What have free agency and pro days shown us about the Oakland Raiders' approach to their No. 3 overall draft pick?
What should the Oakland Raiders do with their No. 3 overall draft pick in light of free agency and recent pro days?
Such is the focus of my second analysis of how the Raiders should approach the ever-important first round in next month's NFL draft.
As in my first edition, I will explain (1) which players would be poor choices for the team at No. 3, (2) which players would be worth selecting and (3) what trade scenarios the team should pursue.
These recommendations are based on news reports and mock drafts detailing teams' interest in certain prospects, as well as the recently finalized draft order.
My ultimate edition will come just prior to the April 25-27 main event at Radio City Music Hall.
Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel
Any offensive lineman
This is not a knock on the abilities of prospects such as offensive tackles Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and guard Chance Warmack, each of whom deserve to go in the first 10 selections.
The issue is simply need.
While Oakland could use an upgrade at right tackle and both guard spots, the team has bigger holes at defensive tackle and cornerback.
The team can't afford to pick elsewhere, even for an elite player.
Geno Smith (quarterback, West Virginia)
Given the team's willingness to shed the high salaries of veterans (Richard Seymour, Michael Huff, Darrius Heyward-Bey, etc.) to build for the future, Palmer's reluctance could well spell the end of the quarterback's controversial tenure in Oakland.
And if he leaves, quarterback suddenly looks pretty high on the list of team needs.
I like Geno Smith and I think he has the tools to be a productive starter in the NFL.
But even if Palmer departs, I believe the best option for the Raiders would be to bring in a defensive force with their first pick and give Terrelle Pryor the opportunity to start next season.
If Pryor succeeds or at least shows promise, the team will have young cornerstones on offense and defense to build around. (Or, it can trade him for a decent draft pick.)
If Pryor fails, the team can responsibly move on from another vestige of the Al Davis era and perhaps draft a top quarterback next season while making the most of the talent available this year.
General manager Reggie McKenzie clearly isn't trying to build a winner for this season or next, so Oakland should take its time and draft only the best players and only at positions of need.
Unfortunately, I fear that if Palmer is gone, the team will see Smith as their franchise player and take him at No. 3, pitting him against Pryor in a "competition" this summer.
Update (3/29/13, 7:05 p.m. EST): It appears "inevitable" that the Raiders will obtain Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Flynn, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and multiple other media outlets.
With Flynn in the picture, Smith almost certainly would not be an option at No. 3.
The team likely would have Flynn and Pryor compete to be the starter, with the team possibly picking up a veteran or drafting a project to serve as the third-stringer.
Star Lotulelei (defensive tackle, Utah)
In my last edition, I pegged Star Lotulelei as too risky for a selection at No. 3 because of uncertainty about his heart (the muscle, not his motivation) and the Raiders' need for a sure-fire impact player.
I'm still concerned about the former, even though his pro day went off without a hitch, according to ESPN.
However, he stays in this category for now, if only because of how many good candidates the Raiders now have to choose from (see next slide).
Bjoern Werner (defensive end, Florida State)/Damontre Moore (defensive end, Texas Tech)
I was highest on Werner last time out, as he seemed to be the safest pick who would also address a major need (pass rush).
So, while I continue to not doubt his skills, he may not represent the right value at such a high pick.
Further, Werner projects to flourish at only one position: 4-3 defensive end. The Raiders still could use one of those, but, as I explain in the next slide, such a limitation may conflict with the team's apparent player-evaluation strategy.
Moore, meanwhile, had a mediocre, injury-marred pro day, according to Yahoo! Sports.
According to the Dallas Morning News, he now is in danger of not being selected in the first round.
BYU OLB/DE Ezekiel Ansah would be a versatile "Ansah" for Oakland's pass rush.
Dion Jordan (linebacker/defensive end, Oregon)/Ezekiel Ansah (linebacker/defensive end, BYU)
Both Dion Jordan and Ezekiel Ansah offer elite athleticism and almost certainly would improve the Raiders' woeful pass rush from last season.
Perhaps most notably, their potential to produce in either the 4-3 or the 3-4 falls in line with the team's significant free-agency moves so far.
Based on their size and skills (Silver and Black Report), linebackers Nick Roach, Kevin Burnett and Kaluka Maiava will join incumbent Miles Burris as players who are useful in either formation.
For example, Roach (6'1'', 234 lbs) probably will be the starting 4-3 middle linebacker but also could be an inside linebacker in the 3-4.
Burnett (6'3'', 240 lbs) could line up on the outside in the 4-3 or the inside in the 3-4.
Miles Burris (6'2'', 240 lbs) can play outside in either formation, while Maiava (6'0'', 229 lbs) offers good zone coverage (but spotty tackling) wherever he's set.
Similarly, former Cincinnati Bengal Pat Sims (6'2'', 335 lbs) represents either a 3-4 nose tackle or a 4-3 run-stuffer.
Vance Walker (6'1'', 305 lbs) projects to be a 4-3 tackle or a 3-4 end.
Jason Hunter (6'4", 271 lbs) has experience at end on three- and four-man lines and might be an option at 3-4 OLB on run downs.
Jordan (6'6", 240 lbs) would be a bit small as a 4-3 end, and his torn labrum bears attention. And Ansah is still raw and lacks experience.
Even so, either player projects to be a sorely needed difference-maker from Week 1 onward.
Sharrif Floyd (defensive tackle, Florida)
Perhaps it's the torrent of mock drafts aligning Floyd with the Raiders, but I'm starting to buy into it.
It helps that throughout the offseason, culminating in an impressive pro day performance (Yahoo! Sports), Floyd has demonstrated the athleticism to make him a fit in multiple fronts, at 4-3 tackle or 3-4 nose.
Basically, he's shaping up to be Star Lotulelei without the health questions.
While I still wonder whether he'll have the pass-rushing impact the Raiders desperately need, Floyd appears to bring the right mix of versatility and drive to make him a good fit for this new regime.
Dee Milliner (cornerback, Alabama)
Rotoworld and SI.com both have speculated that Dee Milliner's footwork—he was not taught conventional backpedaling at Alabama—hurts his chances of contributing in the NFL.
I put more stock in this article on smartfootball.com, which more fully explains how the Crimson Tide have trained their recent cornerbacks.
Notably, it describes how Milliner, despite playing a lot of press coverage, demonstrated shut-down ability against a talented Michigan offense last season.
In my view, Milliner has dispelled the only significant question about his ability to succeed as a professional by submitting a torrid 40-yard dash time (4.37 seconds) at the NFL combine.
The Raiders badly need a big-time starting corner. In free agency, the team has investigated only cast-off veterans like Terrence Newman, Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins.
In a division sure to emphasize the passing game in the coming years, Oakland has to invest at least two picks in corners. Milliner would infuse great talent at the position.
Presently, the Raiders have enough quality options at No. 3 to make a selection appropriate for their rebuilding effort.
But, as the team is now committed to building through the draft (NBC Bay Area), the more selections they can reap, the better.
As indicated in the final draft order (ESPN), Oakland has seven selections, albeit none in the second and fifth rounds.
These pairs had similar needs that they could address by trading up to take a player Oakland is considering at No. 3.
At this point, the trades I suggested still are feasible.
Philadelphia and Detroit remain likely to prefer Milliner or Jordan/Ansah at No. 4 and 5, respectively.
Arizona and Buffalo seem poised to draft a quarterback at some point, and Smith is worthy of selection at No. 7 or 8, respectively.
That said, the awarding of compensatory selections since my previous edition has made another team an intriguing trade candidate.
Might San Francisco trade up to select Oregon OLB/DE Dion Jordan?
San Francisco, fresh off a narrow Super Bowl loss, doesn't have a lot of needs.
But it could use someone to eventually replace defensive end Justin Smith, who will turn 34 this season, and fortify the team's pass rush in the meantime.
Oakland will be in prime position to draft either Jordan or Ansah, either of whom projects to be highly productive in the 3-4.
In return, the 49ers can offer many among its league-high 14 selections in April.
Oakland could swing a deal by arguing that if San Francisco doesn't move up to No. 3, Philadelphia or Detroit will take the pass-rusher the 49ers covet.
Gain for Raiders
It is possible the 49ers move up from their current first-round slot (No. 31) in order to facilitate this deal.
Assuming that doesn't happen, the Raiders' haul would depend on how the teams agreed to value the picks involved.
Going by the chart I took from ESPN, there would be a 1,610-point gap between the teams' current first-rounders.
In addition to their current first-rounder, the 49ers theoretically would have to offer Oakland the equivalent of:
- a future first-round pick (ideally for the Niners, No. 32, 590 points);
- both of their second-round picks (Nos. 34 and 61, combined 852 points);
- their third-round pick obtained from Carolina (No. 74, 220 points)
Five high selections seems a bit unrealistic, even if San Francisco is desperate to win a Super Bowl and would still have 10 picks remaining.
So, I introduce another valuation chart here, courtesy of the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective.
I wanted to use this chart to reassess the Philadelphia/Detroit and Arizona/Buffalo trades on the previous slide, but found the numbers too impractical to underlie actual predictions.
There was no way, for example, that the Raiders would agree to move down from No. 3 to No. 4 for less than the equivalent of the last pick of the draft.
In this situation, however, where the Raiders would move down essentially an entire round, note the difference of the smaller gaps between pick values.
Using the Harvard chart, the gap between the Raiders' and Niners' existing first-round picks is 198.3 points.
That would yield the Raiders the No. 34 pick (173.3 points)—crucially allowing Oakland to re-enter the second round—as well as perhaps a sixth- or a seventh-rounder to sweeten the deal.
Although the Raiders would be gypped by such a deal, (San Francisco would unload an expendable backup quarterback for the No. 3 pick?), perhaps the teams have crunched each of the above scenarios, allowing them to meet at an agreeable middle ground.
A San Francisco team that missed out by so little on a championship surely has its eyes on finishing the job this season. Its combination of desperation and disposable draft picks could make this trade partnership the most likely of all.
Check back in a month for my final predictions, as various roster cuts and additions should better clarify these teams' overall positions on draft day.