The Oakland Raiders have an opportunity to significantly improve their team in the upcoming draft by selecting a franchise-type player that can be a force in the league for years to come.
The Raiders’ brain trust, headed up by Tom Cable and Al Davis, has done extensive evaluations on the draft prospects and analyzed the holes that need to be filled on the team.
Factors that have been considered include those described in my article, "Developing an Effective NFL Drafting Strategy."
With the seventh pick they need to take the player who has the greatest potential to help transform them into a playoff-caliber team.
This player may not necessarily fill the team’s biggest needs positions, which are arguably defensive tackle, defensive end, and a No. 1 wide receiver, but this would be an added bonus.
At the same time, the top pick should not be a player in a position where the team already has great strength, such as running back, quarterback, and cornerback.
What are the odds of the player selected seventh being a perennial All-Pro-caliber player? About 20 percent using the criteria described in my article, "Come On Seven!: Is the Raiders’ Top Pick a Sure Bet for Stardom?"
Mock drafts are good predictors of where players might go in the draft, but come draft day teams often deviate early on from the predictions. With this in mind, the Raiders need to identify at least seven players they would draft with their first pick if they are still available.
Getting downs to names and priorities, the following picks are shown in the order in which the top-tier players should be selected by the Raiders, if they are still available.
This 6’2”, 254-pound dynamo from Wake Forest has blazing 4.5 second 40-yard dash speed and all the attributes you look for in an outside linebacker. He is blessed with quickness, aggressiveness, and an excellent nose for the ball.
His stellar play earned him the 2008 Butkus award, given to the nation's top linebacker.
Curry excels in run defense with his strong, physical play and sure tackling skills and sideline-to-sideline range.
His pass coverage is equally effective, which should serve him well in the Raiders’ strong side linebacker position, where he will be matched up with the likes of Antonio Gates and the diverse AFC West running backs.
He is also an excellent pass rusher, which should encourage the Raiders to include more blitzes in their defensive playbook.
Curry has the potential to be a game-changing force on the Raider defense, along the lines of a Shawne Merriman. For details on his potential impact on the team, see "Analyzing the Oakland Raiders’ Linebackers."
This 6’5”, 309 pounder has excellent quickness and agility and would make an excellent left tackle. He is quick enough to effectively deal with the fast edge rushers that are prominent in the NFL, and in college he excelled in pass protection.
He has good range, a nasty demeanor, a powerful first punch, and is aggressive with a great motor. Under Tom Cable’s tutelage, he has a great opportunity to improve his play even more.
See my article "Why the Raiders Will Select a Franchise Offensive Tackle" for an explanation of why this draft choice makes sense.
This 6’5”, 309 pounder shares many of the same characteristics as Jason Smith. He is a great pass blocker who has the quickness to handle fast edge rushers and the strength to handle bull rushers.
His run blocking is also very good, and he has a good initial punch and drive. Like Jason Smith, he should thrive under Tom Cable’s tutelage and blocking scheme.
Having an outstanding left tackle anchoring the offensive line can provide "A Firm Foundation for the Oakland Raiders" for many years to come.
Although not included in this draft prediction, don't be too surprised if the Raiders shock the ESPN announcers covering the draft, and the football world in general, by selecting road-grading Andre Smith, offensive tackle from Alabama, with this selection.
The Raiders have a number of defensive tackles on the roster but have gotten very little production from this position. Think of all the second and third-string running backs that have posted career games against the silver and black.
It’s no surprise that the Raiders had the second worst rushing defense in the league last year. What is surprising is that Rob Ryan kept his job as long as he did with the abysmal defense.
At 6’1”, 337 pounds, Raji is a beast against the run and will consistently draw double teams. He is excellent at collapsing the pocket on passing plays and is relentless in pursuit.
He should significantly improve both the run defense and the passing defense, and he could be an anchor for the defensive line for years to come.
The only reluctance there is about Raji is his reported failure of a drug test administered at the combine. If the rumors of a failed drug test are accurate, and the Raiders sense this is a serious problem, they should probably pass on Raji.
Crabtree seems to have the best chance of all the wide receiver prospects in the draft to quickly become a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. He has great hands, a nose for the ball, is an excellent leaper, and works the sidelines well.
He is a very polished receiver who runs great routes, can go across the middle, and has the quickness and physical abilities to get off the line in bump and run coverage.
At Texas Tech, he WAS the offense, and the defenses knew the ball was coming his way frequently and adjusted their defenses accordingly. Despite this, he still shredded the defenses and posted awesome numbers.
There are questions about his speed since he couldn’t run at the combine, but his quickness, physical play, good route running, and other attributes will more than make up for a possible lack of blazing speed.
The article "Analyzing the Oakland Raiders’ Passing Game" describes how the addition of a top-tier wide receiver can improve the Raiders’ 29th-ranked passing offense. Crabtree is the man for the job if the Raiders choose to go in this direction.
The five players showcased above, Aaron Curry, Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, B.J. Raji, and Michael Crabtree, in my opinion, are the only "can’t miss" prospects in the draft.
One of them should be selected if they are available at No. 7.
If all of these players are gone within the first six picks, the Raiders should consider trading down in the draft if they can receive fair compensation for their pick, as defined in the NFL draft-pick value chart.
It is very possible that teams will be looking to trade up to obtain a franchise quarterback like Mark Sanchez or one of the remaining-top tier offensive tackles.
If a team is not interested in providing fair compensation for trading into the No. 7 slot, then there are other good players that can be drafted by the Raiders.
However, unlike the five top-tier prospects previously identified, I am less confident that other players still on the board are "can’t miss" prospects worthy of a five-year contract for $49 million total, with $19 million guaranteed, that a player in this position will warrant.
The value of trading down is described in my article, "A Value Proposition Player Strategy for the Oakland Raiders," and could provide the team with a couple of additional, solid players that can contribute to the team’s success without impacting the salary cap like the No. 7 pick.
A great defensive end can wreak havoc on other teams' offensive schemes and help the players around him play better. The Raiders are in need of an every down defensive end that is effective against both the rush and can pressure the quarterback on passing plays.
Orakpo, a 6’3”, 263-pound physical specimen, has terrific speed and phenomenal strength and would fit in perfectly in the Raiders’ 4-3 defensive alignment. He is a great pursuer and can leap high to bat down passes.
His work ethic would fit right in with a Tom Cable team, and with proper coaching his play should continue to improve.
For an analysis of the team’s defensive end situation, see, "Oakland Raiders’ Defensive Ends: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap."
This 6’2”, 256-pound player has many of the same attributes as Brian Orakpo and will make an excellent every down defensive end. He is an excellent pass rusher with many developed pass rush techniques already in his repertoire.
He has good strength, which allows him to rush inside or outside and to fight off blocks to get to the ball carrier.
He also has excellent pursuit and range, and he frequently makes tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
His strong work ethic, leadership skills, and football "smarts" should fit in well on a Tom Cable-coached team and mirror many of the same attributes held by legendary Hall of Famer Howie Long.
These are the impact first round prospects that have the best chance of turning the Raiders once again into a force in the playoffs.
After a few miscues with recent first round selections, the Raiders are due to hit the jackpot with this year's first round selection. Like most of you, I will be glued to my TV this Saturday to see how the draft unfolds.