2014 NFL Draft Prospects Who Could Be Instant Starters for the Oakland Raiders
With needs at quarterback, wide receiver and just about everywhere on the defensive side of the football, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie will have some serious decisions to make when it comes to shaping this football team.
McKenzie's task won't be an easy one. Thanks to a record-setting amount of underclassmen who have declared for the draft, this year's class is extraordinarily deep.
In order to turn this prestigious program around, the reality of the situation is that McKenzie needs to find guys who can come in and contribute from Day 1.
Understanding the task at hand, the Raiders GM told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group that adding playmakers is always the goal.
Using that playmaker mentality as a guide, it's time check out some NFL prospects who could become instant starters for the Raiders in 2014.
From first-round studs to "sleepers" who have tremendous potential, click the slideshow below and find out which guys will be able to help transform this team back into a playoff contender.
All CFB stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.
All 2014 draft projections provided by NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) unless noted otherwise.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com unless noted otherwise.
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
There's no way around it, South Carolina pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney is a mind-blowing NFL prospect.
On film, when this young man gets going, he looks like a once-in-a-generation talent. The kind of player who can put his hand in the dirt and change the complexion of a defense from the moment he steps onto the field.
Boasting the type of athleticism that has a chance to transcend the defensive end position, Clowney's raw physical ability would give the Raiders a dominant pass-rusher with an astonishingly high ceiling.
Naysayers will point to Clowney's struggles on film during his 2013 campaign as a vehicle to doubt his potential as a pro. Talking about Clowney's tumultuous 2013 season, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers team operations coordinator Joe Bussell told Peter Bukowski of SI.com:
The interesting aspect of Clowney is the dynamic change from 2012 to '13, when watching Clowney on film last season, teams weren't prepared for the raw brutality that he brought to the game. He destroyed left tackles and left guards when matched up one-on-one. He couldn't be blocked in the run game or the pass game.
No matter how you perceive the hype surrounding Clowney, the work he's displayed on film proves that he can be a Day 1 starter. For Oakland, Clowney's ability to get after the quarterback and stop the run would help this defense to start firing on all cylinders.
WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
As dynamic of a defensive prospect that Clowney is, when you flip over to the other side of the football, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is a guy you can't take your eyes off.
A dazzling big-play threat who possesses great instincts, Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller described him as the "total package" at wide receiver in his NFL comparison segment.
From a sheer talent standpoint, Watkins is one of the few players in this year's draft class who can single-handedly change the way an NFL offense operates.
Throughout the course of his career at Clemson, Watkins showed scouts he could just about do it all. As B/R's Michael Felder pointed out, Watkins' performance in the 2014 Orange Bowl reminded everyone that he is going to be a "hot commodity at the next level."
Desperation at the wide receiver position in Oakland makes Watkins an intriguing first-round pick. Projected by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (Insider subscription required) to end up in a Raiders uniform, if nothing else, the Clemson wide receiver would finally provide this offense with a spark.
Thanks to his substantial speed, quality route-running and the ability to separate from defenders, Watkins is a guy who can contribute in a big way from the moment he puts on his shoulder pads.
QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
If you grew up in the 90s, then you're probably familiar with the incomparable Nickelodeon game show, Figure it Out.
Each week the show would have a "secret word" that if mentioned, would unleash a ludicrous amount of "slime" onto one of the poor souls serving on the guest panel.
If McKenzie and his staff were on that panel today, the secret word would undoubtedly be quarterback.
Anointing the next franchise signal-caller of the Silver and Black may very well come down to the 2014 draft. Prospects like Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr may all be available by the time the Raiders first-round pick comes rolling around.
Opinions will vary on who the best QB in this year's class is, but the common denominator for Raiders fans is that they understand a decision needs to be made regarding the future of the position.
Ultimately, if the decision is made to go after a quarterback in the upcoming draft, one guy who will be able to contribute right away is Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.
Though he may not be as vigorous or enthralling of a prospect as Manziel, Bridgewater has displayed on film the poise and accuracy that teams look for in a franchise-caliber QB.
Completing 68.4 percent of his passes for 9,817 yards and 72 touchdowns, the Louisville product was dominant throughout the course of his illustrious collegiate career.
A talented player who's always radiated on film, it's not a stretch to say Bridgewater's impact on the Raiders offense would be significant from the get-go.
DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Finding guys who carry a disruptive vibe with them on the football field is something McKenzie has to look for during the upcoming draft.
Scanning some of the most bellicose prospects on film, Pittsburgh defense tackle Aaron Donald has proven that he's one of those guys.
At 6'1", 288 pounds, Donald is a bit undersized for the defensive tackle position. But when you consider other "small" guys like Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals who have made careers off collapsing offensive lines, the concerns over Donald's measurables melt away.
As always, studying film is the best way to fully understand what a player is capable of. And when Donald's tape is running, the big man out of Pittsburgh always manages to show up in a big way.
To fully understand how good this young man can be, sometimes it's best to hear from opposing coaches who faced him. Talking to Mike Huguenin of NFL.com, University of North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora compared Donald to Clowney—the one and only Jadeveon Clowney.
Projected right now to be a second-round pick by analysts like ESPN's Mel Kiper. Jr. and Todd McShay (Insider subscription required), drafting Donald would give this Raiders defense one heck of an interior presence.
FS Dion Bailey, USC
Stepping outside the realm of "top-tier" prospects doesn't mean the Raiders won't have a chance to acquire Day 1 starters later on in the draft.
A perfect example is USC safety Dion Bailey. A free-flowing athlete with great ball skills, Bailey is a guy who could help improve this secondary right away.
In his scouting notes, Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) compared Bailey to San Diego Chargers All-Pro safety Eric Weddle:
It remains to be seen if Bailey can handle the transition to the NFL as well as the Chargers' All-Pro safety, but like Weddle at Utah, Bailey's instincts, fluidity and penchant for big plays made him a consistent and versatile difference-maker at the collegiate level.
Dubbed as a fourth-round draft pick, at this point in time, Bailey's value significantly outweighs his draft position.
The need for a young free safety to patrol the secondary in Oakland is monumental. Despite free-agent-to-be safety Charles Woodson telling KGMZ-FM (per Comcast SportsNet Bay Area) that he wants to return to Oakland, the 37-year-old doesn't help this team long-term.
On film, Bailey flashes an incredibly diverse skill set. Sure, he's going to have to improve in some areas of his game, but when push comes to shove, this young man is talented enough to help Oakland's defense right off the bat.
CB E.J. Gaines, Missouri
The trend of bigger, more physical cornerbacks in today's NFL might pave the way for some of the more "undersized" defensive backs to see their stocks slip on draft day. Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines could be one of those guys whose name falls on draft weekend.
Not short by any means, the 5'11" Gaines is your prototypical man-to-man coverage cornerback.
On film, Gaines' fluid hips and on-field awareness constantly puts him in great position to make a play on the ball. Although B/R's Richard Langford has Gaines going to the San Diego Chargers in the first round, the more common train of thought is that Gaines will be taken between rounds three and four.
A quintessential value pick, Gaines' familiarity in man coverage makes him a natural fit for the Raiders. If he ends up falling into the middle rounds of the draft, McKenzie almost has to take a chance on this kid.
The uncertainty surrounding last year's first-round pick D.J. Hayden has left a major void at the cornerback position. Gaines wouldn't be a "reach" past the first round and his skill set alone would allow him to contribute working in the slot or on the outside.
Selected as the prospect B/R's Michael Felder wants to see most at the NFL combine, Gaines has a shot to be a really special player at the next level.
WR Kevin Norwood, Alabama
Heading back over to the wide receiver position, a guy who can make an impact right out of the gate is Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood.
Lost in a deep class of talented pass-catchers, Norwood is currently pegged as a sixth-round pick. Although he isn't on the same level as guys like Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks or Mike Evans on paper, the Alabama product has displayed plenty of traits you'd want in a possession wide receiver.
His sturdy frame and impressive route-running skills make Norwood an asset at the next level. Also, playing in a pro-style offense under Alabama head coach Nick Saban gives him the ability to contribute right away.
Talking about his draft experience so far, Norwood told James Jones of the Sun Herald, "The process is crazy, you've got people talking to you every night. I'm out here competing and showing teams I belong in the NFL."
The jury is still out on whether or not Norwood possesses the type of speed and separation skills needed to be anything more than a possession guy in the NFL. But as B/R's Matt Miller highlighted in his NFL comparison video—featured in this slide—Norwood's "consistency" and solid route-running makes him an intriguing prospect.
In the end, with so many needs on the offensive side of the football, drafting a player like Norwood in the sixth round would be a nice way for McKenzie to help shore up a feeble wide receiving corps.