Will the Raiders put their wishes on a Star?
With the NFL draft just one week away, the league enticed its fanbase Thursday with the release of the 2013 regular-season schedule. For the Raiders, the schedule officially begins Sept. 8 in Indianapolis against last year's No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck and the Colts.
However, before the regular season, there's still the matter of this year's draft, which could help fortify a Raider roster that still has as many holes as a pack of Life Savers. As the process to next Thursday has taken place, I personally have had a pair of mock drafts.
The first was just before the Super Bowl and the second in mid-March. Since then, the Raiders were awarded a sixth-round compensatory pick (205th overall). Essentially, the situation is the same. The team has needs in multiple areas (CB, DE/OLB, OG, OT, QB) and only four selections in the first 172 picks.
So how does GM Reggie McKenzie go about further fortifying a roster he stripped down to rebuild? Here's what I'm thinking.
Previous choice: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB (University of Oregon)
Flash back to the 2009 NFL draft. At the No. 7 spot, the Raiders selected Darrius Heyward-Bey. This was in spite of the fact the team had a gaping hole at defensive tackle. Two spots later, the Green Bay Packers selected B.J. Raji. They would finish No. 1 against the run in 2009 with Raji contributing on the line.
Flash forward to right here and right now. The Raiders have a need at defensive end and tackle as well as cornerback and on the offensive line. The ideal situation is to trade down, but I can only fathom a reasonable offer being put forth to Oakland management if both Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher are drafted with the first two choices (not likely).
That means the Raiders will probably have to use their choice. The most likely options are Fisher, Sharrif Floyd and Star Lotulelei. My previous pick was Dion Jordan. I think he's gone by No. 3. Both the Chiefs and Jaguars have legitimate interest in him. The dominant opinion has been Floyd if the Raiders stay at three. It very well may be the choice.
But for my money, the Raiders need an anchor on the line. Floyd on tape looks like a good individual defender that will make plays occasionally and can dominate in bursts. But there are also times where he disappears for stretches. With Lotulelei, the Raiders get a dominate young lineman, something this team has not had since the late Darrell Russell, who happens to be the last Raider lineman drafted to make a Pro Bowl.
The difference between Russell and Lotulelei is that there are no questions of character or effort. I think Lotulelei fits perfectly because he's the anti-Raider. Because so many teams had to account for him with double teams, Lotulelei freed up his teammates while still being stout against the run.
That is precisely what the Raiders need: A foundation to enhance itself upon. While I think Fisher may very well be a top tier tackle, the Raiders simply have a greater need on the defensive line and Lotulelei is the immovable object this team has lacked for many years.
Alternative choice: Floyd.
Previous choice: Robert Alford, CB (SE Louisiana)
Quite simply, the Raiders offensive line was bad last year. Some of that was scheme, much of it was execution. And most of all, the Raiders did not have the players last year. Willie Smith, Mike Brisiel and Cooper Carlisle were largely ineffective for much of the year.
As the Raiders shift back toward the power-blocking scheme long favored in Oakland, the need for more bruising interior help is needed. That help is definitely available with Larry Warford.
A member of the 2012 Preseason All-SEC team, Warford lived up to the hype, garnering All-SEC honors. The other guard on that team was Chance Warmack, almost universally considered the best guard in this draft. While Warford is not quite in Warmack or North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper's class, he is not exactly out of their league.
Warford is a bruising run blocker with experience and pedigree. Surprisingly agile for a 335-pound guard, Warford is a nice blend of physicality and technique. At No. 66, he might be a touch high, which could warrant the Raiders seeking a trade to slide down a few picks. Then again, Warford's profile has risen to the point that he might not be available here.
Alternative pick: John Simon, DE/OLB (Ohio State University)
Simon represents an edge-rusher that the Raiders lack on the current roster. Along with displaying a knack for getting to the quarterback off the edge, Simon's high motor and effectiveness moving forward would make him an ideal situational rusher.
Ryan would be a nice value pick at No. 100
Previous choice: Logan Ryan, CB (Rutgers)
This was my choice in March. This remains my choice now. Here's my previous breakdown.
Ryan is a physical corner that plays best up close on the line. At Rutgers, he was used both in man and zone coverage, giving him versatility that should help him right away. He has good size (6'0" and 190 pounds) and decent speed as well.
All that said, I love Ryan's willingness to stick his nose in and tackle in the running game. While his technique isn't ideal, Ryan's tackling is consistent to the point he is considered one of the more reliable run defenders at his position in this draft class.
Obviously signing Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins alleviates the short-term need for a corner, especially with Joselio Hanson re-signed and likely returning to his slot corner position. Ryan gives the Raiders a nice value pick to provide depth and potentially a replacement long term for the two likely veteran starters.
Alternative choice: Leon McFadden, CB (San Diego State)
Size aside (McFadden is 5'10"), the San Diego State corner would also be a very solid choice here. Possessing great natural agility and the ability to stick with receivers all over the field, McFadden is a competitor and would be a great value pick in spite of his relative lack of size.
Barner would likely be a better backup option than Jennings for Oakland
Previous choice: Josh Evans, FS (Florida)
I'm still high on Evans, but when it comes to options in the backfield, Rashad Jennings is just not a suitable backup for Darren McFadden. The Raiders still needed someone dynamic out of the backfield to spell McFadden.
I think Barner is a better complement than people think. There is a lot of talk about needing a bruising-type back to complement McFadden. But I honestly think he brings a lot of that quality in a power running scheme (ask Eric Weddle). Barner is a player who has already shown he can carry the load, something that gets overlooked when evaluating the Oregon all-time leading rusher.
In addition, Barner can return kicks in the event Jacoby Ford gets hurt. Let's just say that I have less concern with Usama Young at safety than I do with Rashad Jennings potentially starting at halfback.
Alternative choice: Alec Lemon, WR (Syracuse University)
A nice pick, Lemon is a guy who can catch the ball and has good size, a combination the Raiders could use with the loss of Darrius Heyward-Bey. If Juron Criner is not able to assert himself, the Raiders lack size outside of Rod Streater. Lemon, who caught a school-record 70 passes in 2012 at Syracuse, would be a solid second or third option vertically.
Previous choice: None
With the sixth-round pick the Raiders acquired as part of the Carson Palmer trade from Arizona, I see them snapping up Chris Faulk from LSU. Let's face it, someone has to beat out Khalif Barnes at right tackle. It is becoming an annual rite of passage to hear "false start, No. 69, offense" when the Raiders are on offense.
Unlike another option like Wisconsin's Ricky Wagner, Faulk could conceivably battle at a guard or tackle spot immediately. Don't be fooled, there are multiple spots in play on Oakland's offensive line. Faulk would be a steal here in terms of value at the least.
The reason for Faulk's drop was a torn right anterior cruciate ligament in his junior year. Having visited the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, Faulk remains an intriguing selection because of his skill set (proficient leg driver in the running game, can drop pads and generate movement up front as well as light feet and good arm extension in the pass game).
Alternative choice: Nick Kasa, TE (University of Colorado)
I don't think the Raiders are going to be enthused about the prospects of David Ausberry and Richard Gordon as the only tight ends on the roster. That said, the holes are so great at other areas that unless Kasa falls here (a possibility), the Raiders may have to wait a big longer to get a third tight end.
Previous choice: None
The Raiders are in need of an edge-rusher and have a chance to address that with a rising stud in Michael Buchanan. The major knock against the Illinois tweener is that he is too light to play on the end in a 4-3 defense.
As it pertains to the Raiders, if they are indeed to move to more hybrid defenses, they will need more players that can fit in various schemes. Buchanan has the potential to be a solid edge-rusher because of a high motor, very quick feet and really long arms.
The knocks on Buchanan are his high pad level and lack of gap discipline. He would be best served as a situational pass-rusher in Oakland.
Alternative choice: Michael Mauti, ILB (Penn State)
The rugged Mauti is a throwback to the days of Shane Conlan at Linebacker U. Here was my breakdown in the first draft mock from late January:
A semifinalist for the Butkus Award, Mauti had a tremendous bounce-back year from a torn ACL in 2011. As a leader on the Penn State team dealing with the Jerry Sandusky scandal and firing of Joe Paterno, Mauti was brilliant.
In 2012, Mauti finished in the top 10 in tackles, interceptions and forced fumbles in the Big Ten. For that, he rightfully earned All-Big Ten first-team honors on the season.
While it is obvious that you can't make a leap for a player taken in the seventh round, Mauti is an intangibles guy, and I think he would have an opportunity to stick if taken in Oakland.
Furthermore, his motor and aptitude would fit in nicely with hard workers Philip Wheeler and Miles Burris. Health is an immediate and obvious concern, as Mauti suffered two ACL tears while at Happy Valley. But this late in the draft, it is worth a risk to find someone who can provide potential production at a need area.
Previous choice: Keith Pough, OLB (Howard University)
The final choice the Raiders have in this draft is late, but it is certainly not irrelevant. At pick 209, the Raiders would do well to tab Ryan Otten. The tight end from San Jose State was productive and fits the newer hybrid tight end that is closer to a wide receiver and can play in space.
While Otten is not a Vernon Davis in terms of pure athleticism, he has the ability to make catches in tight spaces and is able to make the first defender miss in space. His physical tools (6'5" and 33.5 inch arms) give him an advantage in the red zone. Otten was also productive for the Spartans, catching 99 balls for 1,481 yards and nine touchdowns in the last two years.
Considering the Raiders have converted tight end David Ausberry and tackle in disguise Richard Gordon, Otten could have the opportunity to see action very early if taken here. This would be another nice pick late Saturday.
Alternative choice: Ryan Griffin, QB (Tulane)
The Raiders need another quarterback. Conventional wisdom would dictate that another veteran gets added (i.e. Vince Young). But recent years have shown that convention is being cast aside in the NFL. Case in point, the playoff-bound Washington Redskins had two rookie quarterbacks at No. 1 and 2 on their depth chart in 2012.
As such, a late-round flier on Ryan Griffin could be a nice choice. Griffin had a great senior year for a bad Tulane team. In total, he threw for 2,771 yards, 20 touchdowns and a 132.4 passer rating.
What Griffin lacks in arm strength, he makes up for with his efficiency and ability to read a defense while remaining poised in the pass pocket. For the Raiders, he becomes a developmental choice that is a much more inexpensive option than a veteran off the street.
With the 3rd pick of the 2013 NFL Draft...
There it is. My last toss of darts at the board before it actually happens in less than a week. I am of the mindset that the defense is further away than the offense based on what we saw in 2010 and 2011. A scheme that remotely has more variety than Greg Knapp's can only improve.
My basis for the players taken are under the assumption of a power offense and a multiple defense. Sharrif Floyd would not be a bad choice at the top. I just think that Star Lotulelei is a better choice for what this team wants to be.
Larry Warford can be a starter almost immediately, unlike Tony Bergstrom last year. I like Logan Ryan based on his combination of size and speed, but Leon McFadden would also look nice in silver and black. And so on and so forth.
The bottom line is that this is Reggie McKenzie's first real opportunity to truly put his imprint on the type of team he wants to create. Unlike free agency, the draft is not a process thwarted by necessity and/or financial restraint. If he is able to hit a draft weekend home run, the Raiders rebuilding plan shifts closer toward the fast track in 2013.
But if he misses, the Raiders suffer their first really tangible blow on his watch. I say that because the constraints McKenzie inherited severely restricted any real ability to build a team immediately. This is the first real opportunity. How he does will be the first concrete analysis of his skill as an evaluator of talent.