How the Oakland Raiders Can Draft Geno Smith and Still Address the Defense
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
There is an argument to be made for the Oakland Raiders to draft quarterback Geno Smith with the third-overall selection in April’s NFL draft. This idea isn’t particularly popular idea for various reasons, but it’s still an option the Raiders have to consider.
One of the biggest arguments against drafting offense in the first round is the needs on defense. The big problem with that argument is that the draft is loaded with defensive linemen and cornerbacks. The Raiders might miss out on a couple defensive studs, but they have more than one draft pick to address their needs.
It’s also important to consider how the top defenders might fit in Oakland. Despite having a lot of needs, not every player would have a clear path to starting.
Take one of my favorite draft prospects, Star Lotulelei, who would play one of the two defensive tackle positions in Oakland. In order to project Lotulelei, we have to make some assumption about how Reggie McKenzie will address his need at the position. The assumptions are that McKenzie will not re-sign Desmond Bryant or that he’ll cut Tommy Kelly; otherwise, he’d have three starters at the position.
Getting a pass rusher is probably on the top of McKenzie’s list of needs, so some people will suggest the Raiders draft a pass-rusher. The only two at the top of the draft that would seem to be worth the pick would be Bjoern Werner and Barkevious Mingo.
Unfortunately, Werner lacks the athleticism that he’d need to be a good pass-rusher going up against the top left tackles in the NFL. Playing him on the other side isn’t an option because Lamarr Houston is already entrenched there.
Mingo is seen as more of a 3-4 outside linebacker and some people wonder if he’ll hold up against the run at the NFL level as a 4-3 defensive end.
Considering those limitations, the Raiders might do well to draft offense in the first round and try to address the defensive needs in other ways. It would be nice if the Raiders could trade down, but it’s extremely hard to predict. Oakland’s best chance of moving down and getting picks is if a team behind them gets desperate. The only safe assumption is that the Raiders will keep their pick.
What the Raiders do in free agency might dictate what they do in the draft. If the Raiders were to get priced out of the market for Bryant, release Kelly or announce that Houston was moving to defensive tackle, then their draft plans would change drastically.
The situation would also change if Carson Palmer is released or Terrelle Pryor is traded. There is more than one way to skin a cat and the draft is just one tool in the toolbox. McKenzie could just as easily venture into free agency to plug the holes on defense—at least a few of them.
A couple of other options the Raiders could consider include: Glenn Dorsey, Dwight Freeney, Michael Johnson, Paul Kruger and Anthony Spencer. It’s unlikely that McKenzie will break the bank for any player in free agency, but he can create plenty of cap flexibility by releasing Palmer, Kelly, Darrius Heyward-Bey and/or Michael Huff.
Day 2 and Day 3 Draft Picks
Since the draft is so deep, the Raiders could find starters on Day 2 and Day 3. It would be a disappointing draft if the Raiders aren’t able to find starters with their first, third and fourth-round picks.
One way to maximize draft value is to take calculated risks. The Raiders drafted Michael Bush with the 100th overall pick in 2007 because of his injury, but he came back healthy after sitting out his entire first year. There just so happens to be two solid pass-rushers who are coming off ACL injuries who may slide in the draft.
Cornelius “Tank” Carradine played opposite Werner at Florida State. Carradine is a complete defensive end with good size and length. He’s projected to go in the third round because of his injury, but he was a first-round talent prior to getting hurt.
Rehabbing from an ACL injury is no longer a year-long process, so it’s not out of the question that Carradine would be ready for the regular season. There is legitimate concern that Carradine won’t be ready, but that could be well-worth the risk. Worst-case scenario is Carradine misses the entire season, but the Raiders can hedge their bet by bringing Andre Carter back in 2013.
Another player who seems to be gaining traction in scouting circles is Western Kentucky defensive end Quenterus Smith. CBS.com doesn’t even have Smith listed as a draft-worthy player. Smith also tore his ACL, but he took over games before his injury.
Smith is one of Ryan Riddle’s most overlooked players in the 2013 NFL draft. Bleacher Report’s resident draft guru, Matt Miller, compared him to Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham, who came on so strong the Eagles traded Jason Babin so he could play more snaps.
Eric Galko of OptimumScouting.com had this to say about Smith back in early November:
“As I reviewed film for this match-up, I was very surprised at just how devastating of an edge rusher Smith is. He’s a well built, very smooth athlete who shows the ability to attack the edge in space, dip, and beat the tackles kick slide, as well as the developed rush moves to attack inside and collapse the pocket. He’s active and explosive off the snap, extends well versus the run, and plays wide when making a tackle. He’s a fourth round prospect as of now, with the upside to go even higher.”
NFL.com grades Smith as an eventual starter that should be drafted in the second or third round, but that’s not accounting for his knee injury. Like Carradine, Smith presents an opportunity to add talent to the roster they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get with lower draft picks. The Raiders might have to wait a little longer to see the fruits of those picks, but no one should be expecting miracles next year from the start.
The Raiders could maximize the impact of their draft picks by thinking long-term. When you start thinking about 2014 and beyond, drafting a franchise quarterback in the first round and addressing the pass rush in other ways seems like the way to go. If Geno Smith is a franchise quarterback, the Raiders would be foolish to pass on him because they need pass-rushers.
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