Oakland Raiders: Full 2016 Draft Guide and Preview
Selection history, NFL Combine numbers, speculation and mock projections all rolled into a full Oakland Raiders draft guide for those anticipating Thursday’s draft kickoff.
General manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio sat down with local reporters for a 26-minute predraft press conference—posted on the team’s official website—but provided very little information on their joint strategy in the coming days.
In typical fashion, the decision-makers opted not to make headlines or show their hands in an extended draft poker game.
Nonetheless, there are whispers and roles to fill on the roster, which allow outsiders to use conventional wisdom in deciphering the Raiders’ roster plans.
After scouring the interwebs, we’ll discuss rumors, project potential targets and provide another seven-round mock prediction for the Silver and Black.
Round 1, pick No. 14 overall
Round 2, pick No. 44 overall
Round 3, pick No. 75 overall
Round 4, pick No. 114 overall
Round 5, pick No. 143 overall
Round 5, pick No. 154 overall
Round 6, pick No. 194 overall
Round 7, pick No. 234 overall
What to Know
The Raiders created a special pipeline from Florida to Oakland in the previous draft—five of the 10 draft picks played at a school within the state. Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (Florida State), tight end Clive Walford (Miami), offensive guard Jon Feliciano (Miami), linebacker Neiron Ball (Florida) and wideout Andre Debose (Florida) were chosen to help build something special in the bay. Will the trend continue?
McKenzie has selected one running back out of 34 total prospects as the general manager in Oakland. He’ll likely pair his only draft prospect at the position, Latavius Murray, with a complementary piece to balance the offensive attack.
The Raiders front office has uncovered a mid- to late-round gem in three previous draft classes. Murray, who currently starts, heard his name called in the sixth round of the 2013 draft. Defensive back T.J. Carrie was a seventh-round pick in 2014. Linebacker Ben Heeney started three games as a rookie fifth-round pick in the previous year.
Which positions are on McKenzie’s draft shopping list?
1. Defensive Tackle / Defensive End
The Raiders brought pressure off the edge but failed to generate enough push in the A and B-gaps. Specifically, the defense needs a 5-technique defensive end for 3-4 schemes or a 3-technique defensive tackle in a four-man front.
This year’s draft features prospects from Rounds 1 to 3 who can step into a starting lineup at either or both positions. The Raiders can draft the best player available in the first round or select a favorable talent in the second or third round to address the need.
2. Running Back
Murray eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards, but the team averaged 91 per game as one of the worst ground attacks in 2015. The Raiders can't turn a blind eye to running back talents in the draft this year. The starter needs an assistant or an equal to carry the load.
Oakland won’t have to trade up for Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott to address this particular role. McKenzie can wait until the third or fourth round to find a player who fits within a tandem.
Based on Ben Heeney’s 2015 film, he’s ready to take over as the starting middle linebacker or an inside linebacker position in a 3-4. Draft analysts put a question mark on his pass coverage ability as a rookie, but he performed adequately in space in the previous season.
Pro Football Focus graded Heeney slightly above linebacker Malcolm Smith in coverage, which says a lot about the weak-side linebacker position.
Smith faltered in coverage and struggled with tackling technique at various points in the previous season, which neutralize his good moments. Oakland could find an upgrade to fill his spot in a contract year.
Safety Reggie Nelson signed a two-year deal, per spotrac.com, and essentially takes Charles Woodson’s spot as the deep coverage safety.
Nonetheless, the secondary needs a thumper or a versatile talent to carry the torch after Nelson’s short-term contract expires after next year.
Safety Nate Allen signed a one-year deal and doesn’t provide enough assurance as a long-term option.
5. Center / Versatile Offensive Lineman
Relax, it’s not a suggestion to replace center Rodney Hudson. He missed three games in the previous season with an ankle injury and many people panicked at the thought of Tony Bergstrom stepping into the starting lineup. Needless to say, McKenzie’s first-ever draft pick played well in the starter’s absence.
Now, he’s on the Houston Texans roster, and the Raiders decided not to re-sign Khalif Barnes as a primary reserve lineman.
Oakland will field a massive offensive line that should push defenders around, but the front office must prepare for injuries with depth on the interior at the center and guard positions.
- Sheldon Rankins, Louisville: He’s the best possible choice to bring heat to the pocket as an interior lineman. There’s also good news on his availability. Some teams will bypass him for a prototypical prospect in size. If he takes a fall, then the Raiders win the jackpot at No. 14. He logged 18 sacks in four years on campus.
- A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama: Teams' scouts may have thrown bluffs about overlooking Rankins due to his squatty size. If so, Alabama Crimson Tide defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson comes into the league with power and fresh legs. He only played 57 percent of defensive snaps over the past two seasons, per NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, and played at various spots across the defensive line. As a freshman in a full role, he logged 5.5 sacks.
- Devontae Booker, Utah: The Raiders can immediately plug running back Devontae Booker in the rotation for Week 1. He’s a compact ball-carrier who can break tackles and hit lanes with decisive moves. The Utah Utes back can also serve as a catch-and-run option out of the backfield. Booker’s skill set amounts to more than just a complementary back.
- Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech: Kenneth Dixon’s skill set adds the missing piece to the backfield in Oakland. Dixon shows scat-back qualities with an appetite for the end zone. He recorded 72 rushing touchdowns and 15 receiving scores as the focal point of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs' offense. As a dual-threat with pass-blocking skills, he’s slightly more attractive than Booker as an all-purpose tailback.
- Darron Lee, Ohio State: Don’t believe in the suffocating smokescreens for UCLA Bruins linebacker Myles Jack. He’s a top-10 selection. The Raiders should consider linebacker Darron Lee to replace Smith at outside linebacker. The Ohio State Buckeyes product brings short-distance coverage ability and uses instincts to disrupt plays at the line of scrimmage. He logged 11 sacks and 27 tackles for a loss in two seasons.
- Su’a Cravens, USC: After excelling at two positions at the University of Southern California, Su’a Cravens comes into the league as a true hybrid linebacker/safety. He’s equipped to make plays in space and at the line of scrimmage. At 6’1”, 226 pounds with uncanny athleticism, the Raiders can position him as the enforcer at strong safety or at outside linebacker to cover running backs as well as tight ends.
- Karl Joseph, West Virginia: Aside from an undersized stature at 5’10”, 205 pounds and a recent ACL injury, Joseph translates into an ideal NFL safety. He’s assertive with calculated hits and reads the quarterback when dropping into coverage. He’ll become the type of safety who plays with a controlled fury in the secondary.
- Jeremy Cash, Duke: Jeremy Cash can pull off a decent showing as a centerfielder, but it’s not his strong suit. He excels playing closer to the line of scrimmage. With Nelson hovering over the top, Cash should fare well in the Raiders secondary. Within his element, he’s a field hustler who shows reliable tackling techniques to lock down the position as a starter.
- Nick Martin, Notre Dame : Yes, it’s Dallas Cowboys offensive guard Zack Martin’s little brother. He’s not a first-round pick like his older sibling, but he’s going to start within an offensive line in the NFL. If the Raiders pick him up in the third round, then consider the selection a steal. Due to Martin’s intelligence, toughness and physical nature, he can slide over to center if necessary.
- Kyle Friend, Temple: This selection goes far under the radar. Center Kyle Friend comes out of Temple and projects as a guard due to his size. At 6’2”, 305 pounds with a solid base, he’s a tree trunk planted in the turf. If asked to slide over to guard, he can mobilize and get out in front of screen plays as well.
Who should the Raiders target at positions of need? We’ll discuss the top two realistic prospects for Oakland. No, Elliott doesn’t count.
Defensive Tackle / Defensive End
Center / Versatile Offensive Lineman
The Raiders don’t let secrets loose, but there’s chatter and a few clues as to who they find interest in during the vetting process.
Raiders interested in Robert Nkemdiche and Chris Jones?
According to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, the Raiders could make draft headlines with questionable prospects in mind:
A coaching source in Oakland said the Raiders would love Elliott to fall to them, but a realistic option is a big defensive tackle or left tackle of the future, per the same source. Two names to remember, according to the coach I talked to, are Chris Jones and Nkemdiche.
Take the comments with a grain of salt. Draft scouts and coaches know the rumor mill spins 24/7. They’re aware what they say will reach the blogosphere and generate buzz in articles like the one you’re reading at the moment.
McKenzie has signed players with red flags, but he controls the payout and contract incentives for free-agent deals. Ideally, a prospect becomes a long-term investment. Unless the Raiders trade back, it’s hard to believe defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche comes to Oakland with the No. 14 pick.
As for Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive tackle Chris Jones, he shows far too many inconsistencies as a first-round pick. However, he’s worth a second-round selection.
Which visitor should you keep an eye on?
According to Pro Football Talk and SBNation rookie visit trackers, edge-rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper didn’t visit the Raiders, but McKenzie felt comfortable with them as top-five picks.
However, keep an eye on Florida Gators defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard. The Raiders brought him in for a closer look, per NFL Network’s Rand Getlin.
On tape, he resembles Mario Edwards Jr. at the current moment. At 6’3”, 285 pounds, with room to grow, he can play defensive end in a 3-4 package. As a senior, he logged 18 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks as a wrecking ball near the line of scrimmage.
Should the Raiders roll the dice on Jaylon Smith? If so, when?
According to USA Today reporter Tom Pelissero, Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith’s surgeon Dr. Dan Cooper feels “optimistic” about his patient’s outlook. Of course, he’s touting his own healing procedure, but Smith seems determined to return to form on the field.
Should the Raiders take a chance on potentially the best linebacker in the draft class when fully healthy?
Absolutely. Oakland has two fifth-round picks. Why not select Smith at the top of the fourth round?
How well did last year’s pick Feliciano play in the previous season? He’s still not ready to hold a starting position. When the Notre Dame linebacker prowled the field sideline to sideline, scouts considered him as the best prospect in the entire draft.
If Smith can’t return to form, then the Raiders lose just a fourth-round pick. Then again, a return to form would give the Raiders a long-term solution at multiple spots on the second level of the front seven.
7-Round Mock Draft
Here’s a reasonable draft outcome when factoring all the notes, quotes and shallow roster spots.
Round 1: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville: Rankins could either drop to the Raiders at No. 14 or go two spots early to the New Orleans Saints. He’s a top-15 prospect with enough strength and athleticism to solidify a four-man front or seal the edge in a 3-4 scheme.
Round 2: Su’a Cravens, LB/S, USC: Cravens’ versatility increases his value. He’s either a large enforcer at safety or a svelte outside linebacker with the ability to shoot into clear pathways toward the pocket. His athleticism coupled with ball-tracking instincts allow him to cover tight ends in man coverage deep downfield.
Round 3: Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech: The Raiders need help in the backfield but not necessarily a complete back like Elliott. Dixon fits the role like a glove behind Murray. The offense gets a sleek receiver out of the backfield and slippery ball-carrier behind a massive offensive line.
Round 4: Jaylon Smith, OLB, Notre Dame: If Smith remains undrafted in the fourth round, then it’s time to take a risk on potentially the best linebacker in the class. As a fourth-round pick, it’s either a throw-away choice or the best selection in the draft as far as value.
Round 5: Daniel Braverman, WR, Western Michigan: At 5’10, 177 pounds, you may ask, "Why Daniel Braverman?" However, when watching his lightning quickness on film, he’s tough to pass up in the fifth round. The Western Michigan Broncos receiver shows flashes of Indianapolis Colts wideout T.Y. Hilton as a pass-catcher and punt returner.
Round 5: K.J. Dillon, SS, West Virginia: Oakland will possibly miss out on Joseph but sit in position to draft his partner in the West Virginia Mountaineers' secondary. K.J. Dillon has the tools as a man-coverage defender and a solid tackler to become a late-round steal. The Raiders could sneak him into nickel packages early in the season.
Round 6: Anthony Zettel, DE, Penn State: The Raiders can add more depth along the defensive line with another late-round choice. At 6’4”, 277 pounds, Anthony Zettel recorded at least four sacks in four consecutive years and finished with 20 in total. He’s also an athletic freak at his size, logging four interceptions and 14 pass break ups as a collegian.
Round 7: Kyle Friend, C, Temple: As previously mentioned, the Raiders need to fill the void behind Hudson. It’s not a glamour role but much needed in case injuries strike the offensive line. Friend comes into the league with enough grit, toughness and mobility to play at either guard or center. He’ll pick up where Bergstrom left off.
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All college statistics are provided by Sports-Reference.com.