NFL: 5 Positions the Oakland Raiders Need to Upgrade Through the NFL Draft
The Raiders' 2010 season was their best since 2002. It was their first six or more win season since making their last playoff appearance. They entered the offseason with a great deal of unbridled optimism looking towards 2011.
Al Davis responded to expectations by offering contracts to Michael Bush, Zach Miller and Kamerion Wimbley and Stanford Routt, among others, and the current lockout hasn't really helped with offseason transactions.
Though these contracts have been tendered, they are on hold until the NFL figures out when—and if—the 2011 NFL is actually going to happen. In order to analyze the upcoming draft and the Raiders' potential picks, we need to make a few assumptions.
Let's work under the notion that the 2011 season will happen, and those tendered already will sign with the Raiders.
That being said, here are the five positions the Raiders need to use the NFL Draft to upgrade.
I'm working under the assumption that Nnamdi Asomugha will not return to the Raiders. Although he is a great player, I don't believe upwards of a million of a game is really worth it for a cornerback. The random clause that voided his contract was a blessing in disguise, allowing the Raiders to retain other free agents. I don't see him coming back for less, and I don't see Davis paying him the same again.
The Raiders need to use their top pick on a versatile corner. This is a draft flush with first-round cornerback talent that could fall to the second round if the cards fall into place. Patrick Patterson and Prince Amukamara are sure top picks, but Jimmy Smith, Brandon Harris and Aaron Williams have the potential to slip to the Raiders in the second round.
Jimmy Smith of the Colorado Buffaloes is an interesting story. Although his team was one of the poorest in the Big 12 last season, he managed to tally 140 tackles and 15 pass breakups over the past two seasons.
Brandon Harris from the Miami Hurricanes is a junior with 129 tackles and three interceptions in 39 games. His combined numbers were not up to the rest of the potential first-round pack, which might see him slip to the late second round.
Given his amount of playing time, Texas' Aaron Williams has some eye popping stats. As a junior for a disappointing Longhorns team, he managed 46 tackles, five tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and a blocked punt in 11 games. He also played on special teams, giving him a versatility element entering the NFL.
Any of these players could be first round picks in another year but with such talent available anyone could be taken in the second by the Raiders. Given the choice it seems Williams would be the best since he achieved the best stats and played against the highest level of talent in the Big 12.
I actually kind of like the fact that the Raiders don't have a first-round draft pick. If you consider how the Raiders have managed to under utilize first-round picks in the past, the 2011 draft will be a welcome rest from league-wide criticism.
The Raiders have already announced they will not tender Bruce Gradkowski leaving starter Jason Campbell and backup Kyle Boller on the roster. This is an excellent draft to find a solid quarterback that will have starting potential a few years down the road. There are no truly elite quarterbacks available, but there is a good deal of mid-round talent
The Raiders should consider using a mid-round pick on Colin Kaepernick, Ricky Stanzi or Greg McElroy.
Stanzi and McElroy are both pro-style quarterbacks who competed on high level BCS teams—Iowa and Alabama. Both will make an NFL roster and require a few years of seasoning before they should be considered viable QB options. They have a professional pedigree and should be available around the fourth round.
Kaepernick is definitely a wild card; his draft stock has jumped around all offseason, with QB needy teams like the 49ers already considering taking him in the first round. His experience in a pistol style offense might not immediately transfer to the NFL, but his mobility and solid arm would definitely make him an interesting project for an adventurous offensive coordinator.
If Kaepernick were to fall to the third round, it would behoove the Raiders to take a flier on the potential game changing quarterback.
Robert Gallery is likely finished in Oakland, and a suitable replacement—or at least a backup—must be in the draft equation. It is difficult to find draft gems in the skilled positions, but as for offensive line prospects, the late rounds are a different story.
There a few very solid prospects projected to fall to the late rounds that Raiders would benefit from taking a serious look at.
Lee Ziemba is an interesting player. The 6'6" Auburn senior spent last season preventing Cam Newton from getting sacked on several occasions. Normally he would have been a higher pick, but a poor showing at the combine and a 5.50 40-yard dash time dropped him to a borderline fifth or sixth-round pick. Depending on the amount of risk the Raiders want to take, he could be a good gamble.
Also worth noting are Stanford's own Derek Hall and Ohio State's Justin Boren. Both had solid games in BCS bowls last season, and that experience should in some way translate to the normal pounding experienced in an NFL game. Physically fit, both would be good picks to back up the starting offensive line.
Late rounds are where drafts gambles are most valuable. Most teams are lauded for good late picks, but rarely criticized for mistakes. Given Davis' penchant for risk reaching for Ziemba seems to be a good call for the Raiders.
No first-round picks to throw away this year. Though the jury is still technically out on Darius Hayward Bey, its safe to say Jacoby Ford has already surpassed him in terms of legend and depth chart.
Time to go for a repeat of 2010.
Wide receiver is another position flush with talent, but it lacks a number of upper echelon candidates.
The Raiders will certainly look at Edmond Gates of Abilene Christian. Besides posting the fastest wide-out time at the combine of 4.31, he caught 66 passes for 1182 yards and 13 touchdowns in his senior year. Davis loves combine times, so it seems likely the Raiders would make a play for Gates if he is available.
Boise State's Austin Pettis is another intriguing pick from the newly emerging powerhouse. The second-leading Broncos receiver caught 71 balls and a team best 10 touchdowns in 2010. He could use a bit of conditioning but could be an excellent slot receiver in the Silver and Black.
Trojan's Ronald Johnson fought through a few injuries that limited him at times over the past few seasons, but he found himself one of the go-to receivers of USC last year.The senior led the team in with eight receiving touchdowns and grabbed 64 balls in 12 games.
The Raiders could do with a steady set of hands on offense, and Austin Pettis would seem to be the favorite to fill that position in 2011.
In 2010, the Raiders were one of the few teams that operated with primarily only two running backs the entire season. Fullback Marcel Reese was the other running option and, while successful, it would be nice for the Raiders to have a solid No. 3 running back in the 2011 season.
Luckily for the Raiders, there is a good deal of mid- to late-round talent available in the 2011 NFL Draft. Most of the available running backs are of the speed McFadden case and point Shane Vereen of California, Jaquizz Rodgers of Oregon State and Penn State's Evan Royster.
The Raiders have had plenty of opportunities to look at local Vereen. His career averages of over five yards per carry and nine per catch give him a versatility similar to McFadden. He also has shown durability throughout his college career, a safeguard if McFadden's injury tenancy returns next year.
Jaquizz Rodgers is a mystery wrapped in a question mark. His small statue potentially makes him a liability but as back expected to get around fifteen touches per game a la Darren Sproles he could be deadly at the NFL level. His speed and agility are not in question but his durability could see him spending a lot of time in the trainers room in the NFL.
Evan Royster has had a long, consistent career for the Nittany Lions. Two consecutive thousand-yard seasons attests to that. He is a work horse who is less flashy than others on the board but is a prototype third running back who can get the extra yards when called upon.
I find it very difficult to take Rodgers because of his injury potential, and while Vereen would be a hometown favorite, consistency is key when it comes to running game. A player like Royster, who could spell McFadden for a time, would make an excellent addition to the Raiders.
Despite not having a first round pick, the Raiders are still in a position to make great strides forward with deft selections in the 2011 NFL Draft.
To recap given everything falling the Raiders way.
2nd Round: CB Aaron Williams, Texas
3rd Round: QB Colin Kapernick, Nevada
4th Round: OT Lee Ziemba, Auburn
5th Round: WR Austin Pettis, Boise State
6th Round: RB Evan Royster, Penn State
7th Round: Al Davis Bonus Pick!
Let's hope the 2011 NFL season happens.