Oakland Raiders Draft and Free Agency Updated
The Oakland Raiders have the third overall pick in the NFL draft this year, and they can't afford to miss. They already didn't have a first-round pick last year and don't have a second-round pick this year.
After watching Manti Te'o against the Alabama Crimson Tide, that's no longer the direction I want to see the Raiders go in. Te'o looks more like a second- to third-round pick these days, but that isn't the end of the world for the Raiders.
There are plenty of things the Raiders can do with the No. 3 pick as well as throughout the draft. There are also some free agents whom the Raiders can mix with their draft picks to help them immensely.
The Raiders should definitely add some more size, toughness and physicality their roster. They also have a 3-4 coordinator and head coach, so their scheme and personnel should change to match.
Turn the page to see what I came up with.
Free Agency: Chilo Rachal
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As much as I hate to say this, I have to keep it 100 with my fellow Raiders fans. The Raiders need to become a tougher, more physical team like the San Francisco 49ers.
As I mentioned in my last article, Chilo Rachal is a former 49er whom the Chicago Bears praised this year for taking that physicality and mean streak with him to Chicago. He later went AWOL after he was benched, but I'm sure he learned his lesson, and the Raiders could use the physicality he brings.
McKenzie has been known not to mind guys with checkered pasts, especially for the right price. Rachal would definitely come cheap after going AWOL during a contract year, giving the Raiders an opportunity to get the tough, physical, run-blocking right guard they need.
Darren McFadden would then have an easier time running the ball up the middle.
Free Agency: Louis Vasquez
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Neither guard for the Raiders this year was very physical so another guard is needed here. At 6'5", 335 pounds and super-strong, Louis Vasquez is the other guard the Raiders need to get more physical on offense.
He was the strongest man in the combine in 2009 and he moves men off the line of scrimmage in the run game. In the passing game, he has quick feet and good hand-punch to keep his quarterback clean.
He played right guard for the San Diego Chargers but can easily play on the left side as that is where he played at Texas Tech. I remember wanting the Raiders to pick Vasquez back in 2009, but they were too busy looking for zone-blocking types.
Watching the way he has played the last couple of years, he is a Pro Bowl player waiting to happen. He hasn't reached that level yet, so he won't cost too much, but he will cost more than Chilo Rachal.
Free Agency: Larry Grant
I honestly have to tell you that I didn't know a whole lot about San Francisco 49ers backup inside linebacker Larry Grant until a reader of mine mentioned him in the comments section. I originally wanted Manti Te'o but had to research Grant after seeing Te'o in the national championship game.
As I read about him, I saw that everyone had good things to say about him, and his stats in games where he played as a substitute for starter Patrick Willis were excellent. Then I found video of his starts and saw that Grant is a very good, could-be-great inside linebacker who's stuck behind an All-Pro.
Grant will become a free agent when free agency begins, and the Raiders should set up some red carpet on the Bay Bridge for him to walk across. This guy is a big hitter who diagnoses running plays and stops them before they get going.
In the passing game, Grant does a good job of covering backs and tight ends. His tight coverage often leads to getting his hands on a lot of footballs, and he's a good blitzer, too.
Rolando McClain would benefit from a guy like Grant if he is retained.
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In order for the Raiders to effectively run the 3-4, they need a monster in the middle at nose tackle. Soon-to-be free agent Terrance Knighton from the Jacksonville Jaguars would be a good acquisition.
He's a very talented player who's coming off a bad season and gave the Jaguars headaches this offseason with off-the-field issues. In a lot of ways, he's the defensive version of Chilo Rachal as they both lost their starting jobs before becoming free agents.
This would make Knighton very signable as he wouldn't command top dollar this coming offseason. When he's on, Knighton is a beast who would would take on multiple blockers on nearly every play.
A big, physical run stuffer who can protect Rolando McClain and Larry Grant is definitely what the Raiders need. As a plus, he can collapse the pocket to put heat on the quarterback, too.
Free Agency: Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie
The Raiders pass defense has gotten bombs dropped on them from anywhere at any time this year. They're ranked No. 20 vs. the pass, gave up the eighth-most touchdowns and had the 10th fewest interceptions.
The Raiders pass defense also gave up the seventh-most completions over 20 yards, the fourth-most completions over 40 yards and the third-highest rating to opposing quarterbacks. So the Raiders should definitely go after former Pro Bowl corner Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie.
He's not a superstar corner like Nnamdi Asomugha once was, so the price may not be too bad. But his athleticism, including a 4.26 40-yard dash to go with his height, (6'2") and long arms makes him appealing for the Raiders.
Willie Brown could really teach Cromartie a thing or two about the bump-and-run and take his game to the next level. At the very least, Cromartie can line up on the opposing team's taller, faster receivers.
Draft Pick No. 1: Dion Jordan
With Terrance Knighton at nose tackle and Larry Grant at inside linebacker to join Rolando McClain, the Raiders need a 3-4 outside linebacker to come off the edge. The good thing about that is they don't have to pick in the top three to get one, so they can trade down to get the second-round pick they're missing.
The Raiders should look no further than current trade partner Cincinnati Bengals for their second-round pick. The Bengals are a top-three pick away from being a serious contender, and the Raiders could be competitive again with a second-round pick to go with a late first-rounder and free agents.
And late in that first round, the Raiders should pick Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan. His sack numbers don't jump out at out because he was in coverage a lot this year, but he can rush the passer.
He shoots off the ball like a rocket and has an array of pass-rush moves, including the dreaded spin-move. At 6'7", 243 pounds, Jordan is a freakish athlete whose arm length alone will give opposing offensive tackles problems.
This is an especially good pick because as much as I want Philip Wheeler back, it's up to him. And Miles Burris is the classic example of Raiders fans celebrating an average player on a horrible team.
We've done that a lot lately.
Draft Pick No. 2: Robert Woods
With most of the Raiders' defensive needs being met in free agency and having the first pick in the draft, the Raiders can fill needs on offense. The Raiders have a group of fast receivers, but they need a fast receiver whom they know can catch the ball.
Robert Woods is such a receiver, and he would be a top-10 pick if he weren't slowed down by an ankle injury in 2012. When healthy, Woods looks like a 4.2 40-yard-dash man that's an excellent route-runner and has great hands.
Denarius Moore flashed in his rookie year in 2011, but injuries and his hands let him down in 2012. Darius Heward-Bey showed improvement and seemed to have arrived in 2011 before taking a step back in 2012.
Jacoby Ford looked like Cliff Branch back in 2010 but hasn't been seen on the field much since. Then you have Rod Streater appearing to be an undrafted gem, but we've seen the pattern of receivers taking a step back after looking like "the one."
Heyward-Bey may not even be a Raider with the size of his contract at that level, so Woods is a good pickup. The only concern here is if his ankle heals in time for him to run a 4.2 at the combine. He might get snatched up before the Raiders get a chance to use the second pick they get back from Cincinnati.
He would instantly become former USC quarterback Carson Palmer's favorite target.
Draft Pick No. 3: Kyle Long
I unwaveringly believe in genetics as well as the knowledge of the family business. I guess you can count all that as nature plus nurture on the highest level.
Another thing I believe in is the pride and desire not to let down the family name. With Hall of Fame father Howie and Pro Bowl brother Chris, Kyle Long has what it takes to be a great Raider.
He got a late start in football after starting out as a pitcher on the Florida State baseball team in which he had to leave for academic reasons. But both Howie and Chris (Long) have admitted the Kyle (Long) is the most athletically gifted of the three.
He didn't start for most of his time at the University of Oregon so that will keep him out of the first round. However, his family name and a big performance will have him further up draft boards than other players under such circumstances.
His experience playing guard and tackle in Oregon will help him become a solid right tackle. Right tackle is a problem area for the Raiders, so picking Long with their third-round pick is a good pick.
Long will also complete the Raiders power-blocking offensive line.
Draft Pick No. 4: Tyrann Mathieu
Al Davis used to create a family atmosphere for talented players who's careers did not work out on other teams due to off-the-field issues. He also took chances on players during the draft with similar problems as other teams would stay away.
McKenzie, from his days as director of pro personnel to now serving as the Raiders' GM, has shown that same willingness to take chances. The Raiders' secondary needs help so, Tyrann Mathieu is the player McKenzie should take a chance on now.
Mathieu was a Heisman finalist in 2011 as one of the nation's best defensive players at LSU. He would have been a first-round pick in the draft but a failed drug test had him suspended for 2012.
So this master of coverage and blitzing from the slot will have to wait a while to hear his name called in 2013.
Draft Pick No. 5
Due to the Aaron Curry trade, the Raiders fifth pick will come in the sixth round. With that pick, they should select 6'4", 336-pound guard John Sullen out of Auburn to have depth on the offensive line.
Sullen will get a push in the run game, and he's decent but needs a little work in pass protection. The bottom line for him is that the Raiders would still have a powerful guard if Louis Vasquez or Chilo Rachal were to go down.
At least, there won't be too much of a dropoff in run-blocking.
Draft Pick No. 6
The Raiders will get their sixth pick in the seventh round to close out their 2013 draft. It would actually be good to get some depth at the linebacker position in the event of the Raiders switching to the 3-4.
Will Compton of Nebraska should get the nod for the Raiders as their "Mr. Irrelevant." Compton had 98 tackles, six for a loss, three sacks and three fumble recoveries.
Those numbers were good enough to get Compton All-Big Ten honors for the 2012 season.
What the Moves Mean
If the Raiders make the moves I suggested, they will be a more physical team on both sides of the ball. The offensive line will have physical left tackle and center Stefen Wisniewski to go along with Chilo Rachal, Louis Vasquez and Kyle Long.
McFadden will have a good time running the ball with Carson Palmer throwing down the field to the "Raiders track team." On defense, the Raiders will also be more physical and stout against the run for the first time in years.
This is hard for me to say but Richard Seymour will be gone, but the Raiders should re-sign Desmond Bryant and make him a 3-4 end. Lamarr Houston should start at the other end with Terrance Knighton at the nose.
Philip Wheeler should be re-signed and start at strong-side outside linebacker with Dion Jordan on the weak side. On the inside should be Larry Grant as the signal-caller with Rolando McClain on his last chance beside him.
In nickel situations, Jordan should move to rush-end with Wheeler and Grant as the linebackers. On the back end, I like Michael Huff at corner with a full camp at the position with Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie on the other side.
Tyvon Branch and his speed should be at free safety with Mike Mitchell at strong safety. In nickel situations, Tyrann Mathieu should come in and cover the slot.
Outside linebacker Miles Burris could move inside if McClain is let go.
Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie certainly has his work cut out for him this offseason, but there are players out there to be had who can help the team. With all the contracts from last year and this year (Seymour) coming off the books, the Raiders will have enough room to make these moves.
The best thing about the free-agent portion is that, while talented and scheme-fitted, the players won't be the most expensive free agents on the market. Then you have the draft where the Raiders can get a second-round pick by trading out of the top three, where any team would like to trade up and grab a player.
Re-signing their own free agents like Desmond Bryant and Philip Wheeler would be a good thing as well. If they do that, along with hiring the right coordinators, there isn't any reason why the tea, can't be competitive in 2013.
This is only version No. 2 for me as there will be plenty before things start happening. There will be all-star games, the combine and players getting cut, so things can change on a dime here.
Just win baby.