Full Oakland Raiders Primer for 2017 NFL Draft

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2017

Full Oakland Raiders Primer for 2017 NFL Draft

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    Have you read the press clippings? Did you hear what the analysts said on NFL Network? Maybe you've looked through countless mock simulations to grasp how the Oakland Raiders may approach the 2017 NFL draft.

    Well, it's all here—with added detail.

    On Thursday, the Raiders will attempt to keep pushing the franchise's arrow upward for the 2017 season and beyond. General manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio held a pre-draft press conference on Friday, answering a variety of questions ranging from the imminent move to Las Vegas to the ongoing Marshawn Lynch story. 

    McKenzie tried his best to hold a poker face with a repeated prepared message that the team hopes to land quality players without tipping off his strategy. Still, the Raiders executive gave up some information worth analyzing during a critical week.

    Ahead of the draft, we'll go through all the tidbits, nooks and crannies to bring every Raiders fan up to speed.

    What's the best way to open the draft with the No. 24 overall pick? Ideally, how will Thursday, Friday and Saturday pan out? What should we expect from the Del Rio-McKenzie pact in their third year together?

Preparing with Marshawn Lynch in Mind?

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    During Friday's pre-draft conference, reporters pitched questions about the timeline for Lynch's decision. McKenzie nearly broke character and peeled back the curtain with his candid thoughts. Then he added an ambiguous cliff-hanger to his answer.

    "At some point, you'd like to know," McKenzie said. "Prior to the draft is that point. Our door is open. We're not shutting the door until that time pretty much, but who knows after that—not going to ever say never—but the door is still open."

    McKenzie's answer validated NFL Network's Ian Rapoport's report about a draft-day deadline for the 31-year-old running back. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Vic Tafur revealed a gap in pay expectations between Lynch and the team. Apparently, the front office offered $3 million, but the bruising back wants more than a third of what he's expected to make while on the Seattle Seahawks payroll.

    It's not just about playing for his city; Lynch has a specific price in mind. If the two sides fail to meet in the middle by Wednesday, the Raiders will seemingly fill departed running back Latavius Murray's role with a prospect at a deep position in this year's class.

    With Lynch, the Raiders should still draft a running back just in case he's not the same player after taking a year off. Despite a stout offensive line, it only takes one hit to put a player on the sideline—just ask quarterback Derek Carr. McKenzie shouldn't pass up on the talent at this position whether Beast Mode joins the backfield or not.

How Does Aldon Smith Affect the Draft?

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    Unlike Lynch, McKenzie considers pass-rusher Aldon Smith a nonfactor when it comes to influencing draft decisions.

    "As far as Aldon and the draft, our thought process is just on the draft," McKenzie said. "We're not considering Aldon at this point. He's still on the suspension list, so we're not considering him at this point."

    According to Rapoport's sources, the NFL would've reinstated Smith in March, barring any setbacks in the drug program. Take a look at your calendar; it's April, and there's no talk about the pass-rusher's reinstatement. 

    In March, the San Francisco Police Department detained Smith after a car accident involving authorities. In a subsequent video, the suspended linebacker seemed impaired when answering questions.

    It's not the time to pass judgment or pile on a person who's been through several trials and tribulations. However, McKenzie seemed far removed from a discussion about Smith. The team cannot have contact with him. The league's silence on his case indicates an extended ban.

    The Raiders drafted Shilique Calhoun in the third round of the 2016 draft. As an established pass-rusher at defensive end on the collegiate level, he needs time to adjust to his hybrid linebacker-defensive end role. The Michigan State product essentially covers Smith's spot on the roster.

Overview of Draft Picks

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    Raiders 2017 Draft Picks

    Round 1: No. 24 Overall

    Round 2: No. 56 Overall

    Round 3: No. 88 Overall

    Round 4: No. 129 Overall

    Round 5: No. 168 Overall

    Round 6: No. 208 Overall

    Round 7: No. 242 Overall

    Round 7: No. 244 Overall

    Like the previous draft, the Raiders will start with eight picks. In 2016, the front office traded a fourth- and a fifth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns to select quarterback Connor Cook with the No. 100 overall pick.

    Based on previous trends, you wouldn't expect McKenzie to trade up, but he left the door open.

    "I will not hesitate if I have to move up a little bit to get an impact player we feel is on our board whom we have to move up [for] a little bit," McKenzie told reporters. "I will not hesitate." 

    It's impossible to know who will be available late in the first round. However, the Oakland GM has a track record of selecting players with high character and no major off-field issues in the opening round. 

    You can go down the list of the team's first-round picks under McKenzie: cornerback D.J. Hayden, defensive end Khalil Mack, wide receiver Amari Cooper and safety Karl Joseph entered the league with squeaky-clean backgrounds. In fact, it shows the front office will take a chance on an injured player before a prospect with too many red flags. Hayden (abdominal) and Joseph (ACL) came into the pros on the mend.

    Expect the Raiders' Day 1 selection to fit the same mold as previous opening-round picks. Oakland has gone three years without an arrest. The model starts with the face of its draft classes—guys who've earned respect from teammates and stay out of the news reports.

Roster Needs, Potential Targets

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    Inside Linebacker 

    For some reason, inside linebacker Perry Riley doesn't have an NFL job. He adequately fufilled a starting role in 11 games for the team in the previous season. It's possible the front office may re-sign him after the draft if he's still available.

    Ben Heeney and Cory James have a head start on the starting spot. McKenzie must address inside linebacker with a quality prospect. Unfortunately, it's a thin position in 2017.

    Top five targets: Reuben Foster, Jarrad Davis, Anthony Walker Jr., Raekwon McMillan and Kendell Beckwith.

    Outside Linebacker

    Despite signing weak-side linebacker Jelani Jenkins during free agency, a training camp competition would bring out the best in the fifth-year pro or the incoming rookie. 

    Under Del Rio, the team has thrived on competition at contested spots. Linebacker Sio Moore learned the hard way during the 2015 offseason, when he returned from a hip injury. He lost his starting role and roster spot during Del Rio's first year as the Raiders head coach. The coaching staff isn't going to hand Malcolm Smith's starting role to Jenkins this summer.

    Top five targets: Zach Cunningham, Haason Reddick, Jayon Brown, Duke Riley and Elijah Lee.

    Interior Defensive Lineman 

    Del Rio has previously mentioned adding another defensive lineman at the meetings in Phoenix, per Tafur. The team also worked out defensive tackle Ego Ferguson during the offseason, per Pro Football Talk.

    The Raiders have talked about and shown interest in acquiring another defensive lineman. On Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs released Jaye Howard. He's the type of player the Raiders could flip into a productive one-year rotational asset with something to prove before hitting the free-agent market in 2018.

    If not Howard, the draft offers a deep class of interior linemen who can contribute right away. Rotational pass-rushers will be available in the third and fourth rounds.

    Top five targets: Malik McDowell, Chris Wormley, Jaleel Johnson, Vincent Taylor and Montravius Adams.

      

    Running Back

    If Lynch agrees to suit up for $3 million, the Raiders will likely bypass a strong running back class. However, a prospect like the Pittsburgh Panthers' James Conner would be a great addition to the backfield. He bases his game on Lynch's. More importantly, he's 6'1", 233 pounds and packing a lot of muscle behind his carries. He logged 52 touchdowns in 39 collegiate games.

    The Raiders carried five running backs in the previous season. It's not hard to believe they'd add Lynch and Conner, which puts Taiwan Jones' roster spot in jeopardy. However, it's not particularly hard to replace a special teams player.

    Top five targets: Samaje Perine, D'Onta Foreman, James Conner, Brian Hill and Jamaal Williams.

      

    Cornerback

    All eyes will be on cornerback Sean Smith after a shaky first season with the Raiders. At another talent-rich position, McKenzie shouldn't pass up a potential impact player, especially with the possibility of having to reshuffle the secondary.

    Defensive back T.J. Carrie's contract will expire after the 2017 season, per Spotrac. Oakland can release Smith without owing any dead cash for the final two years on his deal.

    Top five targets: Chidobe Awuzie, Gareon Conley, Tre'Davious White, Quincy Wilson and Sidney Jones.

      

    Safety

    Free safety Reggie Nelson's contract expires at the end of the season. Keith McGill, who's also in a contract year, remains the only depth player at the position. An injury to Nelson or Joseph would place a huge target on McGill's back.

    The Raiders should add two safties to help the transition beyond the forthcoming season. The higher draft pick should be a complement to Joseph, though the lower selection would be a quality asset for depth.

    Top five targets: Jabrill Peppers, Marcus Williams, Josh Jones, Desmond King and Obi Melifonwu.

At No. 24, What Do the Experts Say?

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    CBSSports.com, Will Brinson: Jarrad Davis, ILB, Florida

    Why?

    Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis fills a roster need as a safe choice in the first round. He adds versatility as a potential 4-3 outside linebacker with the skills to play inside in a 3-4 scheme. According to NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein, he became a well-respected player for his character, which fits in line with McKenzie's past first-round picks.

      

    Why Not?

    Despite his high character and production on the field, Davis has struggled to stay healthy. The Raiders would likely select him to play inside, which requires more physicality than playing on the weak side, cleaning up tackles in the open field. Would he be able to withstand banging bodies in the trenches? Davis played under 10 regular-season games in three of his four collegiate years.

      

    NFL Media, Bucky Brooks: Haason Reddick, LB, Temple

    Why?

    Haason Reddick put together highly productive seasons as a defensive end at Temple. He broke out during his senior campaign with 9.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for a loss. He exhibited fluid movement at the NFL Scouting Combine, which suggests that a move to linebacker would be appropriate with his skill set.

      

    Why Not?

    CBSSports.com ranks Reddick, who's a raw prospect at linebacker, ahead of Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham. It's a huge mistake to think the Temple defensive end could play a new position in the pros better than a three-year starter on the collegiate level. The Raiders can't afford to take a high-quality project with their first pick in the draft regardless of upside. As far as value, he'd be a poor choice at No. 24.

      

    NFLDraftScout.com, Rob Rang: Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State

    Why?

    Many analysts and coaches rave about Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell's size and quickness as a 6'6", 295-pound defensive lineman.

    One NFC North area scout compared him to a former No. 1 overall pick, per Zierlein: "He has a chance to be a dominant player in our league. I mean dominant. It hasn't turned on for him all the way yet, but if it does, he could be like Mario Williams."

      

    Why Not?

    The same scout comparing McDowell to Williams also called him lazy. The Michigan State product sounds like a hit-or-miss prospect. The coaching staff will either unlock his untapped potential or he'll tune everyone out and play mediocre football until his contract year comes up.

      

    ESPN, Mel Kiper Jr.: Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU

    Why? 

    Cornerback may be the deepest position in the draft. The quality at the top may entice the Raiders in the opening round. LSU's Tre'Davious White could offer the secondary perimeter insurance for Smith, who found himself frequently trailing in coverage early in the previous season. White broke up 14 passes during his senior year.

    Why Not?

    White doesn't have the tackling skills to readily play in the slot as a rookie. On film, he exhibits a lack of physicality to offer run support on the inside and may be susceptible to whiffing on tackles. As a result, White would stand on the sidelines until Smith, David Amerson or Carrie go down with injuries or embarrassment.

    Unless it's a potential franchise quarterback, do you want a first-round pick waiting as a contingency plan? Probably not.

       

    ESPN, Todd McShay: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

    Why?

    Florida State running back Dalvin Cook exhibits top-notch speed, which becomes a huge asset after the catch or in the open field on a carry. Behind the Raiders' burly offensive line, he'd become a nightmare to track down. Cook can break ankles on the way to a 30-yard touchdown run that started as a negative play. He would be the most talented among Oakland's three ball-carriers.

      

    Why Not?

    According to Zierlein, Cook experienced an issue with fumbles and the law through his collegiate years. Furthermore, the Raiders need a big-bodied ball-carrier who excels at blocking and punching carries past the goal line in jumbo packages. At 5'10" and 210 pounds with ball security concerns, Cook wouldn't complement DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.

Draft-Day Expectations

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    Day 1

    Specifically, over the past two years, McKenzie has addressed a pressing roster need in the opening round. In 2015, the team selected Cooper at No. 4 overall to pair with a Carr, who needed a dynamic perimeter target. Defensive end Leonard Williams seemed to be a likely candidate in the spot as well. Both positions needed impact players. McKenzie selected defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. in the following round. 

    On Thursday, expect Oakland to select an inside or outside linebacker, which means Cunningham, Reddick and Davis rank as the top three in no particular order.

      

    Day 2

    The Raiders drafted defensive lineman Jihad Ward in the second round of the 2016 draft. They'll likely give the second-year pro time to develop before picking up a high draft pick to compete against him in training camp. However, the team released defensive tackle Dan Williams, which frees up snaps for a rotational player with the potential to take over a starting role in the near future.

    Adding a safety would be a solid Plan B for the second round. Only one safety on the roster remains under contract after the 2017 season. McKenzie will likely take an early swing at redeeming his McGill pick from the 2014 draft. 

    In the third round, the Raiders should strongly consider adding a cornerback or the position not addressed between defensive tackle and safety in the second round. Quality prospects with starting potential should be available at all three positions at this point in the draft.

      

    Day 3

    Whether Lynch signs or not, the Raiders should consider acquiring a running back on Saturday. Several big, bruising ball-carriers who can move the chains and pile up touchdowns at the goal line should be available.

    Prospects such as Oklahoma's Samaje Perine, Texas product D'Onta Foreman and Conner, who was mentioned as a draft target earlier in this article, would appropriately complement Washington and Richard in the backfield.

    For the remaining draft picks, the Raiders should double up at positions lacking depth or a clear-cut starting player to encourage competition. Safety ranks as the thinnest unit on the roster. The front office should add multiple prospects at both linebacker positions to force the cream to rise to the top.

Biggest Draft Surprise: Drafting Joe Mixon

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    Raiders owner Mark Davis holds a strong stance against domestic violence, which may be traced back to his thoughts on acquiring Greg Hardy as a free agent during the 2015 season.

    Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon's 2014 incident falls under assault, which is still violence against women and probably rubs Davis the wrong way. Nonetheless, the Raiders have brought the 6'1", 226-pound ball-carrier in for pre-draft visits.

    During Friday's press conference, McKenzie talked about gathering all the information before making a football judgment. He also talked about Mixon's demeanor during the face-to-face interaction: "Really good kid. He came off really well. He was up front about everything. He came across as a good kid."

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Mixon has reached a civil agreement with the woman he punched nearly three years ago. 

    For those who side with Davis and extend their stance to include general violence against women, a good interview, a settlement and a few apologies isn't going to sway their opinion.

    According to Milwaukee Sentinel Journal reporter Bob McGinn, six out of the 11 general managers he spoke to said they wouldn't draft the Oklahoma running back under any circumstances.

    However, within a talented running back class, Mixon garners consideration as a top prospect. According to PhillyVoice writer Jimmy Kempski, the Philadelphia Eagles will consider drafting him. They're on the clock with the No. 14 pick in their hometown. Mixon to the Eagles in the opening round would certainly draw headlines and the eye of the social media world.

    Based on McKenzie's recent trends, the Raiders will likely address the defense early in the draft, but there's a slither of a chance Mixon goes to the Silver and Black. If he falls to Day 3, there's a minuscule possibility the Raiders executive will engage Davis in a discussion about adding a polarizing figure to the locker room.

    With the move to Las Vegas and the Lynch deal losing steam, the decision to add Mixon would add to the Raiders' recent public relations firestorm.

Ideal Fits

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    1st Round: Zach Cunningham, OLB, Vanderbilt

    Many wouldn't consider Cunningham ideal because of his missed tackles and lanky frame. However, with a late first-round draft pick, prospects will come with warts. Barring a trade up, the Raiders don't have a top-10 pick, players who tend to have few holes in their skill sets. If available, the Vanderbilt product would be a safe selection at No. 24.

    Cunningham had to overcompensate for a defense lacking overall talent. Del Rio, who talks about tackling and leverage ad nauseam, would address any defects in the prospect's tackling technique if necessary.

      

    2nd Round: Marcus Williams, FS, Utah 

    Utah's Marcus Williams possesses the ball skills, speed and athleticism needed to play free safety behind two slower cornerbacks who may trail speedy receivers in coverage. He grabbed 10 interceptions over the past two seasons. 

    Many like Budda Baker in this spot, but two 5'10" safeties could be susceptible to long passes to bigger receivers running down the middle. At 6'1", 202 pounds, Williams offers a decent chance at coming down with 50-50 jump balls against pass-catchers looking to high-point the football.

    3rd Round: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

    McKenzie could cement his name as a draft-day genius by selecting cornerback Sidney Jones in the third round. The Washington prospect tore his Achilles at his pro day, per Yahoo Sports writer Eric Edholm, but CBSSports.com ranked him as a first-round pick before the injury.

    Oakland could snag a first-round talent in the third round and shelve him for a year, which would put zero added pressure on Smith, Amerson or Carrie. For those who may think it's a wasted pick for a player who needs a full year of recovery, last year's third-round pick, Calhoun, only played 10 games before going on injured reserve. When active, he played just 16 percent of the defensive snaps.

       

    4th Round: Anthony Walker Jr. ILB, Northwestern 

    At inside linebacker, it's Alabama's Reuben Foster and the rest. Davis' injury history places him in the muddle with Ohio State's Raekwon McMillan and Northwestern product Anthony Walker Jr., who put together solid sophomore and junior seasons.

    Similar to Davis, Walker's teammates respect him as a leader in the locker room, per Zierlein. In the same report, an AFC scout discussed his inflated playing weight as a hindrance, but he weighed 238 pounds at the combine. The Northwestern product would be a solid downhill thumper with the ability to backpedal for short-area coverage duties.

      

    5th Round: Vincent Taylor, DT, Oklahoma State

    There's enough talent at defensive tackle to wait until the fifth round for a rotational interior pass-rusher. The defense doesn't necessarily need an immediate starter, but there's a role open for an interior lineman with specific skills. The Raiders struggled to apply pressure in the A-gaps to flush stationary quarterbacks outside the pocket.

    Vincent Taylor racked up 7.5 sacks during his final collegiate season at Oklahoma State. He doesn't have the strength or technique to handle two-gap assignments, but he can make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket.

    6th Round: James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh

    Within a deep running back class, Conner could slip into the sixth round. He doesn't project as a lead ball-carrier, which pushes him down the pecking order at his position. 

    Nonetheless, he's a perfect fit for the Raiders backfield. He's a fearless pass-blocker, which bodes well for Carr when he's trying to extend plays. At 6'1" and 233 pounds, he's going to move the chains and run over a few defenders near the goal line for touchdowns.

      

    7th Round: Elijah Lee, OLB, Kansas State

    Linebacker Elijah Lee's purpose would be pushing Cunningham and Jenkins during training camp. Then he'd apply his speed and tackling ability on special teams for a couple of seasons.

    If Cunningham's tackling issues continue or Jenkins never pans out into a valuable role player, Lee's quickness and ability to cover tight ends would benefit the defense. The Kansas State prospect logged five interceptions over the past two seasons.

      

    7th Round: Damarius Travis, S, Minnesota

    The Raiders lost safeties Brynden Trawick and Nate Allen via free agency, which opens reserves snaps on defense and opportunities on special teams. Safety Damarius Travis would bring toughness and grit to an overlooked unit, but he possesses the skill set to earn snaps in secondary.

    The Minnesota prospect doesn't have the flashy statistics. However, based on recent film, he makes his presence known with hard hits and physical plays in run support. During his senior season, he exhibited limited coverage capabilities with two interceptions and four passes defensed.

       

    Stats provided by Sports Reference and Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.

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