Which 2013 NFL Draft Prospects Should Oakland Raiders Already Be Scouting?
General manager Reggie McKenzie began the transformation in Oakland, but it has been very limited by the team's salary cap situation.
In order to bridge the divide between the old era and the new era, McKenzie brought in several players on one-year contracts. McKenzie will need to either re-sign those players next offseason or replace them through the draft.
McKenzie has stated many times that he believes in building through the draft, and the Raiders' new college scouting staff should already be examining the 2013 crop of college players.
Let's take a look at five players the Raiders should already be scouting.
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
The Raiders signed two veteran cornerbacks to one-year contracts, Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell. Even if Chimdi Chekwa and DeMarcus Van Dyke turn into starting-caliber cornerbacks, the Raiders will still need one or two cornerbacks to keep pace in the increasingly pass-heavy NFL.
Judging from the cornerbacks McKenzie signed or drafted in Green Bay and Oakland, he likes cornerbacks with good height, length and size. There just so happens to be three such cornerbacks near the top of the scouting rankings.
Xavier Rhodes from Florida State is probably the best fit for what the Raiders want to do defensively. He's a near size copy of Bartell at 6'1" and 215 pounds, physical at the line of scrimmage and a willing tackler.
His physical style has contributed to injuries, but if he can stay healthy he should go off the draft board in the first round.
Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
Without Kamerion Wimbley, the Raiders could struggle to find an outside pass rush in 2012. Both defensive ends lack speed and the outside linebackers are unproven pass-rushers.
Philip Wheeler was signed to a one-year deal and Aaron Curry restructured his contract, which gives the Raiders flexibility to keep him or release him next offseason depending on performance.
Depending on what happens this season and next offseason, the Raiders have potential holes at the outside linebacker position.
Mingo is a pick that would make Al Davis proud. Mingo's known for his speed and projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker. The Raiders are projected to use more 3-4 fronts in 2012 and could be easing into base 3-4 in future years.
Teams need pass rush more than ever, and edge-rushers are becoming a hot commodity. The Raiders already know the importance of pressuring Philip Rivers and will soon find out how important it is to put pressure on Peyton Manning as well.
Mingo is not only one of the great names in college football, but also an elite pass-rush prospect that most teams would love to have.
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
As best as can be projected, the Raiders will rely on Travis Ivey to be their space-eating defensive tackle in 2012. Ivey is unproven and isn't even a lock to make the 53-man roster.
Star Lotulelei is widely regarded as the best defensive tackle in college football and is drawing comparisons to Haloti Ngata for his size and football abilities. Lotulelei and Ngata are both 6'4" and weigh between 320 and 330 on any given day.
The Raiders haven't ranked higher than 22nd in the NFL against the run since 2002. Not coincidentally, the Raiders haven't been to the playoffs since 2002.
Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly also have large contracts that could be cumbersome for McKenzie in 2013 and beyond. Seymour will be 33 and Kelly 32 by the end of the 2012 season and it's not a bad idea to start planning for the future.
The Raiders brought in two players from Utah in 2012, guard Tony Bergstrom and cornerback Conroy Black, so it's reasonable to assume McKenzie and his staff already have a report or two written on Lotulelei.
The Packers selected B.J. Raji with the ninth selection of the 2009 NFL draft while McKenzie was in Green Bay, so he's no stranger to taking a nose tackle in the first round.
Lotulelei is projected to go in the first round, but unlike Raji, he may be able to play the nose tackle position in both the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. Well worth the selection if the Raiders get the opportunity.
Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
Even if Rolando McClain has a good 2012 season, the 3-4 defense requires two inside linebackers.
Skov flies to the football and was Stanford's leading tackler in 2010. The defense's emotional leader only played in three games in 2011 before tearing a ligament in his left knee in a collision with Raiders' rookie and former Arizona receiver Juron Criner.
Some believe Skov's injury derailed Stanford's shot at a national championship.
Skov is a Bay Area native and returns to Stanford in 2012 for his senior season. He's a good run-stuffer, blitzer and he's not bad in coverage.
Raiders' defensive coordinator Jason Tarver was co-defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach at Stanford last season and coached Skov directly. So not only would Skov has instant familiarity with Tarver, but the Raiders would have insight into Skov as a person and a player other teams may not.
Of particular interest to NFL teams might be Skov's DUI arrest and if the incident was isolated or something to be concerned about going forward.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Jake is the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and cousin of Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III.
The Matthews family is truly a football factory and multiple members of the family have played in the NFL. Great bloodlines.
Jake will be a junior in 2012 and may or may not elect to enter the 2013 NFL draft. If he does, the Raiders should take notice.
The Raiders offensive line is transitioning back to the zone-blocking scheme and linemen from zone-blocking or spread systems like Texas A&M usually transition well.
Khalif Barnes isn't a long-term answer at right tackle and the Raiders should be looking for a replacement, particularly if Joseph Barksdale is a better fit at guard or as a backup.
An offensive line consisting of Jared Veldheer, Tony Bergstrom, Stefen Wisniewski, Mike Brisiel and Jake Matthews would be a line that could anchor the Raiders for years to come.