NFL1000: Oakland Raiders 2017 NFL Draft Preview

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2017

NFL1000: Oakland Raiders 2017 NFL Draft Preview

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    In the fifth year of Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie’s total rebuild, everything nearly came together. A string of fine drafts, combined with the franchise’s willingness to spend big money in free agency—especially along the offensive line—set the team up for a 12-4 record and the first playoff berth since 2002.

    One can only wonder what might have happened had quarterback Derek Carr not suffered a broken leg on Christmas Eve day against the Colts. Carr had showed tremendous development in his third season, and backup Connor Cook, a fourth-round rookie, obviously wasn’t able to re-create Carr’s game.

    The Raiders were one-and-done thanks to a playoff rout by the Houston Texans, but this team is not one-and-done at all. McKenzie has set the team up for success, so as much as Raiders fans in Oakland will care in the final two years before the team moves to Las Vegas, they will be watching a championship-caliber team as long as everyone stays healthy. 

    The offensive line is among the league’s best, and Carr should be good to go for offseason programs. The loss of running back Latavius Murray to the Vikings in free agency is a minor blow, but may be cushioned by the rumored addition of Marshawn Lynch if the Raiders and Seahawks can agree to a trade. The receiver corps is set, and if the coaching staff can turn Cordarrelle Patterson into more than the gimmick player and special-teamer he was in Minnesota, that might be the explosive element that puts the team over the top. Tight end Jared Cook gives Carr one more short-to-intermediate target and should complete the passing game. The front line, led by Khalil Mack, has also shown great improvement in recent years.

    There are depth needs at cornerback and linebacker, but for the most part, this is when the Raiders should start to see the long-term benefits of McKenzie’s personnel acumen. It’s a shame that it comes with so much franchise instability—especially for Oakland fans who had to suffer through a decade-and-a-half of horrid football before things turned around—but the Raiders are on the upswing for the first time in a long time, and it looks to stay that way for a while.

Methodology

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    The NFL1000 team of scouts graded a series of important attributes for every player in their positional review. Using a scale starting at zero and going up to anywhere from five to 50 based on the position and the attribute, our scouts graded each player based on their own expertise and countless hours of tape review over the years. Our evaluators had specific positional assignments based on their proven fields of expertise.

    Each corresponding position slide was written by the assigned scout.

Quarterback

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Scheme: West Coast/Zone-flex

    Starter: Derek Carr

    NFL1000 Scores: 71.9/100

    NFL Rank: 17/38

    One true sign that a young quarterback has reached the pinnacle is that he becomes both more efficient and more explosive. That happened to Carr in 2016—he threw 28 touchdown passes to just six interceptions, and his deep accuracy improved exponentially. There were still times when he regressed under pressure, but the faith the coaching staff will place in him going forward—the word is that he’ll be allowed to create more on his own pre-snap—is a great sign. Carr doesn’t have any obvious uncorrectable flaws; the only things standing between him and the upper echelon of the position are more development and staying healthy.

    Backup: Connor Cook

    NFL1000 Scores: Did not have enough snaps to qualify

    It’s easy to blame Cook for the Raiders’ faceplant in the playoffs against the Texans, but it’s also unfair. Both starting quarterback Derek Carr and backup Matt McGloin were hurt, and the Raiders had no choice but to throw a fourth-round rookie out there in the postseason against one of the NFL’s best defenses. He’s a decent-armed pocket passer who needs a ton of work to keep his mechanics together under pressure.

    Backup: EJ Manuel

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    The Bills’ first-round pick in 2013, Manuel started just seven games over his last three seasons in Buffalo, and though he’s thrown 19 touchdowns to 15 interceptions in his career, there’s a lot of work to be done if he’s ever to become a starting-caliber quarterback at the NFL level. Manuel’s accuracy drops off when he’s under pressure, and unless he has a clean pocket, his movement skills don’t align with optimal throwing under pressure. The Raiders signed Manuel because they wanted more veteran depth at the quarterback position, but given his NFL tenure, it’s hard to say that he’s an improvement over second-year backup Connor Cook.

    Team Need: 4/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Joshua Dobbs (Tennessee), Brad Kaaya (Miami)

Running Back

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Scheme: West Coast/Power

    Starter: DeAndre Washington

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.6/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 47/82

    Washington, a fifth-round pick in 2016, had an encouraging rookie season. The Raiders let veteran starter Latavius Murray walk in free agency but have continued to show interest in Marshawn Lynch. Regardless of what veteran GM Reggie McKenzie decides to do at the position, Washington's role is basically established heading into the 2017 season.

    He can do a little bit of everything. He's a natural inside runner with good vision, patience and upfield burst to get to the second level. He does benefit from an excellent offensive line, but he makes it look good as well. He also has the quickness to get outside and can make plays in space because he can make defenders miss in one-on-one situations. Washington was productive in the passing game as a rookie. Overall, the Raiders have a versatile backup who can be a spot starter depending on who else they acquire.

    Backup: Jalen Richard

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 51/82

    After making the team as an undrafted free agent, Jalen Richard proved there wasn't anything he could not do. He played a Darren Sproles-type role for the Raiders offense and at times played better than Washington. He also adds value as a punt and kickoff return man—though those roles could change with the acquisition of Cordarrelle Patterson. Richard is an explosive runner, who had five runs over 20 yards in 2016. While he lacks the power to break tackles, he does have the natural make-you-miss ability. He is excellent in the passing game. He had 29 catches and two receiving touchdowns and caused problems for defenders in space all season. Overall, the Raiders have a special young chess piece who should only improve heading into his second year.

    Backup: Taiwan Jones

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Taiwan Jones does not play a role on offense and had only one rushing attempt in 2016. His value comes on special teams, where he is excellent as a cover man. While Jones has a niche roster spot, don't expect his role to expand on offense. Depending on who GM Reggie McKenzie adds in free agency or the draft, his roster spot could be in jeopardy.  

    Team Need: 5/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Samaje Perine (Oklahoma), Jamaal Williams (BYU)

Fullback

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Scheme: West Coast/Power

    Starter: Jamize Olawale

    NFL1000 Scores: 72.4/100

    NFL1000 Rank: 6/20

    Jamize Olawale had his best year as a pro in 2016 and could become one of the better fullbacks in the NFL shortly. Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie gave him a three-year extension at the end of the 2015 season, and he has only continued to improve since. Olawale is the total package. He can move all over the backfield and isolate on linebackers as a lead blocker. A physical player, Olawale has the athletic ability to adjust on the fly and locate in space. He can operate as a runner because he has good vision and explosive speed to get downhill to the second level. He is excellent in the passing game because he's a good route-runner and has natural hands for the position. Overall, the Raiders have one of the better fullbacks in the NFL, and he should have his best season as a pro in 2017.

    Team Need: 1/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None

Wide Receiver

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Scheme: West Coast/Hybrid

    Starter: Amari Cooper

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.9/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 18/155

    Amari Cooper enters his third season having established himself as one of the NFL's better route-runners. As a rookie out of Alabama in 2015, he was viewed as a complete receiver with the ability to run the complete route tree early in his career. His first year in the league, Cooper caught 72 passes for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns. He improved those numbers last season, as he caught 83 passes for 1,153 yards and five touchdowns.

    As expected, Cooper can run every route in the playbook. He fits the mold of a “whole-body” receiver who can use subtle upper-body movements in coordination with his elite footwork to sell defenders on routes, giving him the opportunity to get separation on his breaks. One knock on him as a rookie was his hands, as he notched some drops early in his career. But he seems to be putting those concerns to rest a bit as he develops in the league. Cooper turns 23 in June and should be a mainstay in the Raiders offense for the next decade.  

    Starter: Michael Crabtree

    NFL1000 Scores: 70/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 16/155

    In his eighth season out of Texas Tech University, Michael Crabtree turned in one of his best years in the NFL. He caught a career-high 89 passes for 1,003 yards and eight touchdowns. He remains a downfield threat with the vertical speed to challenge secondaries on deeper routes. But he was often used underneath on shallow crossing routes that got the football into his hands quickly to take advantage of his speed and ability after the catch. He is a perfect compliment to Cooper in the Raiders offense, but he did struggle a bit at the catch point last season, dropping some passes including some potential touchdowns. More consistency with his hands would make him more dangerous.

    Backup: Seth Roberts

    NFL1000 Scores: 66.9/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 52/155

    While Crabtree and Cooper stole the headlines, Roberts was perhaps the most surprising development in Oakland’s offense. Used primarily as a slot receiver, Roberts caught 38 passes for 397 yards and five touchdowns. He was effective on quick out routes and against underneath coverage, primarily on crossing routes. Roberts was not utilized as a deep threat, and his longest reception of the year—a 41-yard game-winner in overtime in Tampa Bay—came on a post route where he broke two tackles at the catch point and raced the distance for the score.

    That play highlighted his play strength, and that trait was what propelled him to his 52nd rank overall in the NFL1000. Roberts was at his best as a blocker in 2016, grading out as the best blocker at the wide receiver position. Because of this ability, Roberts was valuable in both the running game as well as the passing game. He was often used as a lead blocker on running plays and was determined to find work to spring his fellow receivers after the catch.

    With Oakland's addition of Cordarrelle Patterson, it remains to be seen whether Roberts stays in the third receiver role for the Raiders or is bumped to the fourth option. His ability as a blocker makes him a valuable asset in all facets of Oakland's offense.

    Backup: Cordarrelle Patterson

    NFL1000 Scores: 64.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 79/155

    Entering his fifth season in the NFL, Patterson was used primarily as a special teams player and return specialist the previous few years. However, 2016 showed that there are signs of potential at the receiver spot. Patterson caught a career-high 52 passes for 453 yards and two touchdowns. He was used on a few different routes, mostly as an X or Z receiver on the outside. The Vikings used him on go routes and deep out routes or comeback patterns, and he had success on those shorter routes. He was also an effective weapon in the quick screen game.

    One area that was a surprise watching Patterson this past season was his play strength, which allowed for some yardage after the catch. Patterson is known for his speed and quickness, but on a quick hitch route against the Texans back in Week 5, Patterson was hit by cornerback Kareem Jackson quickly after the reception but had the strength to stay upright and fight the CB for additional yardage, picking up a first down. It’s a small play in the box score but a good sign of Patterson’s development at the position.

    Moving to a more West Coast-based scheme will be a good fit for what Patterson does well. Quicker/shorter routes, designed to get the football into his hands and to secure additional yardage after the catch, fit well with what he does best. He should continue to develop with the move out west.

    Team Need: 2/10

    Potential Draft Fits: JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC), Carlos Henderson (Louisiana Tech), Zay Jones (East Carolina)

Tight End

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    Mat Otero/Associated Press

    Scheme: West Coast/Hybrid

    Starter: Jared Cook

    NFL1000 Scores: 66.0/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 20/96

    Jared Cook enters the ninth season of his NFL career with his fourth different organization. After three solid years in the NFC with the Rams, Cook was signed by the Packers. He battled through injuries last season, appearing in only 10 regular-season games and securing 30 receptions for 377 yards and a single touchdown. He played a big role in Green Bay’s run to the NFC Championship Game, catching a deep crossing route late in the game to set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning kick against the Dallas Cowboys. In that game, Cook caught six passes for 103 yards and a score.

    The Packers moved Cook all over the field last year, aligning him in the wing, as an inline tight end, split to the wide or even in the slot. When split to the outside, he showed the ability to beat press coverage with play strength but struggled at times to get separation on his routes. Cook also struggled with drops at times. As a blocker, Cook is willing and generally solid, but he is more of a receiving threat than a true blocking TE.

    Moving to a more West Coast-based offense is a good fit for Cook, and with the personnel around him, he should find many chances to contribute as a receiver. He can work the middle of the field and keep the outside open for Cooper and Crabtree, and on-route concepts such as the Drive Concept or Levels Concept, he can stress the middle of the field deep and open up room for Crabtree on shallow routes underneath. This should be a good fit of talent and scheme.

    Backup: Clive Walford

    NFL1000 Scores: 65.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 23/96

    After a strong career at the University of Miami, Clive Walford was selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft by the Raiders. As a rookie, he appeared in 15 games with two starts, catching 24 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns. Last season, he saw action in 15 games with eight starts and caught 33 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns, including a 31-yard scoring strike against Atlanta in Week 3.

    Walford can run a variety of routes and was used on both shorter pass patterns as well as deeper routes such as corner and post plays. He was inconsistent last season in getting separation from defenders, but his play strength and ability at the catch point would help him in contested catch situations. On one play from Week 12 against the Panthers, he caught a post route against off coverage and took a shot from the safety, but was able to hold on for a 17-yard reception, displaying his strength and ability with his hands. He was also an adept blocker, especially when aligned on the wing and tasked with blocking down or coming under the tackle and leading the runner through the hole.

    Backup: Lee Smith

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Journeyman Lee Smith suffered a lower-leg fracture at the start of the 2016 season and was placed on injured reserve at the beginning of October. Prior to the injury, he was listed at the starting tight end of the Raiders and made four straight starts to begin the 2016 season, catching six passes for 29 yards. Provided he returns healthy from the injury, he is a solid depth option for the Raiders.

    Team Need: 3/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Jake Butt (Michigan), Jordan Leggett (Clemson), Cole Hikutini (Louisville)

Left Tackle

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    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    Scheme: Gap/Power and Zone

    Starter: Donald Penn

    NFL1000 Scores: 77.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 7/40

    The Raiders have built a culture within their offensive line room that is predicated on toughness, physicality and getting the job done, and it all starts with veteran left tackle Donald Penn.

    Donald Penn went undrafted in 2006 out of Utah State but has since started 156 regular-season games, and despite playing through injuries late in many seasons, he has not missed a regular-season start since becoming a full-time starter in 2007.

    Penn hangs his hat on physicality in both pass protection and as a run-blocker. It doesn't always look pretty with Penn, but he is consistently effective. In 2016, Penn only surrendered one sack on the season and earned a NFL1000 overall pass-protection score of 19.0 while registering an equally impressive 19.4 run-blocking score.



    Team Need: 3/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Antonio Garcia (Troy)

Right Tackle

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Scheme: Gap/Power and Zone

    Starter: Austin Howard

    NFL1000 Scores: 70.2

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 24/38

    Austin Howard was an 11-game starter for Oakland in 2016, including the AFC Wild Card Game.

    Howard is an adequate run-blocker who plays with enough power at the point of attack to get movement, but he struggles when needing to move laterally to cut off defenders or secure the edge for outside runs.

    Howard has major limitations in pass protection and is oftentimes a liability on the edge because of the inability to consistently put himself in position to effectively punch. Howard also struggles to recover, especially laterally against an inside counter.

    Oakland signed veteran right tackle Marshall Newhouse, and it is clear the organization is looking for competition at right tackle, which may even include Denver Kirkland.

    Backup: Marshall Newhouse

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Including the NFC Wild Card Game, Marshall Newhouse started four games for the New York Giants at tackle in 2016 and started another three games at left guard, something he had never done in his seven-year career.

    Newhouse has started 56 regular-season games and has experience as both a left and right tackle. He is not the physical run-blocker Oakland typically wants to slot at right tackle, but he is adequate in pass protection and can have success against about 75 percent of the league's edge-defenders, which will give him an edge in the right tackle competition.

    Team Need: 3/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Julie'n Davenport (Bucknell), David Sharpe (Florida)

Offensive Guard

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Scheme: Zone Flex

    Starter: Kelechi Osemele

    NFL1000 Scores: 74.2/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 7/78

    Kelechi Osemele was dominant up front in his first season in Oakland, and his presence made the Raiders offensive line far better than it was before his arrival. His play strength and nasty demeanor are unparalleled, and at age 27 we should see a lot more of his impressive finishing ability over the years. The Raiders do not need to draft a guard, given their top-level starters and young depth.

    Starter: Gabe Jackson

    NFL1000 Scores: 72/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 17/78

    The Raiders' other starter at guard is Gabe Jackson, who shouldn’t need to be replaced for the foreseeable future either. While he has some movement-related deficiencies that can cause issues at times, in the vertical box he showcases dominant power. The Raiders do a good job maximizing those opportunities for him.

    Backup: Denver Kirkland

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Denver Kirkland actually lined up at TE (as a sixth OL in special packages) more than he played inside last year, but his limited play against smaller and quicker defenders outside was pretty impressive given footwork and ability in space were flaws for him in college.

    Team Need: 0/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None

Center

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Scheme: Zone Flex

    Starter: Rodney Hudson

    NFL1000 Scores: 72.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 5/38

    While Osemele was arguably the tone-setter of the Raiders powerful front, and their most consistent player as well, Hudson was the highest-ranked Raiders offensive lineman at his position. His blend of physical strength and fluidity allows him to play with power and positioning, and sets him apart from some of the other centers at the top of the league.

    Backup: Jon Feliciano

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Most of the reps we have seen from Feliciano in the league have been at guard in the preseason, so gauging his aptitude several years later at center is hard to do. That said, the Raiders are high on him as a backup, and with a thin center draft class and Oakland’s deep guard group, I don’t see them needing to draft a center either, given Hudson is also still 27.

    Team Need: 0/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None

Defensive End

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Scheme: 4-3 hybrid

    Starter: Khalil Mack

    NFL1000 Score: 72.5/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 1/68

    Khalil Mack graded out as our top 4-3 defensive end after a stellar season. Despite Oakland surrounding him with subpar talent, Mack consistently took over games and finished a few in dominating fashion. In 948 snaps, Mack accumulated 73 tackles and 11 sacks.

    Backup: Mario Edwards Jr.

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Edwards missed most of the season with a hip injury, and his absence hurt the Raiders defense as it couldn't consistently generate interior pressure. If he's healthy for 2017, Edwards helps the Oakland defense in many ways and should lessen the need for the Raiders to add an impact defensive lineman in the draft.

    Backup: Denico Autry

    NFL1000 Score: 61.9/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 32/53

    Denico Autry isn't a household name, but he was a solid and consistent performer for most of the 2016 season. He played almost 700 snaps and accumulated 29 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Autry was re-signed by Oakland this offseason, and he provides solid depth and starting experience in case Edwards isn't healthy.

    Team Need: 2/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Trey Hendrickson (Florida Atlantic), Avery Moss (Youngstown State)

Defensive Tackle

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Scheme: 4-3 Hybrid

    Starter: Darius Latham

    NFL1000 Scores: 60.8/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 68/99

    Darius Latham was a nice find as an undrafted player out of Indiana last season. However, Latham should not be the best defensive tackle on a team. He had strong moments versus, but his play was fairly inconsistent. Oakland needs to find a starter in the draft to pair with Latham.

    Backup: Justin Ellis

    NFL1000 Scores: 59.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 85/99

    Justin Ellis is a decent backup defensive tackle, but he’s slated to receive a large quantity of snaps the way their depth chart is currently constructed. Ellis is a solid run defender who doesn’t offer much pass rush. If Ellis is a team’s third defensive tackle, that’s OK. As the second-best defensive tackle on the Raiders, he needs to be upgraded.

    Backup: Dan Williams

    NFL1000 Scores: 57.6/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 93/99

    Dan Williams is supposed to be the prototypical, run-stopping nose tackle, but his play took a dip in 2016. Williams was just kind of there; he didn’t offer any pass-rushing impact and was one of the worst run-defending nose tackles in the league. Needless to say, defensive tackle is a huge need for the Raiders.

    Backup: Jihad Ward

    NFL1000 Scores: 56.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 97/99

    Jihad Ward’s rookie season was a disaster. He was completely overmatched versus every offensive line that he went up against. Even though he was a second-round pick last season, the Raiders severely need an upgrade over him.

    Team Need: 10/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Malik McDowell (Michigan State), Caleb Brantley (Florida), Jaleel Johnson (Iowa)

Outside Linebacker

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Scheme: 4-3 (Under)/Hybrid

    Starter: Bruce Irvin

    NFL1000 Scores: 73.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 1/46

    Dating back to his days as a Seattle Seahawk, Bruce Irvin has not gotten the recognition he deserves. He begun his career as a pure speed rusher, but he developed into much more than that. Irvin is a multifaceted edge player; in many ways, he is one of a kind. There aren’t many other players with his type of versatility up front.

    Irvin was far and away the best pass-rusher of this position group. Granted, he was largely asked to play on the line of scrimmage, but he was not just a pass-rusher. Irvin also scored well as a coverage player. He can flow out to flats as well as run down the sideline with running backs and tight ends trying to get down the field. As the cherry on top, Irvin is a monstrous run defender. He dominates the line of scrimmage and does an excellent job of setting the edge, even despite not being the bulkiest linebacker out there. Irvin is a cornerstone of the Raiders defense.

    Backup: Tyrell Adams

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Tyrell Adams found himself on the active roster at the tail end of the 2016 season. Entering his third year in the NFL, Adams is a roster bubble type of player. He is a nice athlete who can operate in space, but he lacks the requisite skills to be an impact linebacker. The Raiders need to bring in a rookie (or two) to battle Adams.

    Backup: Neiron Ball

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    More than anything else, it has been injuries that have dampened Neiron Ball’s career. He is no superstar, but he has the aggression and athletic skills to be a functional linebacker who can fill a number of roles. He can play near the line of scrimmage, just as he can be a chase linebacker off the ball. Ball’s diagnosis skills are a bit lacking for a starting-caliber player, but he has a solid overall skill set. If Ball were not a health risk, it would be fair to say he is a quality depth player. But it may be foolish for the Raiders to bet on his health after he spent the 2016 season on injured reserve. Adding competition for Ball is necessary.

    Team Need: 8/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt), Jordan Evans (Oklahoma), Elijah Lee (Kansas State)

Inside Linebacker

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Scheme: 4-3 (Under)/Hybrid

    Starter: Cory James

    NFL1000 Scores: 66.8/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 53/65

    As a rookie, Cory James was given an opportunity to start in Weeks 3 and 4 for Ben Heeney. While James played better than Heeney, the Raiders decided to sign Perry Riley off the street to start from Week 5 on. James started alongside Riley in Weeks 5 and 6, but he was relegated to a reserve role for all but one other game. James is an intriguing athlete and has no hesitation in attacking downhill. However, his inexperience was clearly a liability for an Oakland defense that was comprised of players largely playing together for the first time. James was incorrect in diagnosing plays happening right in front of him, leading to a deficiency that his athleticism couldn’t make up for.

    James may be able to push for the starting job alongside a rookie, but if the Raiders select an inside linebacker early, it’s hard to see James keeping him off the field. The Raiders will bring in talent to challenge James, and the early August camp battle will be worth following.

    Backup: Ben Heeney

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Ben Heeney entered 2016 as the starting inside linebacker for the Raiders, and it quickly became apparent that he was out of his element. Heeney is eerily similar to Nick Bellore, except even less adequate as a starter. He’s best-suited as a core special teams player, with the attitude and energy to play hard every time he steps on the field but lacking the overall skills to be a functional starter in the long-term.

    Team Need: 10/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Reuben Foster (Alabama), Haason Reddick (Temple), Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State), Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt), Jarrad Davis (Florida)

Cornerback

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Scheme: Cover 1

    Starter: Sean Smith

    NFL1000 Scores: 65.6/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 39/133

    Sean Smith was supposed to boost the Raiders secondary, and to start the season off that’s exactly what he did. In the first game, he was benched after getting torched by the Saints. After that he settled in, and for the first half of the season he played like a top-10 corner, and it looked like he might be the prize free agent fans had hoped for. Then the shoulder injury happened. Smith never was the same and it showed. He looked like a linebacker out there. He couldn’t run. In the second half of the season, Smith only had one above-average game. This isn’t the type of scheme you want to be in if you can’t run.

    It’ll be worth monitoring how Smith bounces back this year because from the second game to his ninth game, he showed he could be a No. 1 corner. In the final games, he looked like he didn't belong. We’ll see how Smith bounces back heading into the second year of a $40 million contract.

    Starter: David Amerson

    NFL1000 Scores: 62.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 73/133

    Amerson’s season was worse than these numbers indicate. There were three high peaks that helped his average. By in large, he was bad. He had seven games where he was graded out in the 50s or worse. Two of those were in the 40s! We usually don’t give those grades unless a player had a really rough day. Week 14 against the Chiefs, Amerson was targeted seven times and gave up six receptions for 142 yards, four first downs and a touchdown. Three of those catches went over 20 yards. When the Raiders signed Amerson to a $38 million extension, games like this were not what they had in mind. Amerson has the right body type, but he doesn’t play anywhere near as fast or twitchy as his combine numbers indicate. If he doesn’t bounce back, the Raiders can get out of his contract after the 2017 season.

    Slot: T.J. Carrie

    NFL1000 Scores: 62.7/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 67/100

    It’s not getting any better as we move further down the depth chart with the Raiders. Carrie had really good games in Weeks 13 and 14. He played like a legitimate starter. The problem is in the five other games he appeared in he was well below average.

    Carrie is the Raiders slot corner. At 6’0” and 208 pounds, Carrie fits the slot type. He is also an explosive athlete, but his route recognition lacks, so it doesn’t seem like he’s playing all that fast. The 88-yard touchdown he allowed in Week 12 is a good example of that. The Raiders are in trouble if they’re asking for heavy snaps from Carrie in 2017. They should address this position in the draft. Carrie is nothing but depth at this point.

    Team Need: 10/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Kevin King (Washington), Fabian Moreau (UCLA), Marlon Humphrey (Alabama), Ahkello Witherspoon (Colorado), Gareon Conley (Ohio State)

Free Safety

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Scheme: Cover 1

    Starter: Reggie Nelson

    NFL1000 Scores: 70.7/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 27/50

    The Raiders signed Nelson last year to be a reliable veteran presence in the defensive backfield and to start alongside first-round pick Karl Joseph. That’s exactly what he did. He was largely reliable as the single deep safety, staying on top of deep shots and taking away the deep middle third. Age did appear to catch up with the 33-year-old at times, however, as he struggled to close on routes that crossed his face. He was also run past by a couple of different running backs when working down to support the run. But for the most part, Nelson was solid in what he was required to do. But at his age and without a backup, the Raiders need to find a long-term solution at free safety.

    Team Need: 7/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Marcus Williams (Utah), Justin Evans (Texas A&M), Tedric Thompson (Colorado)   

Strong Safety

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Scheme: Cover 1

    Starter: Karl Joseph

    NFL1000 Scores: 73.5/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 13/53

    Joseph’s rookie year was somewhat frustrating. He struggled to stay on the field consistently, missing the first two games of the year and then four more down the stretch. When he was on the field, he showed his potential, though perhaps not as often as the Raiders might have hoped from last year’s 14th overall pick. While inconsistent, Joseph has some bright spots. He displayed good instincts in zone while also flashing hints of man-coverage ability too. He filled his run responsibilities when aligned in the box and made a few strong tackles that gave the defense a spark. A full offseason removed from injury should help Joseph find some consistency and give him a better chance to prove he was worth the investment.

    Backup: Keith McGill

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    McGill was given the opportunity to play over Nate Allen when Joseph was unavailable at the start of the season. But his struggles, particularly against the run, meant that he was benched immediately once Joseph was ready to go and wasn’t seen again for most of the season. When Joseph missed four games later in the season, Allen was given his reps over McGill, who was limited to special teams snaps for the most part. McGill is just a backup at this point in his career and is unlikely to take any snaps from Joseph. With Joseph’s injury history, the Raiders might look to upgrade McGill to find a more reliable backup.

    Team Need: 3/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Jabrill Peppers (Michigan), Budda Baker (Washington), Josh Jones (NC State)  

Kicker

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Starter: Sebastian Janikowski

    NFL1000 Scores: 68.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 12/34

    Janikowski’s 2016 was a microcosm of his career. He was slightly above-average overall, with enough tantalizing weeks that will amaze you, punctuated by bursts of inconsistency. Janikowski still has one of the bigger legs in the league, but his accuracy leaves something to be desired on a regular basis.

    Janikowski is 39 years old and entering the final year of his contract. Oakland has plenty of cap space, so it’s unlikely he’s a casualty at any point this year, but expect to see the Raiders bring in one or two undrafted kickers to compete in the preseason, with the expectation of signing one of them to a futures contract after the season is over to potentially take over for Janikowski as a lower-cost option.

    Team Need: 4/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None

Punter

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Punter: Marquette King

    NFL1000 Scores: 71.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 2/34

    Marquette King had a breakout season in 2016, putting the pieces together that had appeared sporadically over the start of his career. King was the best punter in the league over the first six weeks of the season, and though he faded somewhat in the second half, he was still good enough to hold on to the second spot in the NFL1000 rankings. King features a big leg, above-average hang time and showed directional control rivaling the best punters in the game last year.

    King still needs to prove he can repeat last year’s performance and that the regression we saw in the second half of the season is not his true baseline, but there is no reason to believe that King won’t be starting this year. And if he has another year like 2016, he’ll be the starter in Oakland/Vegas for years to come.

    Team Need: 0/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None

    Advanced stats via Pro Football Focus

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