Stock Up, Stock Down for Oakland Raiders' Top Draft Targets
With the 2014 NFL draft just days away, the prospect board constructed by Reggie McKenzie and the Oakland Raiders’ front office is likely set.
Up until this week, said prospects can see slight movement based on both their own predraft workouts, as well as the ever-changing needs of the drafting teams.
Although smokescreens are plentiful around this time of year, now is when we can get the most insight on which prospects the teams are zeroing in on with their top selections.
Here is a stock-up, stock-down look at the Oakland Raiders’ top draft targets.
Stock Up: Sammy Watkins
Still with a need for a No. 1 receiver, targeting one in the first round has long been an option for the Raiders.
Given the comments of Reggie McKenzie in his recent predraft press conference, doing just that could be the more likely alternative than waiting until the middle rounds (via Raiders.com).
If I feel like this receiver is close to the next, yeah, I’ll be more inclined to say that we can wait because we feel like these two guys are similar. But, if I feel like this guy is an impact player, I’m not going to bypass him because there are some other good, solid receivers. When you’re comparing great to good, I’d rather have great.
Considering which, the Raiders should be among the many teams interested in the draft’s best receiver, Sammy Watkins.
Watkins has the potential to become the best playmaker of this class and could very well prove as much early on in his career.
That kind of immediate production is exactly what the Raiders are looking for with the fifth pick in the first round, and it would come at a position of need as well.
It is certainly no guarantee that Watkins will be available when the Raiders are on the clock, but if so, he will be among their top targets.
Stock Down: First-Round Quarterbacks
Although the Raiders have made an important addition at quarterback in Matt Schaub, the future of the position will need to be addressed relatively soon as well.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vic Tafur, that may not be done in the first round this year, as the Raiders aren’t really considering one of the draft’s top quarterbacks with the fifth overall pick.
After the Schaub trade, it is entirely possible that the Raiders simply consider other areas of the roster to be more pressing needs. However, a likely motivation behind the trade for Schaub was that McKenzie didn't see any of the current crop of quarterback prospects as being worthy of such a high draft selection.
Either way, this way of thinking toward the 2014 quarterback class seems to be common throughout the league.
Despite a need for a young player to develop at the position, quarterback may be an unlikely direction for the Raiders to go in the first round at this point.
Stock Up: Khalil Mack
The Raiders did well to upgrade their pass-rush rotation in free agency, but they should not stop there.
University of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack is a player who could make an instant impact as a versatile edge rusher both from the linebacker and defensive end spots.
While the Raiders may now have more pressing needs in the starting lineup, establishing a capable rotation is what makes a good defensive front great.
If the Raiders’ interest in Jared Allen was any indication, even after the additions of several key veterans up front, the front office remains very interested in adding to the pass rush.
Mack could challenge to be the top pass-rusher in this year’s draft and should continue to be among the Raiders’ biggest targets in the first round as a result.
Stock Down: First-Round Offensive Linemen
Like the quarterback spot, the Raiders’ offensive line represents a fairly significant future need, but not necessarily an immediate one warranting a high first-round selection.
Sure, there are some elite-level tackle prospects available this year, led by Auburn’s Greg Robinson and Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, and both could be instant impact players wherever they land.
However, despite a curious start to the offseason, the Raiders made a point of upgrading the offensive front in free agency, where they added three starters to the group overall.
Although veteran Donald Penn won’t have too many years left in the tank, his two-year $9.6 million deal suggests he will start at left tackle for at least this season.
2013 second-round selection Menelik Watson should have every opportunity to win the starting job on the right side, thus it becomes unlikely that the Raiders will spend a high pick to compete with him no matter how Watson's rookie season went.
As good as Robinson and Matthews may turn out to be, the Raiders may not be in the market for any of the draft’s top offensive linemen.
Instead, looking at it as they might the quarterback position, the Raiders could opt for a prospect who would have a better opportunity to contribute early.
Stock Up: Aaron Donald
Should the Raiders not be interested in any of the draft’s top quarterbacks or offensive linemen, they must prepare themselves for the realistic possibility that Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and Sammy Watkins are all off the board when they select.
In such a situation, they could realistically turn in another surprise first-round selection, opting for one of the highly talented yet most underrated defensive tackles in this year’s draft.
The interior pass rush is quite often overlooked when building a defensive front, but the success of players like J.J. Watt and Geno Atkins shows just how disruptive and important it can be.
The 6'1", 285-pound Aaron Donald is undersized for the defensive tackle position, but his quickness and strength does plenty to make up for his lack of bulk.
If Donald can beat opponents in the NFL with anywhere near as consistently as he did in college, he has a great chance to be among the best players from this class, and a perennial Pro-Bowler throughout his career as well.