Oakland Raiders Draft Picks: Results, Analysis and Grades
The franchise hasn’t won more than four games since the 2011 season. Reggie McKenzie has the team’s future and possibly his job security on the line in his third year as general manager.
On draft days, he had some missteps. D.J. Hayden and Menelik Watson, the top two picks from the 2013 draft, haven’t panned out as expected.
However, in the following year McKenzie selected five prospects out of eight who cracked the starting lineup and provided a significant impact on a 2014 season that portrayed a glimmer of hope for the future.
Now with Derek Carr as the anointed franchise quarterback, and Khalil Mack as a versatile moving chesspiece on the field, it’s time to add the missing puzzle pieces to a playoff contender.
There are some important storylines to follow in Round 1 of the draft, which set the tone for storylines in the subsequent rounds. Let’s take a look at a few intriguing ones:
- Whom will the Raiders select if both Leonard Williams and Amari Cooper are on the board at No. 4? Bleacher Report's Matt Miller indicates there's a split within the organization on that choice.
- Will McKenzie bite on a trade-down offer for a team positioning for Marcus Mariota, Leonard Williams or Dante Fowler?
- Are Rounds 2 and 3 strictly designated for positional needs? Defensive end, guard and tight end are positions lacking in starting talent or are in need of an upgrade.
- Will McKenzie continue to draft non-powerhouse players at the top of the draft? Ali Marpet is a Division III player from Hobart College with a lot of upside at a position of need.
- According to Mike Wilkening of ProFootballTalk, Shane Ray had a run-in with the law that could affect his draft stock. If he slips into the second round, will McKenzie select the Missouri edge-rusher with the No. 35 overall pick?
- How does the Raiders' coaching staff view defensive end in terms of priority with Mack’s forthcoming increased snap count at the position? Will the Raiders select a DE on Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft, if at all?
- How high are the expectations for the Raiders' inexperienced trio at cornerback? Will they select a larger CB capable of playing a physical style?
- Will Oakland draft Mychal Rivera’s potential replacement in Rounds 4-7? There are plenty of decent combination TEs expected to be available in those rounds.
- Is the coaching staff done with trying to fit a circular puzzle piece into a square peg? As a natural outside linebacker Miles Burris has been a below-average inside linebacker. It's time to bring in a new reserve ILB behind Curtis Lofton.
- When it’s all said and done, how many WRs will the Raiders select? This is a deep WR class, and the Raiders don’t have a strong No. 1 option or a slot receiver for Carr. Defense wins championships, but so does a well-developed QB. A solid arsenal of playmakers can expedite the process of developing a QB.
All these questions will be answered over the next 72 hours. We’ll go through every decision made with a fine-tooth comb here on Bleacher Report. There will be up-to-date reactions and a thorough analysis on every pick from top to bottom.
Stay tuned for complete draft results peppered with knee-jerk reactions and grades.
No. 4 Overall Pick: Amari Cooper (WR/Alabama)
It was an anxious moment as Williams and Cooper were both available at No. 4.
The old mantra about defense winning championships came second to the mantra about developing your centerpiece, the quarterback.
Cooper was the choice.
The coaching staff wanted Cooper and won the battle over the executives who wanted Williams. Now, the Raiders have a No. 1 WR who can line up in a variety of spots on the line of scrimmage. The trio of Cooper, Rod Streater and Michael Crabtree should be a solid group for Carr throwing out of the pocket. The Raiders have a solid blend of versatility, speed and experience at the receiver position.
The miss on Randall Cobb must still be on McKenzie's mind. He wanted to surround his young QB with playmakers, and with a push from the coaching staff Cooper was prospect of choice.
Personnel is a reasonable explanation for Cooper over Williams. The Raiders just signed Dan Williams in free agency, and Justin Ellis played well as a rookie. Williams is versatile, but he projects as a defensive tackle in the Raiders’ 4-3 scheme. As a DE, he’s better suited for a 3-4 alignment.
McKenzie had to address the biggest need on the roster. The selection will pay immediate dividends. Raiders fans should get used to hearing Carr to Cooper. The Alabama wideout is a special talent, and some analysts, such as ESPN's Mel Kiper (via ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky) and Jon Gruden (via Rotoworld), are comparing him to Hall of Fame greats Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison as a 20-year-old prospect.
No. 35 Overall Pick: Mario Edwards Jr. (DE/Florida State)
The Raiders opted to fill another void on the roster at defensive end. Mario Edwards Jr. was selected with the No. 35 overall pick.
McKenzie dropped the ball with this pick.
First off, Edwards is limited in the pass rush, which was a skill set the Raiders desperately needed in order to elevate the defense. It’s the reason Mack is playing more DE—to increase pressure on the quarterback. The Raiders now have a part-time DE in Mack, an older Justin Tuck (32) and a prospect who lacks the ability to put pressure on the QB off the edge.
According to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, it’s clear Edwards will need a lot of work to become an impact player off the edge:
Ineffective as pass rusher. Played some stand-up defensive end in college and showed no explosiveness off snap. Play speed and fire go missing from pass rush. Hand usage is hit or miss and appears to lack power with hands. Inconsistent getting arm extension, limiting ability to control and dominate a snap. Too involved in hand fighting and plays through a straw, losing sight of ball carrier.
In addition to Edwards' lack of pass-rushing skills, he fits more of a 3-4 DE scheme. At 6’3”, 279 pounds he’s going to have to cover a lot more ground as a 4-3 DE off the edge. He’s a poor scheme fit for a 4-3 base alignment unless he drops some pounds and gains some agility.
To add another layer of confusion to this pick, Preston Smith was still available as a decent pass-rusher with higher upside. The Washington Redskins selected Smith three picks after Edwards.
The Raiders could have also traded down for Nate Orchard, who exhibited above-average pass-rushing skills in his senior year at Utah. McKenzie had some decent pass-rushers still available but opted to go with a run-stopping 3-4 DE, which makes little sense at this point.
Overall, you have a scheme-fit and skill-set mismatch. Oakland could have done better with the pick, but it remains to be seen how Jack Del Rio will use Edwards in this defense.
No. 68 Overall Pick: Clive Walford (TE/Miami)
Oakland selected Clive Walford, the second-best tight end on the board, per CBSSports.com. Walford has the skill set to become another successful TE out of Miami with good hands and pass-blocking ability.
Jermaine Gresham could be in McKenzie’s rear-view mirror at this point. Oakland decided to upgrade the TE position as opposed to filling a void at guard.
The Miami tight end had a breakout year as a junior with 676 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He’ll likely play more snaps than Mychal Rivera in 2015, given his dual-TE capabilities. He'll also see the field in two-tight end sets to add some muscle to the line protection.
The Raiders picked up a quality prospect at the top of the third round. He’ll likely win the starting job in training camp and hold on to it indefinitely.
The coaching staff will have to put up with an occasional focus drop, but nothing that would deem him unreliable in the passing attack. He can be a solid third option for Carr behind Streater and Cooper. As Walford continues to improve his blocking skills, he'll progress into a solid NFL tight end with top-10 potential at the position.
No. 128 Overall Pick: Jon Feliciano (OG/Miami Fla.)
After trading down twice, the Raiders selected Jon Feliciano out of Miami (Fla.) to address another need at guard.
Feliciano is an overachiever and a very experienced college prospect. However, this pick is a far reach. CBSSports.com and NFL.com projected the Miami guard as a seventh-round pick or an undrafted free agent.
Even if the Raiders loved Feliciano’s play in college or his combine workouts, he would have been available in the later rounds. Essentially, McKenzie drafted this prospect at least two rounds too high.
NFL.com’s Zierlein’s assesses Feliciano’s role in the NFL as a primary backup to a starter:
Isn't able to latch onto targets, which hinders his consistency as a run blocker in power. Foot quickness is a weakness, which creates too much lunging and leaning in his game. Feliciano is a competent college guard who appears to be lacking the athleticism and technique to be a full-time NFL starter.
The Raiders needed a guard but someone to step in over Barnes in the starting position. Feliciano lacks the consistency to step in immediately as a starter. At 6’4”, 323 pounds, he has the size of a prototypical guard in the NFL but needs serious work on his technique, per Zierlein:
Pear-shaped with short arms. Will lunge after second level targets rather than stalk them. Doesn't play with strong hands and hand placement can be a mess at times. Hands will slide off strike point rather than latch on. Ducks head and loses sight of target on cut blocks. Confined to phone-booth movement.
Right now, Barnes should be favored to hold on to the starting job.
No. 140 Overall Pick: Ben Heeney (ILB/Kansas)
The Raiders brought in another true inside linebacker. Ben Heeney out of Kansas will slide into the reserve ILB role behind Lofton.
At 6’0", 231 pounds, Heeney is undersized but plays tough with relentless energy. He’ll be a great scheme-blitzer up the middle because he plays very aggressively and relies on instincts to make plays. In a 3-4 package, he’s a weak-side linebacker who will be functional in stopping the run and spying on mobile quarterbacks.
Heeney’s motor is admirable, but the coaching staff should expect some misses at times. I’d prefer an aggressive linebacker than a reactionary type. Heeney, who is an aggressive type, will make spectacular plays but also have a fair share of misses.
Zierlein goes further into depth:
Regional scouts say he is absolutely beloved by coaching staff. Produced eye-catching "tackles for loss" numbers in 2014. Tape grinder always looking for an advantage. Has no interest in waiting for play to come to him and looks to make things happen. Always around the ball and rarely comes off the field.
Undersized inside linebacker with a big motor and willingness to take chances. Lacks the athleticism to recover from mistakes in the running game and is too tight to cover in space against the pass.
At No. 140 overall, this is a good pick for the Raiders. Heeney will likely participate on special teams before lining up alongside Lofton in a 3-4, but he has the makings of a solid NFL ILB. He lacks coverage skills, but he’ll help the run defense and occasional crack the QB for a sack if utilized properly by Norton Jr.
In his senior year, Heeney ranked third in solo tackles (88) across the nation. He’s a sure wrap-up tackler capable of taking down ball-carriers in pursuit with ease.
No. 161 Overall Pick: Neiron Ball (OLB/Florida)
The executive group making the decisions on Day 3 of the Raiders’ draft lost their collective minds.
Neiron Ball, like the Raiders’ fourth-round pick, was projected as a late-round draft pick or an undrafted free agent. It’s almost comical that the Raiders stockpiled a bunch of draft picks only to pick up potential undrafted free agents. McKenzie has now wasted two picks on guys he could have picked up after the draft.
If Ball plays as a linebacker, it's another wasted selection because of the depth Oakland already has at outside linebacker. Malcolm Smith was signed in the offseason. Burris will likely move back to OLB with new draftee Heeney onboard. Ray-Ray Armstrong and Bojay Filimoeatu are still developing prospects on the roster.
There’s more depth needed in the secondary, and McKenzie and Co. have yet to address it. Raiders fans can proceed to smash their foreheads through a table.
Now the pick, Ball, is real tough guy. He overcame some tragic life circumstances and brain surgery in 2011. He’s also a thinner OLB who packs a heavy punch when squaring off against tight ends and wide receivers catching over the middle. He’s quick in game speed and able to close in on pursuit of quarterbacks and ball-carriers.
However, Ball is the opposite of Heeney in play style. He’s a reactionary linebacker as opposed to a instinctive type, meaning he must see the play unfold before committing to action.
Zierlein gives a deeper scoop on the Raiders' No. 161 overall pick:
The microfracture surgery he underwent in mid-November is a substantial concern. Slow with his eyes. Gets off of playaction and into coverage slower than desired.
Versatile linebacker with good play speed and a motor that teams look for. While Ball's play clearly improved from 2013 to 2014, his physical issues will be tough to overcome by draft day.
Ball might have to attempt to beat the odds once again and make a roster via the undrafted-free-agent route.
No. 179 Overall Pick: Max Valles (ILB/Virginia)
Sixth-round selection Max Valles is listed as an ILB, but he will likely transition to DE in the near future. He’s a raw athlete who can be molded by a talented coaching staff. Norton Jr. should be able to work wonders with the Virginia defensive lineman the minute he arrives in Oakland.
Valles was a two-year starter at Virginia and flashed solid pass-rushing capabilities better than the Raiders' second-round pick, Edwards. In his senior year, he led the team with nine sacks, recorded 12.5 tackles resulting in a loss and defensed eight passes. He’s freakishly versatile and should stick to a roster spot leading up to the 2015 season.
Again, Valles is still a unpolished prospect and will need at least a year to adjust to the league. It’s unclear how long he’ll be listed as an ILB. Personally, I think he fits the mold of a solid 4-3 edge-rusher at 6’5”, 251 pounds.
Valles has a lot to learn, but his upside is tremendous. The Raiders need the help off the edge, and this prospect could be a sack specialist or a full-time pass-rusher the defense needs to strike fear into opposing QBs.
No. 218 Overall Pick: Anthony Morris (OT/Tennessee State)
McKenzie chooses a non-powerhouse talent out of Tennessee State with the No. 218 overall pick. Offensive tackle Anthony Morris was the first of three seventh-round selections for the Raiders.
No, he won’t contend for a starting spot against Donald Penn or Austin Howard, but he gives offensive line coach Mike Tice some flexibility to shift personnel. The Raiders are getting a tackle capable of protecting Carr’s blindside or pulling over to help out in zone-blocking schemes.
At 6’7”, 303 pounds, Morris is light on his feet and uses a combination of leg, upper-body and core strength to drives defenders backward. He also has a throwback edgy Raiders’ feel to his play style. When you watch his tape, he’s piling on defenders after they hit the ground until the whistles blow.
The offensive line gains some athleticism whether he plays on the edge or inside as an interior lineman. If Morris works on establishing a low center of gravity with a firm base, he could possibly challenge Khalif Barnes at guard within a year.
No. 221 Overall Pick: Andre Debose (WR/Florida)
The Raiders address special teams with the No. 221 overall pick. Andre Debose will likely step in as the Raiders threat to shorten the field for an uptempo offense.
In 2014, he recorded 46 returns in kicks and punts for a total of 842 yards. Last season, Travis Carrie served as the team’s primary returner on special teams. In 2015, Carrie will see an expanded role as the starting cornerback. As a result, Debose could see action sooner than later.
If you’re pondering about his wide receiver skills, don’t bother. He only recorded four receiving touchdowns in four years at Florida. Debose’s sophomore year was his only one in a receiving role for the Gators.
Again, McKenzie opts to fill holes within the roster instead of choosing the best player available. It’s another practical selection. Field possession can be the difference in close games if Debose becomes a solid returner.
No. 242 Overall Pick: Dexter McDonald (CB/Kansas)
The Raiders address a thin secondary with a larger-sized cornerback. Dexter McDonald is Oakland’s No. 242 and final draft selection. The Kansas CB is a quality seventh-round pick. McKenzie and Co. decided to go with McDonald as opposed to the smaller Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
McDonald uses physicality on the outside to disrupt receivers. He should be able to reroute smaller wideouts and go toe to toe with larger WRs capable of grabbing passes at a high point. The Kansas DB has a good combination of strength and speed to make the Raiders' roster in 2015.
He ran at 4.42 at his pro day and shows the ability to backpedal and maintain air-tight coverage after an aggressive jam at the line of scrimmage. His style of play resembles New York Jets CB Antonio Cromartie.
McDonald’s long arms and long strides could propel him to a starting position if there’s an opportunity. In his senior year, he had 13 passes defensed and two interceptions. He also had an attitude adjustment early in his collegiate career, which helped him focus on becoming a much better player on the field and in the film room.
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