Draft Needs: Oakland Raiders
It’s that time of the year again. Teams are looking for their franchise centerpiece to fill holes in their roster or looking to make trades.
This year teams such as the Patriots and Rams will try to add depth and potential future stars to their teams, while teams such as the Cardinals and 49ers will try to add pieces to build around their franchise quarterbacks. The Oakland Raiders have three first-round draft picks and four in the first 35 picks. Here are their five areas of need:
Arguably the most important need for the Oakland Raiders in the draft this year is an edge rusher. After Khalil Mack was traded before the season began, the Raiders couldn’t generate a consistent pass rush. They ended the year with just 13 sacks (worst in the league), and Maurice Hurst had just about a third of those 13, finishing the season with four. Safety Karl Joseph was tied for third on the team with two sacks, that’s how bad it has been in Oakland.
While the Raiders defense wasn’t great and their pass rush wasn’t spectacular when Khalil Mack was there, he was the only player who was able to command double teams and beat his man one versus one. Also, in Khalil Mack’s four seasons in Oakland, only once has he been held to single digits in sacks, which includes his 2016-17 year where he managed to win defensive player of the year while recording 11 sacks.
The Raiders are missing a playmaker on their defense and this draft is loaded with defensive talent. The brother of division rival Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa is expected to be a high draft pick and according to some scouts, he can be better than his older brother. While that remains to be seen, he will surely be able to provide an upgrade to the Raiders pass rush. He had 17.5 sacks at Ohio State and had four sacks in three games this season before an injury ended his season.
For the past few years, the middle of the field has been a problem on the defense for the Raiders. This past season, the Raiders gave up 140 yards per game on the ground and their linebackers struggled against the pass all season.
Throughout Reggie McKenzie’s time as general manager (2012-2018), he could never find stability at the inside linebacker position. Only Navarro Bowman and Perry Riley were able to provide some sort of stability at that position, and neither of them stayed for more than one season. McKenzie never used anything higher than a fifth-round pick on linebacker during his tenure and it shows. That’s not all on the linebacker unit, but it’s a big part because they don’t have their “Quarterback” on defense.
Over the years they’ve tried to sign free agent linebackers for the defense, players such as Malcolm Smith, Perry Riley, Tahir Whitehead, and others. It just hasn’t worked out for them. In fact, the Raiders have only sent two linebackers, Khalil Mack and Derrick Burgess, to the Pro Bowl since they moved back to Oakland in 1995. Both Mack and Burgess, are known for their play at defensive end rather than at linebacker.
It’s time for the Raiders to spend a high draft pick to sure up the second level of their defense. Devin Bush has been touted as a physical specimen who’s always around the football. In his last two seasons at LSU, he had over 100 tackles. He could be the perfect guy for Oakland moving forward.
This past season, Derek Carr was sacked a career-high 51 times. This was one of the reasons the Raiders offense struggled last season. They ranked 23rd in total offensive yards and 28th in points scored. The running game was nonexistent, ranking 25th in yards per game.
At the time of his injury, Marshawn Lynch was leading the league in yards after contact. Most of the contact was happening behind the line of scrimmage and the line wasn’t opening any holes. The coaching change did play a factor in it, as the Raiders changed their offensive line coach from Mike Tice to Tom Cable.
The Raiders also switched from a power blocking scheme to a zone scheme. The problem with that is that the Raiders guards, Kelechi Osmele and Gabe Jackson, are power blockers and don’t fit with the scheme. With the recent trade of Osmele, they can draft a new guard.
With the question marks regarding right tackle Donald Penn, Oakland might want to look for a new one for the future. Offensive tackle Jonah Williams from Alabama has been dominant all season. If the Raiders were to somehow draft him, they would sure up the right side of their offensive line. With the signing of Trent Brown, the Raiders can get back to where they were once at, such as their 2016 season when they were the best offensive line in the NFL.
What was once the position that the Raiders were known to terrorize opponents with is now a big weakness for them. They’ve gone from players such as Lester Hayes and Charles Woodson locking up half the field to Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley today.
The Raiders were the 19th ranked defense against the pass this season and were 14th in interceptions. That’s not all on the secondary, as they lacked the pass rush to force quarterbacks into making errant throws. The corners must be better, however, they gave up 36 passing touchdowns, which was dead last in the NFL this season.
While the cornerback play wasn’t as terrible as it has been for the past few years, the Raiders need a true shutdown cornerback. Conley has shown flashes of being that type of player, but he’s going to need someone opposite of him that can defend their side of the field. The corners of the Raiders rarely travel, so to have another corner on the other side capable of holding his own will allow the Raiders to be a lot more aggressive on defense and not have to give help to a weak link.
In today’s game where everyone is throwing the ball 35 times a game, there’s a huge need for lockdown corners, especially for Oakland who plays in a division with Phillip Rivers and the reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes. Look for the Raiders to add more help in the secondary after signing Lamarcus Joyner two days ago. If they can’t acquire Nick Bosa, look for them to take a hard look at someone like Greedy Williams, who is the number one ranked cornerback coming out of LSU.
For the past two seasons, the rushing attack for the Raiders has been led by Marshawn Lynch. While he’s still a solid back and can still grind out extra yards after contact, he’s not the runner he once was. When he went down with an injury, Doug Martin took over and lead the team in rushing.
It’s time to bring in some youth at the running back position in Oakland. They were ranked 25th in rushing and 23rd in yards per carry. Jon Gruden doesn’t like to rebuild through the draft, but rather than signing veterans who are past their prime, if he wants to bring winning back to the Raiders he’s going to need some fresh legs at the running back position.
Oakland hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Latavius Murray back in 2015-16. It’s no coincidence that the two best years of Derek Carr’s career, he has had a running game to back him up. The Raiders can’t rely on Derek Carr to bring them back in the 4th quarter of almost every game as he did in 2016-17. Relying on veterans at the running back position hasn’t worked for them in the past two years.
Of the top 10 rushers from the past season, only Adrian Peterson (33) was over the age of 24. The young rushers are taking over the NFL and if the Raiders want to get back to the 12-win season they posted in 2016-17, they’re going to need to find their young stud in the draft this season.
With four draft picks in the first 35, this is a chance for the Raiders to improve their team and acquire pieces for the future. For a franchise that is famous for drafting for certain physical gifts, such as speed, it’s time for them to draft based on how good a player is rather than just his 40 times. With Mike Mayock, who was a scout for the NFL draft, as the Raiders General Manager, they should finally acquire great talent that can help them get back to the NFL’s elite.
Zachary Smith is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. You can contact him at Zsmith3435@gmail.com.