Will Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie (left) and head coach Dennis Allen (right) make the right decisions to make April's NFL Draft a success?
What should the Oakland Raiders do in April to help restore their winning ways?
With the No. 3 overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft, general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen confront an all-important opportunity as they continue to rebuild a long-suffering franchise.
Over the next two months, I will analyze the team's first-round options and discuss whom the Raiders should select, whom they should avoid, and whether a trade is a realistic or wise possibility.
This initial edition considers results from the just-completed NFL Scouting Combine, as well as reports and rumors that have floated about during recent weeks.
Future additions will arrive near the end of March, after the end of school pro days, and just prior to the April 25-27 main event at Radio City Music Hall.
The Raiders should not take former West Virginia QB Geno Smith.
Geno Smith (quarterback, West Virginia)
Smith has been linked to the Raiders throughout the offseason, as a recent Bleacher Report mock draft tidily details.
Smith was the most impressive quarterback prospect at the combine, according to ESPN Insiders Todd McShay and Kevin Weidl.
They reported that Smith flashed excellent arm strength and ran a 4.59 40-yard dash, the fastest time at his position and identical to that of Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton in 2011.
Based on his poise, physical skills and dedication to his craft, I believe Smith will be a worthy starter in the NFL.
However, he would be a wasted pick for the Raiders as long as they have Terrelle Pryor: a young, inexpensive commodity with a similar skill set.
Oakland doesn't need a quarterback nearly as much as it needs immediate help in the secondary and on the defensive line.
The only reasonable rationale for the Raiders to openly consider Smith is to drum up interest in teams lower in the first round.
This PR tactic would make a trade down, in exchange for additional draft picks, more likely.
Sharrif Floyd (defensive tackle, Florida)
According to NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, Floyd may be a superior talent to more highly touted position mate Star Lotulelei of Utah.
Mayock told insidebayarea.com that Floyd is a "prototypical three-technique" lineman, meaning he would prosper as the tackle lined up opposite the offensive guard.
Floyd would seem to fill a need for the Raiders, particularly if they don't re-sign free agent tackle Desmond Bryant.
Yet, this is a rich draft for impact defensive linemen, as nbcbayarea.com notes. A player just as productive as Floyd could be available later in the first round.
Also, Floyd's track record hardly suggests that he would drastically improve the Raiders' anemic pass-rush.
While he showed good athleticism and the ability to fend off double-teams while in college, he amassed only 4.5 sacks over the last two seasons.
Dion Jordan (defensive end/linebacker, Oregon)
Jordan could be the biggest benefactor of combine workouts come April.
In theory, Jordan is a good fit for the Raiders, as well.
Jordan projects well as a 3-4 outside linebacker, if the team makes the schematic switch I suggest.
Unfortunately, Jordan is set to undergo surgery on a torn labrum, according to NFL.com, and is expected to be out for three to four months.
A prolonged absence would make Jordan unlikely to contribute immediately in 2013. A Raiders defense desperate for difference-makers can't afford the wait.
Former Utah DT Star Lotulelei is no longer a good option at No. 3.
The short answer: None. At this point, at least.
Prior to the combine, I would have argued that anyone among the group of Lotulelei, cornerback Dee Milliner and defensive ends Damontre Moore and Bjoern Werner would have suited the Raiders just fine at No. 3.
All of those players would have filled serious needs, with each being sufficiently elite at his position.
Now, however, serious issues have arisen as to the first three on that list:
Lotulelei will seek a second opinion, according to NFL.com, and he anticipates being able to perform without restrictions at his March 20 pro day.
For the time being, however, Lotulelei represents too much of a risk for Oakland to invest such a high pick.
Milliner, probably the best cover corner in the draft, is in roughly the same boat as Lotulelei.
In fact, according to Yahoo Sports, Milliner is slated to undergo the same labrum surgery as Jordan, and also is likely to miss critical months this offseason.
The Raiders could elect to gamble on an injured elite talent, figuring that it's best to stockpile high-quality performers while they're available. (And Milliner, in particular, would help fill a tremendous hole at his position.)
In my view, however, the player the Raiders select at No. 3 must be certain to start immediately, so that the team doesn't end up needing to draft a replacement in 2014.
It's one thing for a team to adopt a patient attitude while rebuilding; it's quite another to needlessly blow critical opportunities. Oakland must aim for this to be its highest selection for years to come.
Damontre Moore entered the combine as the top-rated defensive end, according to NFL.com draft analyst Gil Brandt.
Brandt considered Moore to be a highly versatile rusher, an apt fit for either the 4-3 or the 3-4.
I agreed—until Moore submitted an underwhelming 4.95 40-yard dash and only 12 reps in the bench press.
I'm not the biggest advocate of combine numbers. (Vernon Gholston, anyone?) But someone with the speed of an offensive lineman and the strength of a wide receiver seems like an ill fit as a Top 3 pick.
Moore's March 8 pro day will be critical in demonstrating whether he's a physical fit for the NFL. Regardless, he should be off the Raiders' board until further notice.
That leaves Werner, whom I remain high on based on his maturity, demonstrated production and versatility.
Unfortunately, I see a good chance that Jacksonville, also desperate for a quick-impact pass-rusher at No. 2 overall, will snatch him up, leaving the Raiders with a lot of less-than-ideal options.
The Raiders should devise a draft-day trade for more picks.
It's clear to me that no prospect begs for the Raiders to take him at their current draft slot.
In that case, why pick there?
This is a deep draft. Given the needs of a few other teams picking in the Top 10—not to mention Oakland's mere five picks at the moment—the team's best option by far is to trade down and amass more selections.
While gauging potential trade scenarios, I consulted the value of individual draft picks, as charted in substantially identical form here and here. The 2013 draft order can be found here (courtesy NFL.com).
Two important caveats.
First, these scenarios do not anticipate the substitution of players for draft picks. (I will save that analysis for later editions of this primer.) For now, let's have fun with simple math.
Second, the exact slot (i.e., number) of each draft pick beyond the third round is only an estimate, as the scenarios do not account for compensatory draft picks that may be awarded. Thus, the exact point values of certain Day 3 selections may fluctuate.
According to these charts, the Raiders' No. 3 choice is worth 2,200 points. And one can see that pick value quickly declines even within the span of a few selections.
The following slides highlight trade partners that stand out presently, as well as what the Raiders could reap.
Former Alabama CB Dee Milliner dominated at the Combine.
Why: I consider these teams in tandem, as both need similar help (secondary and pass- rush) and pick consecutively.
Philadelphia, which chooses fourth, recently has cut defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, a move that may augment its need for players such as Lotulelei, Jordan or Floyd.
And its depleted defensive backfield could use a total package like Milliner.
Detroit could have a tough choice at that slot, as free-agent defensive end Cliff Avril may not return—the Sporting News reports that he is considering seeking a $100 million contract.
Avril's departure could draw the team to take Werner, Jordan, or Moore as replacements.
How: Oakland could swing a deal with either team based on one of two arguments: (1) "We're taking [one of the above players] at No. 3" or, for the Lions particularly, (2) "The Eagles are taking [one of them] at No. 4."
Gain for Raiders: To make up the 400-point gap between the teams' first-round picks, the Eagles could offer Oakland their third-rounder (No. 69, 245 points), their fourth-rounder (No. 100, 100 points) and their fifth-rounder (No. 131, 41 points) this season.
Alternatively, they could offer a third this year and a third and a fourth in future seasons.
Unfortunately for Oakland, these would be rather large hauls, as Philadelphia has no second-round pick and is coming off a 4-12 season.
To make up a 500-point gap, Detroit could offer its second-round pick (No. 36, 540 points), perhaps on the condition that Oakland throw in its non-compensatory sixth- and seventh-rounders (Nos. 164 and 195, 39.2 points total).
This swap should appeal to the Raiders in that they lack a second-rounder this year, thanks to the Carson Palmer deal.
It's unclear, though, whether they like someone in the second enough to miss out on potential depth players and projects.
Prognosis: Detroit seems like a more likely trade partner based on the above considerations. But either team would have to fall in love with a player to justify what the Raiders should demand.
At this stage, a trade involving these teams is unlikely. Regardless of whom the Raiders select, both the Lions and the Eagles project to be able to fill needs at their current first-round slots.
Alex Smith could foil Oakland's plans of trading with Arizona.
Why: I also consider these teams in tandem, as both need a quarterback and pick consecutively (seventh and eighth, respectively).
Gain for Raiders: To make up the 700-point gap between the teams' first-round picks, the Cardinals could offer Oakland their second-rounder (No. 38, 520 points) and their third-rounder (No. 69, 245 points).
In return, the Raiders could offer either this year's fourth-rounder (No. 97, 112 points) or a future fourth (between 44 and 112 points).
This is a realistic option for Arizona if they view Smith as their savior.
He has the arm strength, intelligence and passion to thrive in the downfield passing game preferred by new head coach Bruce Arians.
However, the Sacramento Bee has reported that the Cardinals may be solidly in the mix for the 49ers' Alex Smith. (Note, however, that NFL.com's Ian Rapoport later tweeted that the team isn't confident San Francisco will deal its former No. 1 pick within the NFC West.)
Alex Smith would be a curious fit for the Cardinals, based on his mediocre-at-best arm strength.
If Arizona nabs him, though, the team more likely would pursue a quarterback, if at all, in the middle rounds.
North Carolina State's Mike Glennon or Tennessee's Tyler Bray—both raw with big arms—would then be sensible picks.
To make up an 800-point gap, Buffalo could offer this year's second-round pick (No. 41, 490 points) and a future second (between 270 and 580 points).
I view Geno Smith as the most pro-ready signal-caller. That should appeal to a Bills team eager to break a playoff drought going on 14 seasons.
That said, new head coach Doug Marrone may opt to wait for a QB until the second round, where he should be able to select Ryan Nassib.
Marrone coached Nassib at Syracuse for the last four seasons and may hope to groom him to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2014.
Prognosis: The key to any deal here is the attractiveness of Geno Smith. Either Arizona and Buffalo would have to believe that the former Mountaineer is the must-have piece in their rebuilding efforts for them to justify paying steep prices to move up.
Otherwise, they'll have suitable alternatives waiting for them throughout the first two rounds.