Biggest Needs Oakland Raiders Have Yet to Address This Offseason

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2017

Biggest Needs Oakland Raiders Have Yet to Address This Offseason

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    Despite signing six players, the Oakland Raiders' biggest free-agent splash came when rumors spread about the team's intent to lure running back Marshawn Lynch out of retirement, per ESPN.

    Before delving into Lynch as a potential featured back for the upcoming season, it's important to note general manager Reggie McKenzie's early offseason strategy—spend less and add depth.

    At the moment, tight end Jared Cook lists as the most notable acquisition, and he's going to share snaps with Clive Walford and Lee Smith at his position. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson will likely push Seth Roberts in the slot and add spark to special teams. Marshall Newhouse will compete for snaps at a crowded right tackle spot. 

    The Raiders also signed Jelani Jenkins, who's expected to replace Malcolm Smith at weak-side linebacker.

    However, the team remains in contact with linebacker Zach Brown, per CSN Bay Area reporter Scott Bair. If Brown signs, he would likely start over Jenkins. The former put together a solid full season with four sacks, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one interception. The latter only played nine games and amassed 15 tackles. 

    What's left to address before the NFL draft?

Running Back

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    According to some Raiders fans, Lynchan Oakland nativebelongs in a silver and black uniform. He seems destined for one more run with the team near and dear to his heart. The MMQB's Peter King discussed the 30-year-old's desire to join the Raiders and the supporting community.

    Still, the Seattle Seahawks hold the lock and key to Lynch's return. General manager John Schneider would have to either release or trade Beast Mode to bridge his pathway to Oakland.

    As for alternatives, the Raiders can add power to the backfield by acquiring Adrian Peterson or go with a less glamorous choice in LeGarrette Blount.

    While no rumors have connected the Silver and Black to Blount, Peterson placed the team at the top of his wish list, according to Stacey Dales of NFL Network. McKenzie may also decide it's Lynch or a rookie draft pick for the open spot.

    With so many choices to replace running back Latavius Murray available, there's no panic or urgency to fill the goal-line short-yardage role, especially with an outside possibility of Lynch's return.

Inside Linebacker

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    The Raiders haven't re-signed Perry Riley Jr., who started 11 games at inside linebacker in the previous season. At the moment, Jenkins seems like Smith's replacement as a cover linebacker. Nonetheless, the defense still needs a signal-caller who is able to handle green-dot responsibilities. 

    Early in the year, Ben Heeney didn't exactly put his best foot forward in the starting role. Barring significant offseason improvement, he'll remain a backup. Whether Riley eventually re-signs or not, McKenzie should focus on drafting multiple quality prospects at this position. 

    Despite an incident at the NFL Scouting Combine, Reuben Foster flashes too much potential to slip all the way down to No. 24 in the draft. One team will file his combine spat under an immature mistake and move on with him as their defensive centerpiece.

    The Raiders have viable alternative options in Northwestern product Anthony Walker Jr., Florida prospect Jarrad Davis and Ohio State's Raekwon McMillan. All three come into the league with flaws, but they're on the second tier at the position behind Foster who stands alone at the top.

Interior Defensive Lineman

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    This position doesn't have a vacancy but needs an upgrade. The Raiders rendered defensive lineman Jihad Ward inactive in their postseason game, which tells you about his overall regular-season performance. Unfortunately, McKenzie's most recent second-round pick didn't scratch the surface of his potential.

    It's too early to close the book on Ward, but Oakland needs more resistance on the defensive front. Denico Autry contributes as a pass-rusher but struggles to seal the edges against the run. In the middle, Justin Ellis and Dan Williams have struggled to plug interior gaps. The Raiders allowed 117.9 rushing yards per contest and 4.3 yards per attempt in the previous season, per Team Rankings.

    During free agency, the Raiders didn't aggressively pursue an upgrade at the position, which is a smart move. This year's draft will provide a class rich in talent among defensive lineman. McKenzie can potentially acquire a starter in the third or fourth round. At the very least, he'll pick up a rotational defensive tackle, who can apply pressure up the middle.

    The Raiders could draft high and select Florida product Caleb Brantley or Malik McDowell out of Michigan State. They can address the position on Day 2 with Michigan's Chris Wormley, Oklahoma State prospect Vincent Taylor or Auburn's Montravius Adams.

Backup Interior Offensive Lineman

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    Expect a summer-long competition at right tackle. ESPN's Adam Caplan views Denver Kirkland and Vadal Alexander as prime candidates to supplant Austin Howard, who underwent shoulder surgeries. Newhouse will also vie for the starting spot; he can step in for Donald Penn as a backup left tackle as well.

    Both Kirkland and Alexander have collegiate experiences at guard, but the options at the position don't compare to right tackle. Jon Feliciano doesn't have much competition as a primary backup guard and center. Undrafted Iowa State product Oni Omoile hasn't taken a regular-season snap. 

    The Raiders should continue to acquire extra benefits for their Derek Carr insurance. Furthermore, the team hasn't been outspoken about re-signing guard Gabe Jackson, who must wait in line behind Carr and edge-rusher Khalil Mack for an extension. A first- to third-round draft pick at guard may indicate prospective difficulty in re-signing Jackson before, during or after the 2017 season.

Backup Free Safety

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    The Raiders can wait until free safety Reggie Nelson's contract expires after the upcoming season or draft his eventual replacement in April. The Miami Dolphins signed Nate Allen, which leaves an immediate opening behind Nelson on the depth chart.

    Raiders fans wanted to see Tony Jefferson carry the free-safety torch beyond the 2017 season, but he signed with the Baltimore Ravens. It didn’t make sense for a top player on the free-agent market at his position to take a backup role. It's less logical to think Oakland would release Nelson after a Pro Bowl year, despite the hiccups in deep coverage.

    The defensive backs put on a show at the combine in Indianapolis. Similar to their need for a quality interior defensive linemen, the Raiders will have a shot at starting safety talent through the third or fourth round.

    Iowa product Desmond King, a converted cornerback, would be an ideal fit in Oakland. In 2016, the Raiders thrived off turnovers to compensate for allowing six yards per play, which tied for worst in the league, per Team Rankings.

    King notched 11 interceptions over his last two collegiate seasons. With a background at cornerback and ball-hawk qualities, he's primed for a productive career at free safety.

Backup Strong Safety

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    Keith McGill lists as a strong safety, but he's quickly falling through the ranks. In 2015, he competed for a starting cornerback position and struggled throughout the preceding preseason. Poor defensive play restricted his role to special teams. In the previous year, the coaching staff transitioned him to safety, but his hardships continued through another nondescript year.

    Unless the game starts to magically click for McGill in a contract year, which often happens for underachieving players, the Raiders should groom a draft prospect to back up Karl Joseph or shift with him between the two safety spots. 

    Oakland will likely have an opportunity to draft Connecticut prospect Obi Melifonwu or Michigan's Jabrill Peppers in the first round. Nonetheless, Josh Jones out of North Carolina State knows how to deliver a big hit, and he's logged seven interceptions through three seasons as a collegian. At 6'2", 215 pounds, he carries a sizable frame and shows the ability to cover the field on the deep end.

    Joseph and Jones would be able to interchange at the safety positions, which gives the coaching staff extra flexibility with the weekly game plan.


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