Early in the offseason, general manager Reggie McKenzie made it clear the Raiders have needs.
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With an “S.”
That still may be true after Oakland’s barrage of free agent signings, coupled with the trade acquisition of quarterback Matt Schaub. But being a much better team on paper, they still require some bonafide play-makers.
The draft holds several keys to improving more. There’s guys like Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack, or should defensive end Jadeveon Clowney fall, oh my.
Realistically, there’s little chance of Clowney being available at pick five. And the Raiders have too much to lose by trading up, and effectively giving up a lot, for one player.
So who should they target? Let’s begin by identifying their needs.
Safety: Charles Woodson, despite his incredible play last season, is on the brink of retirement.
Offensive Tackle: Though the team added Donald Penn and Austin Howard, they need a rock on the left side for the next 15-or-so seasons.
Wide Receiver: I’m confident in the capabilities of Rod Streater, Denarius Moore and James Jones, but the team could really be energized by someone that can’t be duplicated.
Quarterback: Matt Schaub is much better than his 2013 stats show. Still, the Raiders could use a quarterback to groom for the extended long term.
Cornerback: DJ Hayden is the only guy with starting experience that isn’t on his second or third contract.
Defensive Tackle: Stacy McGee stepped in and played admirably last season, but they need a guy who can really move the pocket to be a defensive force.
Defensive End: Justin Tuck isn’t slowing down, according to the 11 sacks he posted in 2013, but Oakland could use a franchise edge rusher.
Given this set of needs, lets take a look at who fits the bill, and when these players should be available.
Safety: Calvin Pryor (late first round, early second), Terrence Brooks (late second round, early third).
The top safety in the class, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix probably won’t be available after the first round, and Oakland ain’t taking him in the top five. Pryor has a solid skillset and should have a solid NFL career, barring serious injury.
But Brooks is quickly becoming my favorite, even when Clinton-Dix is in the mix. His college tape has a lot of Eric Reid in it, along with a splash of Antoine Bethea. I’ve also heard he’s great with media, wink wink.
Tackle: There are about five in the mix at the tackle spot that could provide instant support. Two of those five, Greg Robinson and Jake Mathews, will probably be gone by the time Oakland steps up.
One in particular could slip to the Raiders with their 36th overall pick in the second round: Zack Martin. Fourth on my rankings, Martin isn’t a power blocker, but can use his incredible agility to make up for it.
Wide Receiver: The Raiders shouldn’t draft Sammy Watkins. Well, they should. But shouldn’t, because they’re in too deep of a hole to not trade down — not to mention they’ll probably get some incredible trade offer.
No, they should wait. Target Marqise Lee or Martavis Bryant later, maybe someone else who’s sure to fall. But the top five pick is going to be worth a lot this year. And McKenzie is well aware.
Quarterback: The Raiders could score in a major way if Zach Mettenberger is still around in the third round. His upside is projected by many to be well above the NFL average; one look at his tape will show you why.
Logan Thomas will probably still be around in the third day, and while he has some polishing to be done, he also has the raw tools that allude to a promising future.
Cornerback: Keith McGill is 6-foot-3 and has hops like DeAndre Jordan. He has the size to cover a guy like Calvin Johnson, and appears to have the speed too. McGill’s only shortcoming is that his talents may be too raw to start on day one.
Stanley Jean-Babtiste may be a nice day three selection, that could provide a nice impact two years down the road.
Defensive Tackle: I’m enthralled by Timmy Jernigan. I watched Florida State all last season with a keen eye on Jernigan and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
Jernigan was caught taking multiple breathers late in last season’s national title game, which could hurt his draft stock. But the FSU pass rush was totally different when he was in the game, totally dominant.
Will Sutton is another guy who has been flying under the radar for quite some time now.
Defensive End: On one hand, there’s a guy like Dominque Easley, who hurt himself during Senior Bowl practice. Easley has a long injury history and could fall, way down, on the draft board.
On the other, there’s a guy like Jackson Jeffcoat of Texas, who has all the sheer ability in the world, but may need some serious coaching. I like Jeffcoat, a lot. Oh, and his dad is Jim Jeffcoat, that guy who helped Dallas along to multiple Super Bowls in the mid-’90s.