Defense remains in demand, but Raiders won't reach 'to satisfy a need'

Defense remains in demand, but Raiders won't reach 'to satisfy a need'

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders needed cornerback help and got some by drafting Gareon Conley 24th overall. General manager Reggie McKenzie insists he didn’t select solely to fill a need.

“This was totally the draft board,” he said Thursday night. “I mean, it was hands down the best player left on our board.”

Head coach Jack Del Rio chipped away at that stance a bit, clearly happy to get a good player in an area where he can help right away.

“A lot of us guys say that this time of year though, don’t we?” Del Rio said with a laugh. “Definitely was a happy moment for us.”

Conley was a top 15 talent, with stock driving south by a sexual assault allegation made public this week that is being investigated by Cleveland. He has not been charged or arrested in regard to the April 9 incident.

The Raiders are confident he’ll be cleared, leaving them with an excellent value that could provide long-term production in the secondary.

Cornerback wasn’t the only Raiders need. They’re in desperate need of an inside linebacker – they passed on Alabama’s Reuben Foster – and could used depth at defensive tackle and safety.

McKenzie says he’ll continue to follow his draft board over reaching for a specific position. The Raiders were happy to acquire Conley, and hope more value comes their way.

“Well, hopefully there’s Day 2 that will fall the same way,” McKenzie said. “We’re going to still follow our board. We know our needs, but, we will not let, we feel, a great player slip by just to satisfy a need. We will follow our board, that’s for sure. There are a lot of good players, so we’re expecting a good day tomorrow.”

Matching need and value is the ultimate goal. If that occurs, expect a defensive slant to the rest of this draft. They need early impact players and depth at every level of their defense. They might consider an offensive tackle, with uncertainty at right tackle and Donald Penn unsure if he’ll play beyond the 2017 season. It seems unlikely the Raiders go for a running back unless it’s late, after acquiring Marshawn Lynch this week.

There’s plenty of talent heading into the second round. Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham is the best inside linebacker on the board, with Florida’s Alex Anzalone and LSU’s Kendall Beckwith behind him. Malik McDowell and Caleb Wormley and are intriguing defensive line options. Cam Robinson is considered the best offensive tackle left on the board, though he's likely gone before the Raiders pick.

Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster


Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster

The Raiders have a lot of quarterbacks under contract, certainly more than they’ll have come September.

That means the battle to be Derek Carr’s backup should be fierce. EJ Manuel had that title last year, with a shot to retain it after re-signing with the club on Thursday afternoon.

Veteran Josh Johnson signed up Monday, and those two will join third-year man Connor Cook behind Carr on the depth chart.

New head coach Jon Gruden loved Cook coming out of the draft, but the Michigan State alum failed to earn the backup job last season and must make a move up the depth chart to kickstart his career.

Manuel has a strong arm and starting experience, making him a steady and solid backup option. He completed 24-of-43 passes for 265 yards, a touchdown and an interception in two games when Carr was hurt.

Johnson might be a camp arm at this point, though he’ll be given a chance to compete this spring and summer.

Carr has been hurt for at least a small stretch in each of the last two seasons. Having Manuel in that spot might offer stability.

Gruden addressed last year’s backup quarterbacks last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Gruden on Manuel: “I think EJ is a young, talented guy,” Gruden said. “He’s been in the facility working out on his own every day. There is a bright upside to him, too, as a young quarterback to keep working with. He’s a free agent, but the Philadelphia Eagles proved that’s a pretty damn important position, isn’t it? Right? So we have to address that and see where we are.”

Gruden on Cook: “I am kind of surprised Connor hasn’t played in two years, other than the playoff game he got in as a rookie. After Derek got hurt last year, they turned the ball to EJ. I don’t know where Connor Cook is. I am frustrated right now that I can’t spend any time with him, but, April 9th (when the Raiders offeseason program starts) will be an exciting day for me and Connor Cook.”

Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini


Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini

The Raiders need help at right tackle, the lone vacancy along their offensive line. They signed a veteran presence on Thursday afternoon, adding 32-year old Breno Giacomini as the frontrunner to join the starting five.

He has 86 starts in 94 career games, and has been a full-time starter three of the last four years. Giacomini spent 2017 in Houston and the previous three seasons with the New York Jets.

He was a Seattle Seahawk before that, working with Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable for three of his four years there. Cable gave Giacomini his first chance to start in the second half of 2011, and held the post through 2012.

The bond between the two is clearly strong, considering what Giacomini tweeted shortly after Cable got fired in Seattle.

Coach and player will reunite, hoping to provide steadiness on the right side of the Raiders offensive line.

He’ll compete for a starting spot with Vadal Alexander, second-year pros David Sharpe and Jylan Ware and possibly a drafted player. Giacomini should be considered the favorite unless the Raiders use an early pick on an offensive lineman.

Giacomini has plenty of starts, but his Pro Football Focus numbers aren’t pretty. The analytics says he allowed nine sacks, eight quarterback hits and 64 pressures with Houston last year. He had some decent years under Cable, and a return to that form might push him into the starting lineup for good. Time will tell on that front.