still has some significant holes on the defensive side of the ball. Mckenzie said that he is going to take the best player available regardless of position, but I would take that statement with a grain of salt given his draft history and lineage (I talked about it on this article).
Mckenzie has passed the rebuilding stage with flying colors but he is now entering uncharted territory and has to retain talent while filling holes. If he could do this as well as he has rebuilt this Raider roster, fans will have nothing to worry about for a long time.
For more draft content, check out the draft guide I worked on in collaboration with the Inside the Pylon crew, which was led by the former NFL scout Dan Hatman. I’m extremely proud of the work we did and it has even been purchased by NFL personnel and coaches.
With that said, lets take a look at the pre-draft state of each position group.
Derek Carr should already be close to 100% back from his injury at this point of rehab. He will be entering his fourth year as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Although he played close to an MVP level last year, he still has room to grow and with his work ethic and another offseason under his belt, he should be able to take that next step.
Connor Cook flashed signs of being a capable back up quarterback last year despite being forced into action against two of the best defenses in the NFL on the road in his first two games ever. Those experiences and another season in this system should help his progress. The Raiders drafted him with the thought that he would be the primary back up this season and seem pretty content with sticking to that plan.
UPDATE: E.J. Manuel, who has experience with working with offensive coordinator, signed with the team to the team as an insurance plan if Cook doesn’t develop like the team wants, but will likely serve as third-string quarterback.
Quarterbacks should be set, but the team might sign a camp “arm” or two for training camp.
Jalen Richard and Deandre Washington will be splitting carries next season, but they are both scat backs and shouldn’t be relied on for short yardage situations. Latavius Murray had his faults (primarily with vision and missing holes) but he was pretty good at getting the tough yards. He was also a good pass protector, but Richard should be able to help in that department; his skills as a pass protector shouldn’t be overlooked, it was one of his top qualities as a prospect.
Jamize Olawale might be able to take those short yardage carries, but the Raiders have not trusted him with those responsibilities even when Murray was out with injuries. It might be because he doesn’t have great burst and isn’t as strong with the ball as people would assume just because he’s a full back.
THE PLAN: The team is still in negotiations with Lynch. Although they have come out and said they would be willing to walk away from the deal, I think they have to make that statement for leverage. I am still very confident this deal happens.
If Lynch signs, there is no need to add another back and carry five backs (with Olawale) on the roster. Running back isn’t a position that needs to be “groomed”. If Lynch only wants to play for a year, the Raiders could easily just draft one next year in what should be another loaded RB draft class.
If Lynch doesn’t sign, a good mid-round target for the Raiders is D’onta Foreman from Texas. He is a huge back who played at 245 lbs with nifty feet that would be a great fit in the Raiders zone system.
The Raiders have a lot of money invested into the line already and will have to extend guard, Gabe Jackson, soon. Manelik Watson, who looked to be the runner-up to start at right tackle, after a promising 2016, left in free agency to the Denver Broncos. Donald Penn isn’t getting any younger and although he has been durable and great for the Raiders, they will have to find an eventual replacement.
THE PLAN: The Raiders are going to let Vadal Alexander, Denver Kirkland, Austin Howard and Marshall Newhouse battle it out for the right tackle position. Unfortunately, none of them could play left tackle, which is not good because the Raiders need a back up left tackle. Depth everywhere else on the line is pretty good, but if Penn goes down the Raiders are in big trouble. The Raiders seem hesitant to move Kelechi Osemele to left tackle in case Penn goes down. They had a chance to do that last year in the playoffs but chose to move Watson to the left tackle, which resulted in a total disaster. If they do not consider, Osemele as the primary backup left tackle, they may have to add one through free agency or the draft. Outside of depth, the raiders also need to find a left tackle of the future; Penn is not getting any younger. However, it is important to note that this tackle draft class is not a strong one. The only elite left tackle prospect in this class is Cam Robinson and he will likely go in the top 15.
Tight End: Mckenzie was clearly looking for an upgrade at the tight end postion this year, which makes sense because a big, reliable target down the middle of the field would greatly benefit Carr. He originally went after Martellus Bennet, but after signing with the Packers, the Raiders signed Jared Cook.
Cook is still a huge upgrade over what the Raiders had last year and could help Carr take the next step as a quarterback. I wrote more about Cook here.
Mychal Rivera, the Raiders best receiving option at tight end last year, has left to the Jets. Lee Smith will be back from injury but he’s more of blocking tight end, which means Clive Walford will pair up with Cook to form what could some interesting two tightend sets. Walford is a promising prospect, but really struggled with consistency and creating separation last year. Vic Tafur even tweeted that some in the organization question if he could ever come back fully from an ATV accident last offseason.
An interesting possibility is if an elite prospect like Evan Engram fell to the Raiders in the second round, would Mckenzie be tempted to make a luxury pick? I wrote about Engram here.
Although the wide receivers group is top heavy with stars, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, the position group is in serious need of depth. Third receiver, Seth Roberts will have to improve his consistency catching the ball, as his drop rate was much too high last season. The team has expressed it’s confidence in him and must believe that he will improve.
THE PLAN: Andre Holmes who was good in his role as the #4 receiver and excellent as a special teams contributor but has leaft in free agency. Johnny Holton doesn’t seem like he has very consistent hands, which doesn’t inspire much confidence in him as the #4 receiver. An interesting player that the Raiders have on the practice squad is Jayden Mickens. Mickens is lighting quick and runs sudden routes. He’ll likely get a shot this preseason.
The Raiders signed Cordalle Patterson to replace Holmes. Patterson could also bring value as a returner and take some returning snaps away from Jalen Richard who will need to be kept fresh with an expanded role on offense. Patterson is excellent as gunner in special teams as well. I’m sure the team has hope for him as a receiver too, but he’ll have to really improve his route running. (I talked about that here.)
This position group is in the most dire need of attention. The only linebackers that the Raiders have are Ben Heeney and Cory James. Heeney played terribly in the beginning of the season and did not finish the season because of an injury. James flashed some potential in his limited playing time and the Raiders could be depending on his development to fill one of the starting inside linebacker spots.
THE PLAN: The Raiders are interested in bring back Perry Riley Jr., who played great for them last year. The group desperately needs a veteran presence and Riley would add a ton of value on and off the field. Even if Riley comes back, the Raiders should look into drafting a linebacker to compete and develop somewhere in between the first and third round. Rueben Foster from Alabama would likely be off the board but Hasson Reddick from Temple might be there when the Raiders select in the first round. If they’re both are gone, a nice third round target could be Raekwon Mcmillan from Ohio State. A veteran and early round rookie could help to bring some stability to a longtime weakness for the Raiders.
The addition of Jelani Jenkins is interesting. If he is healthy (a big “if”), he could be a huge addition, but if he could at least play during passing downs, he has the athlethism to match up with tight ends.
Again the Raiders should draft a linebacker at some point during the draft. Here are my linebacker rankings with links to reports I did on each:
The two starting linebackers, Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, easily outperformed every other position group on the defense. Mack won Defensive Player of the Year with good reason and Bruce Irvin got better towards the end of the season and was a disrupter opposite of Mack. Last year’s third round draft pick, Shilique Calhoun, was underwhelming and only finished the season with half a sack. James Cowser showed some promise. He only notched one sack but created some pressure.
The Plan: Aldon Smith’s chances of coming back are pretty slim right now, but the Raiders have so many needs else where that they might have to just depend on the development of Calhoun and Cowser to backup Mack and Irvin.
Interior Defensive Line
The two starters at defensive tackle should be Mario Edwards Jr. and Darius Latham, who played exceptional in his limited snaps last year. However, the team might want to give their second round draft pick, Jihad Ward, a chance to redeem himself after a forgettable rookie year. Ward produced some pressure, but was terrible against the run. The team put a tender on Denico Autry, who also had a bad year defending the run but improved towards the end of the season. Autry, however, created interior pressure on pass rushes and should only rotate in during passing situations.
I wrote about how defensive tackle might not be as a big of a need as people are making it out to be here. One of the main reasons is that the Raiders are looking for a run stuffing/ two-gapper. Those type of players aren’t highly valued and could be found later in the draft. Here is a list of potential targets for that role: link.
The Plan: The Raiders wanted to add a pass rusher in the interior of the defense, but missed out on Nick Fairley. There are rumors that they are targeting Dontari Poe in free agency. It would be ideal if they could find another rusher through free agency because they have drafted defensive tackles in the second round of the draft two years in a row and could really use early draft picks to draft another position this year. Mckenzie could be forced to just depend on the return of Edwards and the development of Ward/ Latham to create interior pressure and draft a stout run defender later in the draft.
Both Sean Smith and David Amerson were rewarded by big contracts last season but were very disappointing. They had some good games, but were terrible in some games. D.J. Hayden has left in free agency, which leaves T.J. Carrie as the nickel corner. Carrie actually improve the defense when Hayden was out with an injury and the Raiders should comfortable with him as a nickel.
Many experts are linking Kevin King to the Raiders, but I feel the Raiders need to get away from the big corner archetype (wrote about that here.) The Raiders could really use a fast fourth corner because all three of the Raiders’ corners struggled with speed. Experts believe that this corner class is deep enough that you could get a quality corner in the fourth to fifth round. The Raiders should bring a young corner for competition and to add depth to the position.
Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson alternated playing free safety and strong safety in the beginning of the season when the Raiders played a lot of one deep safety coverages. However, the defense began playing more two deep safety defenses with mixed results. I believe that the Raiders could be better off playing two deep coverages, but Reggie Nelson doesn’t quite fit in those schemes. Nelson doesn’t have the range to cover a deep half or the athleticism to play man to man in quarters coverage. The position also lost a lot of depth with the departure of Nate Allen and Brydyn Trawick.
THE PLAN: The Raiders should try to add a playmaker early in he draft. Pairing a dynamic safety with Joseph could help limit big plays. A safety that could match up with tight ends could really help out the defense. The Raiders missed out on free agents, Tony Jefferson and Micah Hyde, but this draft is very deep at the safety and there could be a very good safety still available in the second round the of the draft. The addition of another rangy safety could help out Amerson and Smith, as it would allow them to use their physicality to press with the security of knowing that they would have deep help on top of them.
One of my favorite draft targets for this role is Obi Melifonwu. I wrote more about him here.
|QB||A||Franchise QB in place with promising back-up, and a veteran 3rd string.||DONE|
|RB||B||Promising 2- back rotation and versatile full back in rotation. Lynch would elevate the group to an A+.||Get Lynch or Draft (4th Rd or later)|
|WR||B||Great starting duo in place and will have competition for 3rd and 4th spot.||Luxury pick in draft?|
|OL||A-||Great starting 4 in place will have competition for RT. Need back up LT.||Draft (?? depends on board)|
|TE||B+||The addition of Cook and the return of Smith really ungraded this position group.||Luxury pick in draft?|
|LB||D||1 developmental player in place (C. James.) Need to bring in vet and draft.||FA + Draft (1st-3rd rd) depending on who falls|
|IDL||B||Potential star (MEJ) in place with dependable starter (Latham). Better than average Depth.||Draft (depends on board)|
|OLB||A-||1 super star and 1 star in place. Depth is average.||FA|
|CB||C||2 potential stars that underachieved. 1 good nickel. Have to rely on progression.||Draft (depends on board) (deep class)|
|Safety||C||1 promising player in place (KJ) and incumbent starter (Nelson). Not much depth.||Draft (1st-3rd rd)|
As you could see, the Raiders overall roster needs to be fixed and this chart should not cause any panic. It’s top heavy at the moment but most of the starting groups have blue-chip players in place. It is also important to remember that every position group does not have to have an elite player, but you need to have dependable starters and depth.
However, Mckenzie has earned his trust with Raider Nation. He knows what he’s doing.
In Reggie, we trust.