Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come. My favorite time of the football year: pre-draft discussions!
I know, the college football season has just ended but, with the Raiders out of the playoffs, I don't have much else to look forward to.
What I do have to look forward to is the fact that Reggie McKenzie finally gets some draft picks. He created a name for himself through the draft and that's what he's expected to do here in Oakland.
We'll address the Raider top priorities before I roll out my first mock draft.
Let's start off by pointing out the obvious. The Raiders stink in the trenches.
The offensive line struggled to pave the way for backs game after game. The run game never got started all season and that affected the passing game. Since defensive players knew that the Raiders were passing, all they had to do was meet at No. 3.
Defensively, the team had an equally rough year. While there were a few bright spots, such as the consistency of Lamarr Houston and pass rushing of Desmond Bryant and Andre Carter, the unit as a whole struggled.
A few years removed from being a top-tier defensive line, the 2012 version struggled to rush the passer and, more importantly, stop the run.
The back four was not any better. The Raiders failed to stop the pass time and time again. Because of injury, the team was forced to move their best cover guy to a position that he hasn't played since his college days. His replacement failed to get the job done.
That said, the Raiders biggest need is defensive line, both interior and exterior. Wherever the team goes, they could kill two birds with one stone. If the team goes defensive end, then I could see Lamarr Houston playing inside, where he could embrace a "Geno Atkins" role. Drafting a great defensive tackle prospect, however, improves the play of the men around him.
As I noted earlier, defensive back is also a place of concern. The Raiders have a lot of holes there. Michael Huff is the best cover guy and it's likely that he will be moving back to safety. That leaves not only one, but two holes: at both starting cornerback positions.
If Huff does stay at cornerback, however, that leaves a hole at free safety. Tyvon Branch, who was a cornerback in college, could move over to free, but his cover skills are suspect. Going that route does give Mike Mitchell more playing time, which many Raider fans want to see.
After cornerback, the Raiders have to address their issue at middle linebacker. The Raiders' off-season is still early, however, and this is a position that could be solved rather easily. Miles Burris has been rumored to begin practicing at middle linebacker and it's possible that he could start there come September.
Last, but not least, the Raiders need to shore up their offensive line. If the Raiders believe in Jared Veldheer at left tackle, then there is no need to use their 3rd overall pick on a Luke Joeckel or Jake Matthews. If McKenzie does take one of those guys, that moves Veldheer over to right tackle, which I'm sure Palmer would love.
Another interior lineman would also help out a lot. Drafting a center could move Stefan Wisniewski back to guard, while drafting a guard could keep Wisniewski at center, where he's starting to get comfortable. A player like Barrett Jones could give the Raiders plenty of options.
Personally, if I were Reggie McKenzie, I would find a trade partner. The Raiders desperately need to get back into the second round. Having the third overall pick gives the Raiders a lot of attention.
It's important that the Raiders get back into the second round this year, however. There is an abundance of defensive playmakers this year and the Raiders need to get as many as possible.
In the first round, the Raiders should trade down to around pick 15. From there, the Raiders should still have a lot of players available to take. It's very possible that a player like Jonathan Hankins of Ohio State will still be there. Dion Jordan of Oregon has elite speed at the position and Barkevious Mingo is still an attractable pick, despite the mediocre season.
If it was my decision, I'd take Johnathan Hankins with the traded as he is a dynamic defensive tackle. He is a good player against the run, though he has much to learn when rushing the passer. If the Raiders keep Desmond Bryant, that shouldn't be an issue as he is one of the better pass rushing interior linemen in the league.
If we received a second round pick, I'd look for either cornerback or linebacker right away. The two choices I have are Xavier Rhodes of Florida State and Alec Olgetree.
Many of you readers may already know how I feel about Xavier Rhodes. I see Rhodes as one of the most sound cornerbacks in the nation. He has incredible size and can cover the best receivers.
Alec Olgetree, on the other hand, is a prospect that Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver are going to be drooling over. He is a tall linebacker who could use some more muscle. He is very fast for a middle linebacker, capable of covering sideline to sideline. However, there's a reason why he isn't going to held in the same conversation as Manti Te'o.
Olgetree is still a project. He is a converted safety and like I said earlier, he needs to fill out his frame. Against the run, he can be disruptive, but other times, he'll just get pushed out easily. If he over-pursuits, he's most likely out of the play entirely.
Another thing is how he is off the field. The Raider Nation has seen what frustrations a knucklehead brings to the team. Rolando McClain has just been arrested again, if you readers have not yet heard. Olgetree has been arrested and suspended more than once. We don't need anymore of those players.
While both players are great prospects who provide a lot of upside, McKenzie is a man who will go for a guy with a clean off-field history and take Xavier Rhodes if it came down to those two.
The rounds after round two would likely be unaffected if there was a draft, however, so I won't be doing a whole mock draft for an imaginary trade. Continue reading for my first mock draft with the actual draft picks we currently have.
With the third overall pick, the Raiders are going to have a boatload of players they can choose from. With a need at cornerback, do they take Dee Milliner, fresh off of his National Championship win? The question remains to be, is Milliner in the same category as Patrick Peterson and Maurice Claiborne?
For defensive tackle, do the Raiders go with Star Lotulelei, a guy who reminds the football world of Ndamukong Suh, a terrific prospect with some suspect intangible. Lotulelei has been said to have taken plays "off", something that Raider fans are tired of.
Jonathan Hankins should still be on the board, but he isn't as desirable as Lotulelei is at this point. Taking Hankins third could be a reach, but could net some great rewards.
Last, but not least, do the Raiders take Manti Te'o? While Te'o statistically had a good game against Alabama, anyone who watched it knows that he isn't as sure as many had expected. Te'o was said to make players around him better, much like Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis do. Sure, Alabama is as good as they get, but allowing 35 points in the first three quarters is embarrassing.
Ultimately, I have to believe that the Raiders will go up front and draft a defensive end. The most complete defensive end at this very moment has to be Florida State's Bjoern Werner.
Werner is one of the better pass rushing end, but one of the best run defenders. He has a great mixture of strength, size and speed. Everyone knows what he can do as a pass rusher. His 13sacks speak for themselves. But his presence in the run game is what makes him a better prospect than players such as Barkevious Mingo and Dion Jordan.
Werner has bulk. He's listed around 260, the good size for defensive ends. He does not get pushed around. That's only the physical side to being a great run defender. He's very smart and disciplined. He doesn't over-commit on playactions. He stays his ground and wreaks havoc on any quarterback daring enough to roll out to his side.
I've said this before: Werner is the most complete defensive end of this year's rich draft crop of defensive linemen. Werner seriously reminds me of Jared Allen because of his large pass rushing repertoire, but also because his completeness.
Drafting Werner gives the Raiders a great left defensive end. Hopefully, that will move Houston to the inside, where he could flourish. That gives the Raiders a replacement for Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour, who they should cut ties with unless they're willing to restructure their contracts.
The Raiders next pick comes a heart-wrenching two rounds after their first. Though, at 67th overall, there are still great prospects. It's possible that some big-name players can drop this far. David Amerson of NC State saw his draft stock take a nose dive. Marcus Trufant's little brother, Desmond, is a player I've had my eye on since last offseason.
Bacarri Rambo, Eric Reid and TJ McDonald are all players who could fall because of the value of their positions.
For this pick, however, I want to go on the offensive side of the ball and predict the Raiders will take Barrett Jones. A player of his skill and versatility must be taken if available. For whatever reason, Jones has watched as his stock fall even though his performance has not gotten any worse.
Projected to go in the third or fourth round, Jones would be a steal. No other offensive lineman has anchored an offensive line like Alabama's. No other lineman has played and excelled at all three offensive line positions.
Drafting Barrett Jones easily gives the Raiders the most leeway possible. They can move him to right tackle if they please. They can have him play guard and replace either Cooper Carlisle or Mike Brisiel, because let's face it, those guys stink.
Jones is a technician. Anyone who plays for Nick Saban is. But he is as polished as they come and that's the point I'm getting at. Reggie McKenzie will want disciplined players who don't make many mistakes. Jones is a great run blocker, having success at both center and guard. His days at offensive tackle helped him improve on his pass blocking.
Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy are all good on their own, but Barrett Jones helped them become great.
Now, this is starting to remind me of last season. Big-name players are fun, but diving deeper and looking for diamonds in the rough is funner. Last year, I wrote up a wishlist article for Miles Burris of San Diego State. He turned out okay, didn't he?
I'm going to keep it in the same college and go with another San Diego State Aztec, a team that I have some bias for. This time, I want cornerback Leon McFadden.
McFadden has decent size, at 5'11, 190. He also has the speed that would make the late Al Davis do a double take.
McFadden's build and speed are only a few things, it's his on the field abilities that makes him an attractive prospect. He is a player who can play in both a zone and man coverage, a perfect selection for Jason Tarver's defense. Tarver plays a lot of zone, but needs his corners to play man when he's sending a heavy blitz.
McFadden can not only cover very well, he has tremendous ball skills. He only had three interceptions in 2012, but has many more pass break ups. He understands that if he can't catch the ball, he has to do everything in his power to break the pass up.
This year alone, McFadden had 14 deflections. There was a three-game span where McFadden had 12 tackles, three interceptions, six deflections and two touchdowns, one that he returned for over 90 yards. Impressive, to say the least.
McFadden is a two-time all-Mountain West player and is likely to be named all-conference again. He is a team player, coming to SDSU because they were the only team to play him at receiver. When they needed a cornerback, McFadden made the move to switch, even though he passed up the opportunity to play at bigger schools for the same position.
After going cornerback in the fourth round, it'd be smart to keep looking at defensive backs. At first, this pick was more of a guilty pleasure pick. It also depends on where Michael Huff will be playing next season; free safety or cornerback.
Personally, I'd like to keep him at cornerback because he's our best cover guy and having to readjust to a new position is not easy. I also believe that Huff progressed more this year at corner than he did at safety.
That said, the Raiders are going to have to replace Huff if he does stay at safety. Matt Giordano must not be brought back. He is constantly getting burned and missing tackles when he's not hurt. It's wrong to hate on a guy for getting injured, but the first two points I brought up cannot be defended.
Someone who doesn't miss a lot of tackles is Florida's Matt Elam. However, I expect Elam to be gone by the time the fifth round comes. Therefore, my next pick is DJ Swearinger of South Carolina.
If you don't know who Swearinger is, get to know him. The dude is a ferocious hitter.
Oh, and by the way, he's not too shabby at defending the pass either. I first caught on with Swearinger when I saw his hit against Clemson. His hit was so hard that it made me cringe. After the hit, however, is what disappointed me. He got in the face of his victim and roared. I love the intensity, but it was not a smart move.
Back to the topic at hand, Swearinger is an interesting prospect. He roams the field and covers it like a free safety, but hits like a strong safety. A younger Jack Tatum, perhaps?
Swearinger has under 10 interceptions in his college career, but his hard-hitting style of play could come into use at the next level. As long as the refs call the legal hits legal, receivers will fear going over the middle while Swearinger is on the field.
No running back will want to get past the front seven either, knowing they have to take on Swearinger at the next level.
After spending their last two draft picks on defensive backs, the Raiders will still have to address their needs in the front four. As it stands, the defensive line could very much have Werner and Matt Shaughnessy at defensive end while Houston and Bryant are the starters inside.
Houston and Bryant are hard to break down. They are both good players who often break through and disrupt the play, but they also find themselves blocked out of position a little too easily. The Raiders need someone who focuses more on stopping the run than getting to the passer.
Now, I admit, I had no idea who this next guy was before this article. I had to rely on his Youtube highlight video to see some game film. Yes, his highlights will always make him look good but, from what I saw, I was impressed.
Larry Black, Jr. of Indiana is not a bad player and should go higher than sixth, but is an unknown.
In this video, I noticed that Black holds his place very well. He doesn't get moved by blockers. He's the one who's doing the moving. He has the ability to see the ball and shed his blocker when the ball carrier comes close.
As a pass rusher, Black doesn't offer much. A straight bull rush and an occasional rip move. That's not all that important, in my opinion, as he'll be drafted on his ability to play the run, not the pass. Black gets penetration, and that's what the Raiders need in their run defense.
If you happen to watch his highlight video, take it with a grain of salt. I know I'll be watching some Indiana film to get a better read on the guy.
After a very solid draft so far, the Raiders have to feel good about their defense. The offensive side might be lacking, depending if a few players are kept or not. I'm talking about receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey, specifically.
The man they call "DHB" was coming off a season where he was close to eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark only to fall short of repeating his progress. Heyward-Bey regressed back to his days of catching with his body and making catches harder than they have to be.
I can't remember which game was—I think it was the Tampa Bay game—but Heyward-Bey was coming off one of his best catches ever where he caught the ball over the shoulder with one arm while fighting off the defender with his other. On another perfect deep ball by Palmer, Heyward-Bey tried to one-arm it again even though he could have went up with two hands.
Heyward-Bey is a solid player, but that's all he will be. Solid. You don't pay guys in the NFL nearly $8 million to be solid. You pay guys $8 million to be great, and Heyward-Bey hasn't been great. Despite being a fan favorite, it's very possible that he will be released unless he decides to restructure.
If he doesn't and is cut loose, that's one man the Raiders need to replace.
I've said this time and time again, the Raiders need a possession receiver. They need someone who can go over the middle and take a big hit for the first down. Juron Criner can be the guy, but struggled to find playing time for whatever reason. Rod Streator is capable as well, but is a little smaller and is probably more comfortable going deep than over the middle.
Keenan Davis can be that guy. I first noticed Davis last year when looking at Marvin McNutt and I have to say, he's the perfect guy for the job. Davis is a big and strong receiver who is not afraid to get hit. In fact, I think more than half of the routes he runs are over the middle.
Davis plays the game unlike a lot of the Raider receivers play. Our receivers are speedy and get injured too often. Davis somewhat reminds me of Green Bay's Greg Jennings. He isn't the flashiest, but he'll get the job done when you need it the most.
Well, there you have it! That's my first mock draft, fresh off of the end of the college football season.
Tell me what you think, please! Hate it or love it, we're all Raider fans and all that matters is that we get back on the right track! Let's see if Reggie McKenzie is the man for the job and hope he knows what he's doing come April.