Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie and owner Mark Davis
Reggie McKenzie has had to make do with very few resources during his first two years as the Oakland Raiders general manager. As a result, it’s been somewhat difficult to evaluate his performance. He’s had some success in free agency, but not much yet with the draft.
Heading into the offseason, the Raiders will once again have several holes to fill and it will be up to McKenzie to make the right call. The only difference from 2011 and 2012 is that McKenzie’s job might very well be on the line this time around.
Even with an estimated $50 million worth of cap space and a full load of draft picks, McKenzie will have his work cut out in trying to patch all the holes on Oakland’s roster.
Here are six free agents and college players who the Raiders should consider to fill some of their holes.
The Raiders haven’t had a true No. 1 wide receiver for nearly a decade. Denarius Moore has shown flashes at times, but he’s too inconsistent, and Rod Streater and Andre Holmes are too raw yet to elevate into that role.
While there are several top-tier wide receivers coming out for the draft, Sammy Watkins stands out for several reasons at Clemson. He has good size (6’1”, 205 pounds) and knows how to position his body correctly when going up in the air against defensive backs. He also has the innate ability to make big plays downfield.
Watkins has caught 85 passes for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Tigers. He’s also pulled double-duty as a kickoff returner, which makes him a perfect fit in Oakland because the Raiders have needs at receiver and in their return game.
There were off-field issues in 2012 involving drug-related charges, but Watson appears to have put all that in the past and has been rocketing up many draft boards in recent months.
Cutler is definitely not the long-term solution Oakland needs at quarterback, but he has the experience, a good arm and will be one of the top available free-agent quarterbacks on the market. The fact that neither Dennis Allen nor Reggie McKenzie has much time to groom a young quarterback makes it even more sensible to go after a veteran like Cutler.
While he definitely has limitations, Cutler could fill the need at quarterback and would give the team time to address some of its other weaknesses until finding a franchise quarterback.
One of the most explosive running backs in the nation, Bishop Sankey out of Washington would instantly become the workhorse in Oakland’s backfield that the team had hoped Darren McFadden would be. He rushed for nearly 1,800 yards this season for the Huskies and scored 18 touchdowns and is a finalist for the Doak Walker Award.
Sankey, who has not yet declared for the NFL draft, is a balanced running back who definitely fattened up on teams from the Pac-12, but should nevertheless be one of the more coveted backs in the draft. Fortunately for Oakland, he’s not expected to go until the second or third round, which will allow the Raiders to address some of their other needs before looking at running back.
With Charles Woodson most likely gone in 2014, the Raiders will have a major void at the free safety spot. They’ve already got a fairly young strong safety in Tyvon Branch, and getting a player like Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to pair with him has to be a tantalizing prospect for general manager Reggie McKenzie.
Few players have been in the news as much this season as Clinton-Dix. He was suspended by Alabama after reportedly receiving a financial loan from an assistant coach, raced up draft boards with his stellar play, but then needed surgery to repair a torn meniscus that he apparently injured in the Iron Bowl against Auburn.
On the field, most scouts seem to like Clinton-Dix’s ranginess and his ability to really play the position like a center fielder in baseball. He’s not a great run defender, but isn’t afraid to stick his nose in when tackling, where he has some definite pop.
Oakland’s ability to defend the run took a definite step forward this season, but its overall production on the defensive line has tailed off in recent weeks, particularly with the pass rush. Keky Quarles, who played in the shadow of South Carolina teammate Jadeveon Clowney, should be able to help on both fronts.
While Clowney was drawing the lion’s share of attention from opponents, Quarles was putting up markedly better numbers that significantly raised his stock draft. Quarles led the Gamecocks defensive linemen in tackles (36), tackles for losses (13.5) and sacks (9.5).
Consistency was a bit of an issue for Quarles during the 2012 season, but he put those fears to rest in 2013. The Raiders, who know a thing or two about inconsistency from the defensive line, would immediately get better with Quarles on the roster.
The Raiders definitely have designs on re-signing impending free agent Lamarr Houston but it won’t do them any good if they can't find him some help. Greg Hardy, who has developed into a fierce pass-rusher in a very short time, is the perfect player to match with Houston as bookend defensive ends.
Hardy has 18 sacks in his past 28 games for the Carolina Panthers, owns six career forced fumbles and has a pair of safeties to his resume. Three of his seven sacks this season came against the New York Giants in Week 3.
Oakland’s pass rush is in sore need of an upgrade. The Raiders were among the league leaders in sacks for the first month of the season before tailing off significantly. That coincided with the team’s recent stretch of losing five games in six weeks.
It might mean McKenzie has to offer Hardy a deal more expensive than any other he has since taking over as Oakland’s GM, but it’s a move he has to think about making.