Oakland Raiders' Draft Picks: Results, Analysis and Grades
Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and his draft-day decision-makers can put a bow on a productive offseason.
After signing linebacker Bruce Irvin, offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Sean Smith, the final pieces to a playoff-contending roster could join the Silver and Black over the next few days.
For Raiders fans, it must feel like an extended gift-giving holiday season. Oakland will start the draft with 10 selections to fill shallow voids on the roster.
For the first time in a long time, the Raiders look poised to contend for an AFC West title. However, an additional impact player or two on both sides of the ball should push Oakland to the forefront as a popular dark-horse playoff team heading into the upcoming season.
In a scenario similar to tic-tac-toe, McKenzie hopes to connect three consecutive impact draft classes to fortify the Raiders’ future.
This draft tracker will provide instant analysis and an overall grade for each rookie selection.
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As previously mentioned, Oakland starts the draft with 10 selections. The front office traded wide receiver Brice Butler for a conditional pick, which became an extra fifth-round choice. The Raiders also acquired a sixth-round selection from the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for linebacker Sio Moore.
All signs point to an interior defensive lineman or a linebacker as a first-round choice. It’s worth noting NFL teams have flagged Alabama prospect Reggie Ragland due to an enlarged aorta, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, a favorite of many Raiders fans, underwent a strenuous workout and answered questions from McKenzie and team trainers in the previous week, per Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Farmer.
In addition to insurance for Mario Edwards Jr. on the defensive line, the Raiders need an athletic linebacker to complete the front seven. It’s tough to envision McKenzie passing up on Jack, if available, with the No. 14 pick.
Day 1, Round 1
McKenzie decided to fill a roster need at strong safety as opposed to addressing the defensive line as expected in previous reports.
West Virginia safety Karl Joseph becomes the latest addition to the Raiders’ pass defense, which ranked No. 26 in passing yards allowed in 2015.
The Raiders’ decision-makers will likely target the defensive line and linebacker positions on Day 2.
Day 2, Round 2
The Raiders filled another defensive need with the No. 44 overall pick. Illinois defensive tackle Jihad Ward join the Silver and Black and likely competes for snaps as a two-gap defensive end or a single-gap interior tackle. Oakland will probably find a complement for running back Latavius Murray in the third round.
Day 2, Round 3
Oakland takes a third-round steal with the No. 75 overall pick. Michigan State pass-rusher Shilique Calhoun falls into the Raiders' lap midway through the round. The front office has completely stacked the front seven with pass-rushers from left to right. Surprisingly, McKenzie didn't address the backfield but instead added a finesse edge-rusher to the roster.
Day 3, Round 4
In exchange for the No. 114 and No. 154 overall picks, the Raiders acquired the Cleveland Browns No. 100 spot in the draft. McKenzie chose Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook. It's a high value pick in the fourth round and puts backup signal-caller Matt McGloin on notice.
Day 3, Round 5
After trading away one of the two fifth-round picks for Cook, the Raiders finally selected a complementary running mate for Murray in the backfield. Texas Tech prospect DeAndre Washington goes from the Red Raiders to the Oakland Raiders as the No. 143 overall pick in the draft. McKenzie and his associates will likely address the inside linebacker position in the last two rounds.
Day 3, Round 6
The Raiders selected Colorado State linebacker Cory James with the No. 194 overall pick in the draft. As expected, Oakland chose a linebacker in the sixth round.
James showed exceptional capabilities as a pass-rusher on the collegiate level. At the moment, edge-rushers flood the Raiders' roster. At 6'0", 229 pounds, he translates into a 3-4 weak-side linebacker.
Day 3, Round 7
Oakland added much-needed depth to the offensive line with its final pick in the draft. LSU prospect Vadal Alexander rounds out the 2016 rookie class. He's another massive mauler-type interior lineman who brings experience as a four-year starter. Vadal will probably become the primary reserve lineman on the interior in the near future.
Round 1, Pick 14: Karl Joseph
The Raiders continued to piece together a new and improved secondary, selecting Joseph as the overall No. 14 pick in the draft.
Joseph’s versatility at safety allows him to backpedal in man coverage, play centerfield to neutralize the deep threat or step into the box as an eighth defender against the run. The Raiders certainly hope his smaller frame (5’10”, 205 lbs) holds up against bigger bodies in the league.
As far as Joseph’s ACL injury, it happened during a non-contract practice drill four games into his senior year on campus, per NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein. Despite his violent nature on the field, his technique should help him avoid damage in live action.
At West Virginia's pro day, Joseph said he plans to recover in time for training camp in the summer.
McKenzie certainly fills a roster need. ESPN analyst Louis Riddick called the West Virginia safety “the best defensive back in this draft,” a quote featured on the NFL on ESPN Twitter account.
Despite Joseph’s borderline first-round projection, the Raiders obviously felt strongly about his fit and decided not to risk missing out on a quality talent. Keep in mind the Atlanta Falcons picked Florida safety Keanu Neal at No. 17.
Zierlein compared Joseph to Indianapolis Colts three-time Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea. His distinguishable leadership skills serve as an added bonus. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah compared him to “a poor man’s Earl Thomas,” via NFL.com writer Chase Goodbread.
For those keeping count, Riddick, Zierlein and Jeremiah tout the Raiders' first-round selection as a special talent. When viewing the film, there’s very little bust potential in his game. His size raises the only question mark in his translation to a pro.
As a linebackers coach for the Seattle Seahawks, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. saw Thomas in action. He certainly hopes Joseph can emulate the five-time Pro Bowl safety’s pound-for-pound toughness and leadership skills in Oakland.
If Joseph remains on schedule in his rehab, Oakland’s secondary could become one of the most dynamic in the league. He’ll join Nelson, Smith, David Amerson and T.J. Carrie in the upcoming season.
It would have been great to see the Raiders trade back and still land Joseph, but the Falcons' choice to select a safety shows it could have backfired.
McKenzie strikes again with another shrewd move.
Round 2, Pick 44: Jihad Ward, DE, Illinois
At first glance, McKenzie’s selection seems reminiscent of the Edwards pick a year ago. Many skeptics raised an eyebrow, but the Florida State defensive lineman impressed during his rookie campaign.
As for the Raiders' No. 44 overall pick, there are also mixed reviews. Pro Football Focus gave this selection a D-minus. On the other hand, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller praised Ward for his high potential. He went on to compare the Illinois defensive lineman to New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson.
Let’s take a further look.
Ward transferred from a junior college to Illinois and spent two seasons lining up on the edge and shifting inside in sub-packages. He logged 104 tackles, 13 for a loss and 5.5 sacks in 24 starts with the Fighting Illini.
He’s not going to run roughshod over NFL offensive linemen, but he could contribute five to six sacks per year and engulf ball-carriers on the edge.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the rookie defensive lineman may undergo arthroscopic knee surgery, which "could sideline him for six weeks." It’s an interesting tidbit because the Raiders may need him early in the season due to Edwards’ uncertain short-term future.
McKenzie’s top two picks could potentially miss significant portions of the offseason program. As for his second-round choice, he went with upside over a more polished prospect in Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard.
Obviously, the Raiders' draft team doesn’t rate players based on consensus value among analysts. Secondly, the front office has carefully approached this draft with a needs-based strategy as opposed to a best-player-available plan.
We’ll look back at this pick and view McKenzie as a genius or question what he saw in Ward aside from athleticism and potential.
For now, it’s a head-scratching selection due to his production-to-potential ratio favoring what he could do versus what he’s done on the collegiate level. Nonetheless, the Raiders addressed a top-priority roster need.
Round 3, Pick 75: Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
The Raiders draft another prospect with leadership qualities. Calhoun becomes the latest high-character prospect on McKenzie’s radar. The Michigan State talent served as a team captain for two years, per NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein.
On the field, he’s made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks as a relentless pass-rusher off the edge. As a three-year starter, he logged 41.5 tackles for a loss and 26 sacks.
At 6’4”, 251 pounds, Calhoun must add bulk and strength to line up at defensive end within a four-man front. At his current size, he can line up as a 4-3 strong-side linebacker due to his run-stopping ability or rush the quarterback in a 3-4 scheme. Nonetheless, it gives defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. flexibility in personnel and scheme week to week.
Furthermore, Calhoun becomes the insurance policy for edge-rusher Aldon Smith, who’s currently serving a suspension. If the veteran struggles with the reinstatement process, expect the rookie to fill in adequately. The Michigan State defensive lineman would likely contribute to a rotation upon Smith’s return.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see Calhoun in the starting lineup as a rookie. He’s a second-round talent who slipped through the cracks. The Raiders pick up above-average talent value with the No. 75 overall pick.
Round 4, Pick 100: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
The Raiders’ decision-makers picked up the phone and executed a trade for the Browns' No. 100 pick to acquire Cook. It sounds odd and deserves criticism with quarterback Derek Carr leading the offense and backup signal-caller Matt McGloin holding a second-round tender.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, via his official Facebook account, the Raiders plan to instill competition between Cook and McGloin going forward.
It’s never a bad idea to hoard capable backup quarterbacks, and the Raiders picked the best possible choice in a true best-player-available selection.
Furthermore, McGloin will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, per Spotrac. Oakland can afford to lose the fourth-year quarterback through free agency and groom Cook as the primary backup.
The quarterback position requires a certain personality trait that oozes leadership. Keep in mind, Cook’s intangibles as a manager in the huddle raised question marks, per Zierlein.
Nonetheless, there’s great value in this pick at the most important position on the roster. An injury to the starting quarterback could put a damper on a team’s playoff hopes.
McKenzie clearly made this move for the future as opposed to the present.
Round 5, Pick 143: DeAndre Washington, RB, Texas Tech
Washington moves down the field like a bowling ball similar to Maurice Jones-Drew during his tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
At 5’8”, 204 pounds, Washington shows strength through his ability to burst through arm tackles and keep his feet moving downhill. He’ll provide a change in pace to Murray and catch passes out of the backfield with ease.
In addition to consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Washington caught at least 30 passes as a two-year starter in a spread offense. Because of running back Roy Helu’s two offseason hip surgeries, per ESPN’s Adam Caplan, it was important to bring in a reliable catch-and-run component for Carr.
Washington’s size may limit him as a pass protector against bigger edge-rushers, but more time in the weight room to add strength, not size, could allow him to blow up pass-rushers because of his low center of gravity.
Round 6, Pick 194: Cory James, OLB, Colorado State
Oakland desperately needs competition at inside linebacker. At 6’0”, 229 pounds, James translates into an edge-rusher or weak-side linebacker in a 4-3. He logged 24 sacks as a four-year starter at Colorado State.
The Raiders have already loaded the roster with pass-rushing talent. Oakland picked up a smaller linebacker who played inside as a senior but struggled to quickly diagnose play formations, per CBSSports.com draft analyst Dane Brugler. In addition to slow reaction as a middle linebacker, James doesn’t show intermediate coverage ability on film.
James doesn’t excel in tight areas as a thumper who can shed blocks and drop ball-carriers. He’s more effective in space running downhill, attacking running backs on the weak side or as a rotational linebacker on pass-rushing downs.
McKenzie and his draft-day cohorts acquire a player with a skill set that’s well represented on the roster. They swing and miss on a linebacker who doesn’t bring solid coverage and run-stopping abilities at the heart of the defense. James might have gone undrafted due to question marks on his skill-and-size combination in the pros.
Round 7, Pick 234: Vadal Alexander, OG, LSU
The Raiders pick up another massive offensive lineman with the No. 234 pick in the draft. Vadal Alexander stands at 6’5”, 326 pounds and played with a mean streak at LSU. He’s a perfect fit for the Raiders’ power rushing attack, which uses big bodies to push defenders off the line of scrimmage.
As a freshman, the LSU prospect played tackle and moved inside as a sophomore and junior. After fellow alum La’el Collins advanced to the pros, Alexander moved back to the perimeter. Nonetheless, due to his power and sheer size, he’ll likely play on the interior in Oakland.
Alexander doesn’t move quick enough to maintain an offensive tackle position, but he excels as a mauler who uses his base to open lanes.
Let’s say left tackle Donald Penn continues to decline, and Kelechi Osemele moves over to left tackle. Alexander could take over at right guard to keep the offensive line formidable on run plays.
As a rookie, he has starting potential. He’ll likely progress a lot further than last year’s fourth-round pick, offensive guard Jon Feliciano, in his early stages.
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