The time is now for the Oakland Raiders' 2013 draft class, and the pressures of the upcoming season could furnish diamonds or deliver a blow to the team's season outlook.
The 2013 draftees were general manager Reggie McKenzie’s first full draft class. For his own sake, he’s hoping for a batch of gems to make an impact in 2015.
|Players Remaining from 2013 Draft Class|
The rapid development of the 2014 draft class, which includes five or six starters for the upcoming season, only adds to the pressure on some of the three-year veterans handpicked by McKenzie. How will these players in the hot seat respond?
Former sixth-round pick Latavius Murray carries the loftiest expectations of the 2013 group. JustBlogBaby.com writer Patrick Fouhy expects 1,300 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns from the Central Florida product. Those markers are steep at a position that’ll likely include two other running backs taking a portion of the carries.
Murray should break 1,000 yards, but only four running backs managed to crack 1,300 yards in 2014.
|Running backs 1,300-yard Club|
Each of those four running backs took the vast majority of their team's carries last year with the exception of Marshawn Lynch, who shares rushing attempts with dual-threat quarterback Russell Wilson. Trent Richardson and Roy Helu should command around 40 percent of the combined carries in a committee approach, and the question marks on the right side of the offensive line, especially at guard, could hurt Murray’s numbers.
On a brighter note, 1,000 yards isn’t a marker to dismiss. Murray should become the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Raiders since Darren McFadden in 2010.
Outside linebacker Sio Moore must overcome hip surgery, per SilverandBlackPride.com writer Levi Damien, and competition from a linebacker corps that is stocked with talent. Ray-Ray Armstrong made a strong impression during OTAs and likely forced his way into a rotation that may affect Moore’s snap count, per San Francisco Chronicle writer Vic Tafur:
There are some observers who think Ray-Ray Armstrong is playing Miles Burris role and being used to push Sio Moore. We’ll see. #Raiders— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) June 2, 2015
Moore played well in his first two seasons as a starter and provides an ability to rush the quarterback. He's accumulated 7.5 sacks in 26 games, which increases his value on a roster lacking a young proven pass-rusher. It was encouraging to see Moore’s recovery lead to light field practice during mandatory minicamp, per ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson:
Sio Moore was pretty active. Good sign for being fully ready for camp #Raiders— Bill Williamson (@BWilliamsonESPN) June 9, 2015
Murray enters the 2015 season with the highest expectations, but cornerback D.J. Hayden carries the most pressure. Unlike the running back, Hayden gets a third tryout to fulfill his role as a full 16-game starter. We all know about his injury history; it's old news. The upcoming season must yield a no-excuses attitude for the three-year starter.
According to SBNation.com writer James Brady, the conclusion to Hayden’s 2014 season wasn’t overly impressive:
Hayden established himself as a starter by the end of 2014. By Week 9 last season, Hayden was playing most defensive snaps each game, and he did have some good outings. Still, overall he graded out poorly (61st-best CB in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus), and while he was playing well, he wasn't making many game-changing plays.
The cornerback’s struggles were likely the precursor to an intense competition that favors cornerback Keith McGill, according to Williamson (via NFL.com's Chris Wesseling). He went sp far as to say McGill should be favored in taking over as the starter.
“Williamson stresses that it's a 'fluid situation,' but McGill will have the edge entering training camp,” Wesseling wrote.
Whether Hayden begins the season as the No. 2 or No. 3 cornerback matters less than his overall performance. McGill's 6'3", 211-pound stature is an advantage over Hayden (5'11", 190 pounds) in a league with larger, more athletic wide receivers.
At this juncture, playing a full season and performing well should top the list of Hayden’s goals. Assuming Hayden remains healthy, he’s a solid cornerback. However, he isn't the Raiders' No. 1 pass defender.
Offensive tackle Menelik Watson’s overall sample size doesn’t warrant a make-or-break season, but he turns 27 in December. He played at Saddleback Junior College before stepping onto Florida State’s campus, starting for a year and then declaring for the 2013 NFL draft.
Watson's limited football experience doesn’t bode well for a rapid development during an intense competition with Austin Howard at right tackle. He has played 17 career games and likely needs an additional season to indicate whether he’s fit to be an NFL starter.
Unfortunately, the Raiders need Watson to step up or they’ll likely move on with Howard, who’s in the second year of his five-year, $30 million contract.
Tight end Mychal Rivera will likely transition into a rotational role with rookie Clive Walford and possibly Marcel Reece, but he’s still expected to contribute as a solid receiver.
Rivera drew comparisons to former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez coming out of Tennessee in 2013, per Damien: "His blocking is suspect but he draws comparisons to the Patriots Aaron Hernandez so obviously, if used properly, he could be valuable."
The Raiders hope their two-tight end sets resemble the Patriots' setup, with Walford playing the role of tight end Rob Gronkowski. Despite the lack of dynamic play at the position, Rivera won’t disappear within the offense.
Quarterback Derek Carr completed 58 passes to Rivera in 2014, which equates to one-sixth of his total completions. The two have established a solid rapport that should keep Rivera viable, especially as a red-zone threat in the upcoming season.
Both wide receiver Brice Butler and defensive tackle Stacy McGee face a different type of pressure heading into the 2015 season.
Butler is competing for a roster spot with the influx of talent at wide receiver. He failed to impress with a lack of talent at the position last year, recording just 21 catches for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
It’s hard to envision him improving on those numbers as the No. 5 or No. 6 receiving option. He was sidelined with a minor injury as wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins impressed the coaching staff during mandatory minicamps, per Damien. Butler teeters on the roster bubble heading into training camp.
McGee started five games in his rookie campaign, but assumed a rotational role in 2014. The former Oklahoma product will compete with Ricky Lumpkin and a heavier C.J. Wilson (300 lbs) for snaps behind Dan Williams and Justin Ellis. McGee will continue to rotate in at defensive tackle as a fringe contributor in run defense if he makes the roster.
2013 Draft Outlook
Overall, McKenzie’s 2013 draft class should turn out moderate production while under the microscope. The Raiders have a potential 1,000-yard ball-carrier, a solid outside linebacker capable of chipping in as a pass-rusher and a red-zone threat at tight end.
Hayden won’t live up to first-round expectations, but he’s capable of defending the slot. According to Williamson, Watson leads the competition at right tackle, but Howard, a five-year NFL veteran, holds the advantage in circumstance and experience. Butler and McGee add depth, but are nothing extraordinary.
The 2013 draft class isn’t a total loss, but it’s not going to pan out as a slam dunk after the 2015 season. Murray and Moore should pan out as gems. Hayden and Watson are major question marks that could tip the assessment of the class from mediocre to slightly above average based on their performances.
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