With this season already in the record books for the Oakland Raiders, it’s never too early to look to next year.
Next year starts with the evaluation of those college football players who will be selected in the upcoming draft, and whilst the Raiders are quite well stocked at some positions, in others they are in desperate need of some new blood.
Oakland has the No. 8 pick this year, and the chance to pick up a real difference maker. But they have to address the same old problems that have dogged this team over the last seven years. That is, a poor run defense and a shaky offensive line.
Here are my candidates that I believe should be considered. There will be a lot of movement up and down draft boards between now and April, and this is just an early assessment.
The Raiders are in dire need of a right tackle at the very least. Mario Henderson has been hot and cold on the left side, but Cornell Green has been a liability and simply has to be replaced if this offense is going to make progress.
Don’t kid yourself, we could select Russell Okung of Oklahoma State, but he will be gone by the time the Raiders are on the clock.
Brian Baluga from Iowa declared for the draft today though, and would be a great fit.
The Hawkeyes already use a zone blocking scheme, which would make the transition to the NFL and Cable’s offense much easier. Baluga is a dominating run blocker and also a good pass protector. At 6’6” and 315 lbs, with considerable athletic ability, he is a prototype NFL tackle who could play either side.
Anthony Davis of Rutgers may have as much upside as any tackle in the draft. Again, he has prototype size, and certainly has the speed and agility to fit in at Oakland. He has really impressed as the season continued, and looks like a top 15 pick. He has no real weaknesses, and projects to be an excellent NFL tackle.
Trent Williams is the best offensive lineman on probably the best offensive line in the country at Oklahoma. He may lack the athleticism to be an elite left tackle, but especially early on he would most likely be asked to man the right side for Oakland. He is a strong run blocker, and would be an instant upgrade over Green.
The Raiders defense has had problems with tackling and discipline all season, and they have struggled at linebacker and defensive tackle.
There have been questions asked of Kirk Morrison in the middle, and too many long runs plays have come straight over him. Depending on the CBA, he may be a free agent in March, along with Thomas Howard, Ricky Brown, and Jon Alston.
Linebacker is therefore a big priority this offseason.
Whilst Tommy Kelly has at times played well as the three technique tackle on the defensive line, the Raiders lack a true nose tackle to occupy blockers and clog the middle.
Rolando McLain of Alabama has all the physical attributes you look for in a middle linebacker, and has the speed/size combination that Al Davis loves.
He is a sure tackler, who takes good angles to the ball, and is a high character kid. This would be a great selection, but McLain has yet to declare for the draft, so he remains a question.
Brandon Spikes has been the heart of an excellent Florida Gators defense. He is a ferocious hitter and plays the game with a real passion.
Like McLain, he is a full-sized physical linebacker who can handle life in the middle. Spikes plays well in coverage, and had four interceptions in his senior year. He is a little less disciplined that McLain, but again, is a high character individual.
He would be a reach in the top ten, but if he was available in the second or the Raiders traded down, he would be a good option.
Dan Williams from Tennessee has had an excellent senior year, and would give the Raiders the dominant presence on the interior of the defensive line that they have needed.
Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy will be long gone, but Williams could be the ideal compliment to Tommy Kelly. Williams is the sort of defensive tackle that makes linebackers look good.
Any of these players would help address areas of weakness on the Raiders roster, and would also put an end to the run of poor first round draft picks that Oakland has made over the last 10 years.