The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine is just a few days away, giving Oakland Raiders fans across this great nation something to look forward to.
For Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, this year's draft is incredibly important.
Not to take away anything from years past, but thanks to an influx of cash—the Raiders have generated an estimated $61.5 million in cap space—Oakland finally has a chance to shore up the structure of this roster in 2014.
Examining all of the "top" prospects heading into this weekend's combine, now's the time to piece together the ultimate Raiders Round 1 big board.
|Notable NFL Prospects Missing|
|Scott Crichton||DE||Oregon State|
|Derek Carr||QB||Fresno State|
|Kyle Fuller||CB||Virginia Tech|
|Ryan Shazier||OLB||Ohio State|
|Kyle Van Noy||OLB/DE||BYU|
|Will Sutton||DT||Arizona State|
1. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
No matter how you land on the whole franchise quarterback issue, the fact is Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is the most NFL-ready QB prospect in this year's draft.
Breaking down his abilities on film, Bridgewater's poise in the pocket and ability to dissect a defense from various formations makes him a compelling target for McKenzie and the Raiders.
A confident, gritty maestro navigating inside the pocket, there's no doubt that Bridgewater is a guy who could bring a sense of stability back to the Raiders organization.
Not having a noteworthy signal-caller spin the football in the Bay Area since Rich Gannon back in 2002, the Silver and Black faithful would be enamored by Bridgewater from the moment his name was called on May 8.
2. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
The last time the Raiders passed up on an "elite" wide receiver prospect, the guy they let slip through their hands was Detroit Lions stud Calvin Johnson.
Watkins may not be the freak athlete that Johnson is, but the Clemson wide receiver is a formidable playmaker in his own right.
If you turn on the tape and watch him work on the field, Watkins' speed jumps out at you. But to understand how fast he truly is, check out this tweet from Bleacher Report AFC West lead writer Christopher Hansen. You read that right—Watkins ran a faster 100-meter and 200-meter dash than Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson.
For a guy who moves at warp-drive speed, the body control Watkins displays on film might be the best trait he is bringing with him to the pros.
The goal for any general manager in the NFL is to accrue as many playmakers as they possibly can via the draft. If Watkins' name is still on the board by the time Oakland is on the clock, McKenzie needs to take a long, hard look at the prodigy from Death Valley.
3. DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
If there's one defensive prospect in this year's draft class who can come in and shake the league to its core, his name would be Jadeveon Clowney.
The 6'6", 274-pound edge-rusher out of South Carolina has put his tantalizing skill set on display over the course of his collegiate career.
But like any prospect, Clowney has some question marks to address about his future.
NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock reiterated those concerns during his pre-combine conference call, as reported by NFL.com's Chase Goodbread:
My biggest concern is just, what's his mental makeup? How important is it to him, when he gets a paycheck, to become the best player in football, or is he just going to be happy to be a millionaire? I think that's the most critical checking point here for an organization, is finding out the motivation. What kind of kid are they going to get? I know what the football player is when motivated. I just want to know what kind of kid I'm getting.
If Clowney can answer those questions and blow his critics away at the NFL combine, Mayock points out that he could truly be a special talent:
I know that he's got the physical makeup to be the best player the draft. If you want to compare him to Mario Williams, I think he's a better football player with more upside than when Mario came out of college. ... From a physical skill-set (standpoint), this kid is as freaky as they come. He plays a position of critical importance in today's NFL, which is an ability to get the quarterback, and he can play multiple places on the defense. All those things check off.
At this point, it's abundantly clear that nothing can stop Clowney's rapid ascension to the top, except himself.
Looking every bit the part of a dynamo pass-rusher, the South Carolina product would be a beautiful addition to the Silver and Black's defensive line.
4. OLB/DE Anthony Barr, UCLA
UCLA standout Anthony Barr might not be as physically imposing as Clowney, but the Pac-12 pass-rusher has already managed to make quite a name for himself leading up to this year's NFL combine.
Barr is another one of those defensive prospects who commands your attention on film. Talking to Ross Jones of FOX Sports, Barr said that he "absolutely" believes that he should be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft.
Going into further detail about why he feels that way, Barr said, "I think I am the complete package. I can help a team right away win football games, playoff games and championships. It’s something that I always dreamed about. The teams that do pass on me will regret it."
There's no doubt that Barr's play on the field makes him an enthralling option to go after in the first round. Confident, and more importantly comfortable with the things he can bring to a franchise, McKenzie would be wise to sit down with this young man and get a feel for what he's all about.
5. OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
One of the fastest risers in this year's draft is Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. Standing at 6'5" with 320 pounds of force to throw around, Robinson was arguably the most dominant offensive lineman in all of college football this past season.
Ranked as the No. 2 overall player in the 2014 draft by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. (Insider subscription required), Robinson has the ability to morph into an elite NFL tackle from Day 1.
His physical prowess and mountainous upside are two attributes the Raiders can't afford to overlook on draft day. If McKenzie wants a player who can serve as a pillar of greatness for this organization, Robinson is the guy to go after.
6. OLB/DE Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Buffalo's Khalil Mack is an uber-talented playmaker with a huge upside.
Studying Mack on film, you get the sense that this young man isn't quite done growing as a prospect yet.
Capable of propelling himself into the backfield, the majority of Mack's collegiate experience came from a standing position.
While he maintains enough athleticism to be effective rushing the quarterback with his hand in the dirt, Mack could inflict maximum damage if he's thrust into a role similar to that of Denver Broncos edge-rusher Von Miller.
Bleacher Report's own Michael Schottey detailed at the top of last season how "now, more than ever, the NFL is a quarterback league." Though that mantra rings true, it just further enhances the value of accruing dominant edge-rushers.
Although he’s capable of making things happen in space, Mack's strength is always going to be in attacking the quarterback. That's why, in the end, drafting Mack and embracing his strengths would allow Coach Allen to act as a defensive leaven to the Buffalo star.
7. OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Ranked just a smidgen below Greg Robinson is Texas A&M's Jake Matthews.
An elite offensive prospect in his own right, Matthews served as Johnny Manziel's protector over the time they spent together in College Station.
The work Matthews has put in on film is impressive. Displaying exceptional balance, plenty of strength and a high motor, the more you watch him play, the more you are enchanted by his potential at the next level.
For all of the quality work he displayed at Texas A&M, Matthews has drawn comparisons to San Francisco 49ers tackle Joe Staley from Rob Rang and Derek Stephens of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com).
8. WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Oakland needs a playmaker and Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans fits that mold.
A big, grinding wide receiver, Evans was Manziel's de facto target in head coach Kevin Sumlin's high-flying offensive attack.
Evans isn't a guy you necessarily take with the fifth pick in the draft, but his upside warrants some serious consideration if McKenzie decides to trade down in May.
Compared to Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson by Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com), the 6'5" Texas A&M target has all of the physical attributes necessary to become a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Checking out the list Jerry Knaak of Raiders.com put together, the consensus among draft experts is that the Raiders will gravitate toward the offensive side of the ball in Round 1. If that premise holds true, Evans is a name that Raiders fans should look out for on draft day.
9. ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Though the prevailing notion supports the Raiders going after more offensive talent, McKenzie is smart enough to realize that building an efficient defense will help this team out in the long term.
Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley is a player who has proven to be effective during his tenure in a Crimson Tide uniform.
Explaining why he believes Mosley is an elite NFL prospect, MMQB.com's Andy Staples said:
To handle the Wilsons, the Kaepernicks and the RG3s, teams need linebackers who can run all day. Just as Mosley’s importance to Alabama’s defense increased as spread offenses invaded the SEC, his importance to an NFL defense will increase as more dual-threat quarterbacks enter the league.
For all of the hyperbole surrounding some of the other names in this year's class, Mosley could be the most technically savvy defender on the board.
Clearly taught how to play the right way under head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Mosley is a disciplined inside linebacker who can just about do it all when's he out there on the football field.
10. DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
There's no way around it, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a flat-out beast.
At 6'1", Donald is smaller than some of the other defensive tackle prospects, but his impact on the field is too significant to overlook.
Odds are McKenzie won't pursue Donald with the fifth pick unless he trades down. But if that turns out to be the case, Donald would be a wonderful addition to a woeful Raiders defensive line.
Dominating every step of the way, Donald racked up 59 total tackles, 11 sacks and a ridiculous 29.5 tackles for loss in 2013. Needless to say, any player capable of putting up numbers like that shouldn't be taken lightly.
11. DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
Like Aaron Donald, Florida State's Timmy Jernigan is a phenomenal defensive prospect.
Though he struggled at times on film with his consistency, Jernigan's magnum opus came against Auburn in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.
Considered to be the "most versatile interior lineman" in the 2014 draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (Insider subscription required) has Jernigan ranked as the 12th-best player on his big board.
Jernigan isn't as aggressive or explosive off the line as Donald is, but his tremendous upside and organic skill set makes him arguably the most alluring defensive tackle around.
12. WR Marqise Lee, USC
USC wide receiver Marqise Lee may not be 6’5”, but he is an established route-runner who can make an immediate impact in the NFL.
On tape, Lee possesses everything you’d want in an All-Pro wide receiver. Strong hands, quality separation skills and explosion off the line of scrimmage are just a few main traits that make his draft stock so appealing.
Despite being embroiled in a tumultuous situation during his tenure at USC, NFL media analyst Mike Mayock has ranked Lee as the second-best wide receiver in this year’s class.
No matter who's playing quarterback next year for the Raiders, throwing a guy like Lee into the mix would help this offense finally turn the corner.
13. DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
Jumping back over to the defensive side of things, Missouri edge-rusher Kony Ealy is another NFL-ready prospect the Raiders should keep an eye on.
Ealy may not come with all of the bluster and hype a guy like Clowney has, but the Missouri star is a player who has always given opposing quarterbacks a tough time.
Studying Ealy on film is a good way to watch an up-and-coming prospect illustrate a wide-ranging skill set. As B/R’s Darren Page emphasized in his scouting notes, Ealy is “extremely versatile” and “effective” whether he’s coming in from the edge or the interior.
Comparing him to San Francisco 49ers pass-rusher extraordinaire Aldon Smith in his pro comparison video, B/R’s Matt Miller described the 6’5”, 275-pounder as being the “total package as a prospect.”
14. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Finally, a cornerback has made it onto the Raiders big board.
Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard isn't the consensus No. 1 cornerback heading into the combine, but his physicality and rare ability to handle wide receivers at the line of scrimmage makes him a great fit for the Raiders.
Dennard may not have the sheer speed that Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert does, but as Andy Staples of MMQB.com put it, “Dennard was the best cornerback in college football in 2013. An NFL team can just plug him in and go.”
Having to endure less of a learning curve than some of the other defensive backs in the 2014 class means that Dennard would help strengthen Oakland’s secondary right off the bat.
15. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Unlike Dennard, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert is an impactful athlete.
Valuable as both a defensive back and a return man, Gilbert’s world-class speed and agility makes him an attractive NFL prospect.
In his pro comparison video, B/R’s Matt Miller said, “when teams check out his game film, they are going to see the ideal cornerback prospect.”
Gilbert may not have the skill set needed to shut down some of the more physical wide receivers at the next level, but his aggressive style of coverage and high ceiling has carved him out a place on Oakland’s Round 1 big board.
16. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Taylor Lewan is an NFL-ready offensive lineman who should be able to make a difference from the moment he gets into training camp.
At 6’8”, Lewan resembled former No. 1 overall pick—and Michigan graduate—Jake Long at times during his career as a Wolverine.
Conveying his strengths on film, Rob Rang, Dane Brugler and Derek Stephens of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) had this to say about the promising tackle:
A former defensive lineman, Lewan is known as a self-starter with a mean streak and nasty attitude on the field, but also emerged as more of a leader the past two seasons. Keeps his head on a swivel and has the competitive drive to win one-on-one battles.
(Lewan) demonstrates enough lateral agility and balance in his kick-slide to maintain the edge, while also possessing the strength to lock up his opponent. Strong initial step when asked to fire through to the second level and targets decisively in the open field.
Lewan may not have the upside that Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews does, but the Michigan standout still has enough in his tank to develop into a proficient tackle in this league.
The Raiders need help keeping their offensive line afloat, and thanks to his adequate strength and good hands, Lewan could be the buoy they cling to on draft day.
17. TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron could be the biggest offensive juggernaut in this year’s draft.
With Ebron, the Raiders would be getting a “joker” tight end who could use his blistering speed and great separation skills to help this offense out in the creativity department.
At first glance, landing a tight end might not seem like one of McKenzie’s top priorities. But, if you watch Ebron decimate opposing defenders time and time again on film, you’ll understand that he has the potential to be a game-changing playmaker for many years to come.
18. DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
Ranked as NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock’s No. 1 defensive tackle prospect, the mammoth bulldozer they call Louis Nix III is a run-stuffing machine.
There are times on film when Nix looks a lot like New England Patriots star Vince Wilfork.
Like Wilfork, Nix does a great job clogging up rushing lanes, while being able to push the pocket and speed up a quarterback’s mental clock.
Needless to say, a big-bodied interior lineman like Nix would be a nice addition for the Raiders. Despite his tremendous size, Nix is athletic enough to be effective in any scheme.
The main concerns surrounding Nix: can he control his weight and how will he fare coming off knee surgery in 2013?
To get a better understanding of why health will play a factor in his draft stock, B/R’s Dave Siebert went into brilliant detail examining how that type of injury would affect a 345-pound lineman who makes a living in the trenches.
No matter how you slice it, resembling Wilfork is a big deal. If Nix can prove to the world that he's healthy and ready to rock, Oakland would be crazy not to consider him as a viable option in Round 1.
19. DE Dee Ford, Auburn
Looking for a pass-rusher with an inexorable motor? Say hello to Auburn’s Dee Ford.
If you break out the tape of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, you’ll notice that Ford is able to get off the line of scrimmage with tremendous burst whether he’s standing up or in a three-point stance.
What makes Ford such an appealing player for the Raiders is that he’s a “movable” asset. That means while Ford will make a living getting after the quarterback, he doesn’t necessarily have a “set” position at the next level.
20. OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
The last offensive lineman left on the board is none other than Zack Martin out of Notre Dame.
In his scouting report, WalterFootball.com’s senior draft analyst Charlie Campbell highlighted some of Martin’s strengths. Dubbed a “good athlete” with “quick feet”, Campbell praised Martin’s performance at the 2014 Senior Bowl.
Martin may not be the top offensive lineman in his class, but from the insights gleaned from watching him perform on film, this Notre Dame standout has a chance to become one heck of a football player.
21. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Rounding out the list of Round 1 wide receivers on Oakland’s big board is none other than Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State.
Listed at 6’5”, 234 pounds, Benjamin is another colossal wide receiver prospect with a sky-high ceiling.
Watching him on tape, NFL Films producer Greg Cosell said on the Midday 180 radio show that he “actually liked” Benjamin more than Mike Evans.
Benjamin’s supreme physical attributes make him worthy of a first-round selection. But, as Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) mentioned, the 23-year-old is “still developing as a wide receiver.”
From his issues dealing with dropped passes to his tendency to be more of a body-catcher at times, there definitely is going to be a learning curve this young man must embrace if he wants to succeed in the National Football League.
22. CB/S Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
Lamarcus Joyner is one NFL prospect who hasn’t generated nearly enough buzz yet.
With the ability to play both cornerback and safety, the 5’8” Joyner always seemed to find his way to the football during his tenure at Florida State.
Don’t let his “lack” of size fool you, this young man has everything you’d want in a defensive prospect. Discussing his measurables with Brandon Mellor of Seminoles.com, Joyner said:
Everything I do out there on the football field comes from the heart. I just feel like you shouldn't measure a guy by the eyeball test with size, height and weight. If a guy's out there playing football and getting the job done that's all that should matter.
The word "hybrid" gets tossed around like it was an ice-cold bottle of champagne on New Years Eve, but in Joyner’s case, it’s actually quite fitting.
If he wound up sporting a Raiders uniform next season, Joyner would be able to contribute in more ways than one on the defensive side of the ball.
23. DT Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Minnesota interior lineman Ra’Shede Hageman is quite a physical specimen.
At 6’6”, 318 pounds, Hageman is especially tall for his position. As Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) indicated, sometimes he can “appear a bit stiff changing directions.” On film, that seems to stem from his towering physique.
But it’s that athleticism and size that makes him such a diverse player. Explaining in further detail how special of an athlete he truly is, Minnesota defensive line coach Jeff Phelps told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Hageman is a “freak of nature” who can “run like a deer.”
With a handful of more productive defensive tackles in this year's draft, showing off at the NFL combine is going to be crucial for Hageman.
24. S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Adding a player like Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round would be nothing more than a luxury pick for the Raiders.
Part of an outstanding crop of young safeties, Clinton-Dix is a talented prospect who would definitely help Oakland’s secondary out if they decided to pursue the Crimson Tide star.
As B/R’s Matt Miller made note of in his pro comparison video, Clinton-Dix has “good closing speed” and possesses the ability to “line up in the slot” or drop into a more conventional free safety-like role.
Still, no matter how good he can be, trading down, adding more draft picks in the process and selecting a playmaker like Clinton-Dix would be nothing more than McKenzie displaying hedonism in Round 1.
25. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M/ QB Blake Bortles, UCF
So what's the reason that both of these quarterback prospects fell so far down the Raiders board?
Well, if you go by Tafur’s logic, Oakland doesn’t have eyes for Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles.
Although there’s no real way to gauge how much interest McKenzie really has in these two young signal-callers, because of their upside, their names belong belong somewhere on this list.