Updating Oakland Raiders' First-Round Big Board Post-Combine

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Updating Oakland Raiders' First-Round Big Board Post-Combine
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Well, it's all over.

As quickly as South Carolina's resident freak of nature Jadeveon Clowney ran his 40-yard dash, the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine came and went.

The Oakland Raiders brass was in full attendance, as they engaged with some of top prospects. From general manager Reggie McKenzie to head coach Dennis Allen and owner Mark Davis, the entire Raiders administration got involved in the process.

In a conversation with San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Vic Tafur, Davis stressed the importance of making sure this offseason is a huge success:

Every offseason is the most important at that time, but this is one that we've been building toward the last few years...So, yeah, there is no question. We have to hit it right now. The coaches, they're all signed. Dennis Allen has every coach that he wanted. Everybody was all worried about that on the outside, but on the inside we knew what we were doing.

Now, with the free agency creeping up on the horizon, it’s going to be essential for this organization to make a splash in the 2014 draft.

 

1. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

Despite not throwing at the combine, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is still a prospect who has the ability to make the Raiders swoon this spring.

The narrative surrounding Bridgewater isn't any different then it was before the combine. He's a hyper-talented young QB with question marks surrounding his durability and size.

If nothing else, taking Bridgewater with the No. 5 pick puts McKenzie and Coach Allen in a precarious position. Can they take a chance on a quarterback who isn't widely regarded as a "surefire" solution?

 

2. OT Greg Robinson, Auburn

Out of all the guys who competed at the combine, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson could have been the most impressive.

The 6'5", 332-pound behemoth of a football player ran a ludicrous 4.92-second 40-yard dash. Even though 40-yard dash times aren't very important for offensive lineman, the point is, Robinson is a remarkable athlete with a profusion of room to grow at the next level.

Reviewing his overall combine performance, Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports said:

His freakish workout backs up the talk that Robinson could end up in the discussion to be the second pick of the draft to the St. Louis Rams. If he falls past No. 2, after this weekend's performance, it's not likely he'll last much longer than that.

 

What else can you say about Robinson? This young man is checking off all the boxes on his way to the 2014 NFL draft.

Though offensive lineman won't draw the same response from fans on draft day as say a quarterback or wide receiver, they still are the foundation of any elite NFL franchise.

 

3. DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

From a physical standpoint, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney is the best prospect we’ve seen come along in years.

The problem is, some scouts and analysts question Clowney’s passion for the game.

Matt Hayes of Sporting News talked about some of the major concerns of those who have scouted this young man:

This isn’t about Clowney’s freakish physical ability or his potential as a game-changer. This, more than anything, is about his heart.

Does he want it bad enough? And does he want it play after play after play?

Because when he’s on; when he’s motivated and prepared, he’s the best pass rusher in decades in the college game. But when he’s not; when’s he’s saving himself for plays or games—or, yes, a season—do you really want to spend millions on a guy who flips the switch when he feels like it?

 

Whether or not Clowney can silence his pundits remains to be seen. All we know right now is that the young edge-rusher from Rock Hill, South Carolina, is a freakish athlete who has every tool needed to dominate as a pro.

 

4. OLB/DE Khalil Mack, University of Buffalo

Khalil Mack came, saw and conquered during his tenure at the combine.

No matter what drill he was performing, Mack was a smooth operator. But, what makes the Buffalo standout such an appealing option for the Raiders is his multifaceted skill set.

Finishing his 2013 season with 10.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 100 total tackles, Mack showed that he wasn't just a pass-rusher. Dropping into coverage, Mack finished the season with seven passes defensed, three interceptions and two defensive touchdowns.

It's that level of unrivaled versatility that sets Mack apart from his peers.

In comparing Mack to another athletic edge-rusher prospect, UCLA's Anthony Barr, D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution pointed out that the Atlanta Falcons are one NFL franchise that prefers Mack to Barr right now.

Fans of the Silver and Black embrace the fact that the Raiders need guys who can make an impact right away. Because of his athleticism and high motor, Mack is a guy who will remain high on Oakland's board as the 2014 draft nears.

 

5. OLB/ DE Anthony Barr, UCLA

UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr is another edge-rusher who has found himself solid footing on the Raiders big board.

During his time at the combine, Barr showed off his speed, running a 4.66-second 40-yard dash.

Tossing his solid top-end speed to the side for a second, what was most impressive about Barr was the fluidity he displayed at the combine. This mirrored what Barr showed on tape; the UCLA standout excels when he's able to move around in space.

Barr may project better as a standup linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but because of his athletic prowess, he could also fit in a more traditional 4-3 approach.

You have like how high of a ceiling Barr has. As Josh Katzowitz of CBSSports.com notes, Barr is "a potential top-10 pick who says he's still learning to play his position."

For a player who finished his last season in college with 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss, that's a frightening proposition to think he has barely scratched the surface of his potential.

 

6. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins did exactly what scouts thought he would do at the combine.

Posting a 4.43 time in the 40-yard dash, the Clemson Tiger procured rave reviews from some of the nation's top analysts.

ESPN's John Clayton dubbed Watkins "the best receiving prospect" at the combine, while Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com said that he came in and left as the best wide receiver in this year's draft.

At this juncture, everyone knows that the Raiders offense is in dire need of a playmaker. What better way to tweak those misfortunes than by drafting an electrifying talent like Watkins in the first round?

 

7. WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

Out of all the wide receivers who attended the combine, Texas A&M's Mike Evans could have very well been the most impressive of them all.

At 6'5", 231 pounds, the world knows that Evans is a genetic monster. But, when the Texas native ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, the perception of him being just another "big-bodied" target was shattered.

Evans is a presence on the field no matter what he's doing. Blending that kind of speed with his 35 1/8" arm length is bound send to a Wes Craven-like vibe down the spine of rival defensive backs.

Talking about wide receivers catching the attention of the McKenzie and the rest of the Raiders staff at the combine, San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Vic Tafur wrote:

It's a quarterback league, everybody knows that. That also means that the NFL is a receiver league, because somebody has to catch all those passes—and ideally break a tackle or two afterward.

If Oakland chooses to make their mark by selecting a blue-chip wide receiver, based on what we've seen from his tape and his 40-yard dash, there's no question that Evans would be a great selection.

 

8. OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

What better way to stack a draft board then by adding another prominent Texas A&M star to it?

Jake Matthews is a sturdy NFL-ready left tackle who can step in from day one and solidify the Raiders offensive line.

The main reason Matthews is ranked No. 8 on this board is because on paper he doesn't appear to have the remarkably high ceiling of a guy like Greg Robinson.

The good thing for the Raiders is that Matthews and Robinson are both tremendous NFL-level talents. As NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) analyst Dane Brugler mentioned, when it comes down to choosing between these two guys, "It might not be a 'who is better?' argument, but rather a 'pick your flavor' situation."

 

9. DT Aaron Donald, University of Pittsburgh

If you follow the Raiders coverage here on Bleacher Report, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald is a name with which you're familiar.

Like so many other promising young prospects, Donald spent the bulk of his collegiate career flying under NFL radars. At 6’1”, concerns over Donald’s size pushed him out of the minds of various scouts.

If nothing else, the sheer domination he displayed at Pittsburgh proved that this young man is a gifted football player.

Now with the draft just months away, Donald has risen from the ashes and become one of the hottest defensive players in this year’s class.

Whether he was showing off his speed registering a 4.68-second 40-yard dash or destroying the weight room putting up 35 reps on the bench press, Donald put his physical genius on display during his trip to the combine.

Donald is a player who would fit beautifully in a 4-3 scheme. Not only can he make a living stuffing the run, the Pittsburgh defensive tackle has a flair for pressuring quarterbacks.

 

10. ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama

Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley may not be the most physically gifted defensive player in the 2014 class, but according to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, he’s one guy who has been soaring up draft boards.

Talking about the Crimson Tide product, Miller said, “A lot of NFL teams have fallen in love with Mosley.” Are the Raiders one of those franchises?

Mosley is the type of guy who can fly to the ball and make plays whenever he puts himself in a good position. On film, the Alabama linebacker is a thumper who plays the game the right way.

Technically sound and rangy, Mosley finished his 2013 campaign in Tuscaloosa with 108 total tackles, nine tackles for loss and one forced fumble.

If just an iota of that production can translate to the next level, the Raiders would be ecstatic. A player like Mosley could serve as a mainstay for the Oakland defense.

 

11. QB Blake Bortles, UCF

The biggest leap by any player from the pre-combine board to now has to be UCF quarterback Blake Bortles.

Unlike some of the other "elite" signal-callers who attended the combine, Bortles went out under the bright lights and embraced the opportunity.

The 6'5", 232-pound Central Florida product isn't the most polished player entering the draft, but his upside is tantalizing. On tape he struggles with his mechanics at times and can look sluggish releasing the football. But, it's that impactful size and rosy potential that makes this prospect worth another look. 

If he gets the opportunity to fall into a stable learning environment where he's able to absorb an offense and grow as a quarterback, Bortles's long-term viability may be worth the investment.

 

12. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

The artist formerly known as “Johnny Football” is doing everything in his power to shed the name that made him a collegiate folk hero.

Talking about the transformation Manziel is attempting to undergo before he makes the leap to the National Football League, MMQB.com’s Peter King wrote a fantastic piece detailing how the Texas A&M wizard of improvisation wooed teams at the combine.

And as to whether Manziel's magnetism translated to the front office in Oakland, SiriusXM NFL Radio Producer Eddie Borsilli tweeted that Raiders owner Mark Davis “came away very impressed” after meeting with Manziel.

Going into further detail about finding a franchise quarterback, Davis told San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Vic Tafur:

In my opinion, the quarterback is the driving force in the league. As you can see right now. Everybody that is winning has a quarterback. But there are different ways to go about getting one. The Colts drafted Andrew Luck and built their team around him. Denver had the infrastructure and then plugged Peyton Manning in there. Kansas City, same thing. They had everything set up but just didn't have the quarterback—they were actually inept the year before and we beat them twice.

Whether or not Davis’ remarks directly correlate to the Raiders making a move for Manziel remains to be seen. The one thing that stands out amongst all this pre-draft talk, is that the front office understands they need to address the QB position.

 

13. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

What do you get when one of the nation’s top cornerbacks runs his 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds? You get NFL teams drooling over the potential that Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert possesses.

For lack of a better term, Gilbert “blew it up” at the combine, showing off graceful technique and fluidity during the drill portion of his combine agenda.

Gilbert may not be as physically imposing a cornerback as Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, but his ball-hawking skills and big-play ability have built a strong case for him to be one of first defensive players taken off the board on draft day.

Gilbert boasts enough size and speed to a top-flight NFL corner. Expect a duo of Gilbert and D.J. Hayden to shut down opposing wide receivers for a very long time.

 

14. DE Kony Ealy, Missouri

Lost in a draft class crammed with Herculean athletes is Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy.

Though his measurables may not stack up to guys like Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack, Ealy’s production on the field makes him a NFL-ready edge-rusher.

Discussing his strengths as a player, Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) said:

Perhaps best of all, Ealy possesses the flexibility to turn the corner efficiently and closes quickly, demonstrating the ability to rip the ball free from the quarterback with a powerful chop or with an explosive collision. Impressive straight-line acceleration for a man of his size. Good recognition to get his hands into passing lanes when he can't get to the quarterback. Times his leap well and long arms and good hand-eye coordination. Undeniable upside.

 

If the Raiders decide to trade down in the first round, targeting a player like Ealy makes a lot of sense. The Missouri Tiger has the wherewithal to foist his pass-rushing ability on opposing quarterbacks.

Talking about his future with Dan Wiederer of the Chicago TribuneEaly said, "I know I can go into the NFL and play right away. It's just a matter of getting the plays and learning the playbook. And when I do that, I'm going to be explosive."

 

15. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

Watching him perform on tape, the biggest concern about Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard was whether he had enough speed to stick with some of the top wide receivers in the NFL.

Trying his best to silence his critics, Dennard ran a 4.51 time in the 40 at the NFL Combine. While that may not be on par with Justin Gilbert, Dennard’s stellar technique still makes him a coveted prospect.

Named as the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner for being the best defensive back in the nation, Dennard is a guy who can line up on the outside and jam any wide receiver you throw his way.

Top-end speed or not, Dennard still is the No. 1 ranked cornerback by NFL media draft analyst Mike Mayock.

 

16. TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

Clocking in with a 4.6-second 40-yard dash time, North Carolina’s Eric Ebron didn’t run quite as fast as many people expected at the combine.

But that “lack” of elite speed won’t detract teams from going after the athletic tight end.

As many scouts will tell you, “the eye in the sky doesn’t lie.” In layman’s terms that just means the body of work Ebron has put on tape over his time at UNC has shown that he is more than ready to make an impact from day one.

McKenzie understands that the pursuit of eternal success in this league is always going to come down to how many quality playmakers a roster has.

Realizing that tune is important to maintain come draft day, going after a proven offensive commodity like Ebron would be an enormous addition to this organization.

 

17. DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State

Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has done nothing but impress scouts as of late.

Conversing about Jernigan’s skill set during the NFL Network’s broadcast of the combine (h/t Tallahasse.com), Warren Sapp said, “It just confirms what I saw on tape. This young man is ready to go to the NFL and make an impact.”

The Raiders need serious help when it comes to their defensive line. With Lamarr Houston set to hit free agency, there are zero marquee names this team can lean on heading into the 2014 season.

At just 21 years old, the energy and machismo Jernigan brings to the football field would help the Raiders defense start to dominate once again in the trenches.

 

18. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan

Another offensive lineman who found a way to radiate at the combine was Michigan’s Taylor Lewan.

Josh Katzenstein of The Detroit News made note of Lewan’s riveting performance at Lucas Oil Stadium:

Although Lewan is widely considered the third-best tackle in the draft, (Mike) Mayock said he is a top-10 talent overall. And Lewan’s performance at the combine should certainly help him be a top-10 pick in May’s draft.

 

Despite wowing scouts on film and in person, it seems like a Lewan marriage to the Silver and Black would only come to fruition if Robinson and Matthews are off the board by the time McKenzie gets on the clock.

 

19. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State

In case you didn’t get the memo, Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks is special. 

Fresh off winning $100,000 for running the fastest 40-yard dash at the combine (h/t Will Brinson of CBSSports.com), Cooks has propelled his way up draft boards.

Aside from running his 40-yard dash in a blistering 4.33 seconds, Cooks looked so fluid and natural out there catching passes during the various drills.

Don’t let his 5’10” frame fool you. Blessed with strong hands, exceptional body control and blazing speed, Cooks is an electrifying player, who could come in and shake up the Raiders offense.

 

20. DE Dee Ford, Auburn

Dee Ford may not have competed at the combine, but the Auburn edge-rusher still managed to make serious headlines during his time in Indianapolis.

Criticizing South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney while appearing on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Ford said Clowney “plays like a blind dog in a meat market.”

SI.com’s Andrew Lawrence pointed out that Ford's confusing but nevertheless amazing banter was nothing new.

At 6’2”, 250 pounds, the Auburn Tiger falls under the now defunct “tweener” category when it comes to pass-rushing prospects.

No matter how you label Ford, the fact is, on film he was instinctive edge-rusher whose game is laced with a nasty streak.

Pushing his off-the-field comments to side, Ford’s unrelenting brand of physical play allows him to pound QBs on a weekly basis.

 

21. DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame

As ESPN.com’s Scott Brown mentioned in his piece on Louis Nix III, the big man out of Notre Dame has quickly become a media darling.

Standing at the lectern holding court, Nix showed scouts that his personality off the field is just as big as his play on the field.

Listed as the 16th-best player on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s big board (Insider subscription required), Kiper called Nix a “rare commodity.”

For a young man who weighs 331 pounds, Nix is nimble on his feet despite showcasing his gargantuan power in trenches.

Scheme-friendly and aggressive when it comes to congesting running lanes, Nix is a prospect with whom it's hard to find fault.

 

22. WR Marqise Lee, USC

Marqise Lee may not have exhibited the speed of Brandin Cooks or the catch radius of Mike Evans, but the USC product proved at the combine that he can be a productive asset for any team willing to take a chance on him.

A sure-handed target who can make life easier for a quarterback, Lee is not a burner in the open field. To take a page out of NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock’s book, Lee is “quicker than fast.”

Despite running a 4.52-second 40-yard dash, Lee dazzled during the drills, posting a 38-inch vertical jump.

Even though Lee is one of the most polished wide receivers in this year’s draft, with some bigger and faster prospects floating around, his draft stock may dip if teams are willing to mortgage their franchise strictly on measurables.

 

23. CB, Jason Verrett, TCU

TCU’s Jason Verrett showed everyone at the combine that he’s one of the best defensive backs no one seems to be talking about.

Flaunting all of the skills you’d want in a cornerback, NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks talked about Verrett showing everyone why he should be a first-round draft pick:

He (Verrett) followed up the strong showing in athletic drills with a terrific performance in the position-specific portion of the workout. Verrett dazzled scouts with his swivel hips and explosive breaks while also displaying strong hands and ball skills.

As mentioned earlier, the Raiders need help in the secondary. Adding a versatile cornerback who can line up in nickel packages as well as on the outside makes Verrett a scintillating candidate.

 

24. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State

The final wide receiver on the Raiders big board comes by way of Jimbo Fisher and the Florida State Seminoles.

Kelvin Benjamin showed up to the combine and ran a 4.61-second 40-yard dash. Even though that may seem “slow”, NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock mentioned that running a blistering 40 time wasn’t necessary for a guy that tall (h/t Mike Huguenin of NFL.com).

On film, the 6'5" Benjamin isn’t the best wide receiver in his class. He’s raw, has been dubbed more of a body-catcher and isn’t as fluid coming out of his breaks as some of the other guys we saw at the combine.

But, it’s that mammoth size that is going to spark the interest and more importantly imaginations of NFL teams.

Nee

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