Raiders

Five draft options for the Raiders at No. 10 overall

Five draft options for the Raiders at No. 10 overall

The NFL draft’s coming up quick. The Raiders will be on the clock before the sun sets on April 26, armed with the No. 10 overall pick.

That’s a valuable spot, with several quality options at multiple areas of need. It could also be a tradable asset should a quarterback-starved team want to trade up for a passer slipping down the chart.

Let’s assume, for a moment, the Raiders stand pat. A quarterback run at the top should shove some elite prospects down, even if some coveted talents get taken before the Raiders pick.

Let’s take a look at five good options that could be available at No. 10. There's enough quality atop the draft that the Raiders will have good choices even if some guys are gone. 

1. LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
The former Hokie is a do-it-all linebacker with amazing physical tools, viewed by many as an all-star at the professional ranks. He can play off the ball or rush the passer. He can stop the run and tackles well. Edmunds has ideal size at 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, with long limbs to pair with great athleticism. He has all that, and he won’t turn 20 until May 2. There’s tremendous upside there, and Raiders head coach Jon Gruden won’t hold age against him.

“There’s a 19-year-old football player in this draft that’s a hell of a player,” Gruden said at the NFL owners meetings. “We’re not going to discriminate against him because he’s 19. You’re the best player and you fit what we’re looking for, we’ll take you.”

The Raiders could take Edmunds and help a lackluster linebacker corps. Analysts say some development is required to become a top-end pro, especially on the mental side of things, but Edmunds can be a disruptive three-down force in all aspects of a defense.

He can play any linebacker spot, and could help the Raiders right away on the outside opposite Tahir Whitehead or in the middle. Edmunds, however, can do several things well.

“Right now what I say is a starting-off-the-ball linebacker and a potential sub at edge rusher,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said after the NFL scouting combine. “He's got a skill set -- I don't use this word often, but he has a skill set that's unique.”

2. DT Vita Vea, Washington
The Milpitas native plays the position of the greatest Raiders need. They’re desperate for help on the inside, especially rushing the passer. Vea’s a run stopper first, but can still get after the quarterback. Washington used him across the defensive line to capitalize on freak athleticism for someone who stands 6-foot-4 and 347 pounds.

Vea could step right in an make an impact on run defense and keep offensive lines honest with Khalil Mack or Bruce Irvin.

“He can really roll his hips and he's got tremendous power as a run defender,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said in a conference call. “And I think he does have upside as a pass rusher.”

The Raiders need a complete defensive tackle in Paul Guenther’s defense, and they’re hard to find. Vea might be one, which makes him tough to pass up.

3. LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
Inside linebackers are getting lighter, faster and more agile these days, a response to pass-happy NFL offenses throwing to varied targets. The Raiders need someone like Smith (6-1, 236), a true sideline-to-sideline presence in the second level. They have struggled covering tight ends and running backs for several seasons. Smith could help immediately in those areas. He’s also an effective run defender with tremendous instincts and a nose for the football. Smith is also known as a disciplined leader who the Raiders could plug into the middle and play. He and Tahir Whitehead would offer a significant upgrade to the Raiders linebacker corps, and improve a weak area right away.

“He's so easy to love when you look at everything he brings to the table,” Jeremiah said. “And I think interview wise and teams doing their background on him, I think that puts him way up there. To me you look at the Bay Area teams, 9 and 10, that makes a lot of sense for him there. And you look at Jon Gruden having been around Derrick Brooks (in a previous coaching stint with Tampa Bay), I would think he could see a little bit of Derrick Brooks in a guy like Roquan Smith, so that makes sense there.”

4. CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
The Raiders drafted an Ohio State cornerback in last year’s first round. They might need another one, even with big things expected from 2017’s No. 24 overall pick Gareon Conley and recent veteran signing Rashaan Melvin. The Raiders are revolutionizing their secondary, and teams need three quality cover men these days. Ward is the draft’s stickiest cornerback, even with less-than-ideal size at 5-foot-10, 191 pounds.

He can play in the slot, and would make an excellent addition to his position group in Alameda considering his pro-ready technique, speed and agility.

5. DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Fitzpatrick can do most everything well in the defensive backfield, and the Raiders might jump at the opportunity to select such a dynamic versatile talent. He probably wouldn’t be on the board at No. 10 without a quarterback rush, and could still go before the Raiders pick.

Derrick Ansley was Alabama’s secondary coach before assuming that position with the Raiders this winter, and knows firsthand how dominant Fitzpatrick can be. He can cover the slot, play nickel linebacker or deep safety. He has great range, plays physical and is completely committed to the game. He’s also a solid blitzer. Analysts say Fitzpatrick makes smart reads and fits well in any coverage.

He would be extremely difficult to pass up if available when the Raiders select.

Raiders receiver quest may continue in NFL Draft

Raiders receiver quest may continue in NFL Draft

Go ahead and put receivers Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson into the Raiders starting lineup. Use a pen. Only injury would be cause to reach for the White Out.

New Raiders head coach Jon Gruden loves both guys. He said Cooper will be the passing game’s main attraction. He imported Nelson for his on-field production and locker-room leadership.

The Raiders are looking to upgrade receiver depth, a point made clear in free agency. They went after Ryan Grant, who eventually signed with Indianapolis. They brought Eric Decker in for a visit, though he left without a deal.

The NFL Draft could provide an upgrade. The Raiders could use some help in the slot, and with a sure-handed speed demon to take the top off a defense.

This draft class doesn’t feature a pass catcher worthy of the No. 10 overall pick, with few considered first-round talents. Help can be found down the draft, with early contributors seemingly available in the early and middle rounds. Here are a few options that could help the Raiders passing game:

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
-- The former Aggie is a strong, target well suited for the slot. He can handle physical play at the line of scrimmage, has good hands and analysts say he’s adept at finding soft spots in zone coverage. He doesn’t have a huge catch radius, and doesn’t have burner speed to thrive on the outside, but he could be effective taking the smaller chunks offered in Gruden’s offense. He’s also a solid return man, and could help on special teams.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 2-3

James Washington, Oklahoma State
The former Cowboy doesn’t have D.J. Chark’s raw speed, but has plenty of big-play ability the Raiders need offensively. He uses solid positioning, hands and high-point ability to make important catches down the field. Analysts say he has great build-up speed and avoids physicality at the line. He can work inside and out, but could create space inside for Cooper and Nelson to work in favorable matchups. He isn’t built like a typical NFL receiver, but finds ways to make plays.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 2-3

Dante Pettis, Washington
-- Gruden likes precise route running, a trait Pettis has in spades. He could be a weapon from the slot, and can create separation quickly. Analysts also say he’s good finding open space during scramble drills, and has reliable hands. Physical corners can be bothersome, and he doesn’t have top-end speed. He could be an impactful member of an offense, and could help return punts as well.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 3-4

Deontay Burnett, USC
-- Burnett is built like a slot receiver, with plenty of experience playing inside. CBS Sports considers him a solid sleeper prospect among slot receivers, and analysts say he’s good making catches in traffic. He’s good in scramble drills, and can take big hits without losing possession. He isn’t great on deep passes and scouts say he doesn’t have room to add significant muscle mass to his relatively thin frame. He could be an asset in Gruden’s scheme, and available later than aforementioned receivers.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 4-5

Damion Ratley, Texas A&M
-- NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah tweeted about Kirk's teammate on Saturday morning as an intriguing prospect with size, speed and solid route running. He could be available late, a viable option if the Raiders look toward other positions earlier in the draft. He averaged 23.1 yards per catch, with an ability to make plays after the catch. His draft profile suggests he needs help battling physical corners, and may need better focus each play to compete steadily at the NFL. 
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 6-7

Why Raiders players should pay close attention to NFL Draft this year

Why Raiders players should pay close attention to NFL Draft this year

ALAMEDA – Raiders players should keep a close eye on who gets drafted next week. Pros typically follow the NFL’s amateur selection to see where their team gets help, or whether competition’s coming to their position group.

Some Raiders, however, might see their roster spot given away.

The Raiders have 76 guys on the roster already, a high sum created by a hyperactive free-agent signing stretch. They have 11 draft picks coming. If each one gets used, that leaves three open spots on the 90-man offseason roster.

GM Reggie McKenzie will sign more undrafted free agents than that. The Raiders have a penchant for finding diamonds in the rough, and will target several after the draft concludes.

“What we’re going to do is we will evaluate all of those free agents after the draft and if we feel like we can upgrade, we will,” McKenzie said Friday in his annual, required pre-draft press conference. “So, that’s not going to hinder us from trying to sign some players. We’re just going to have to compare, you know, to what we have. We’re going to bring in the best 90. We only have X amount of spots. We may have to create some.”

That last line means some guys on the Raiders roster won’t stay long. They won’t get a chance to impress Jon Gruden’s coaching staff over an offseason program. They’ll get two weeks of offseason workouts and next week’s voluntary minicamp. That’s about it.

It’s fair to say fringe players signed before Gruden came aboard should be worried, considering the influence Gruden has on the roster. That includes players last year’s practice squad and maybe some recent draft picks who haven’t established themselves yet.

There are plenty on reserve/futures contracts who can be filtered out to create the roster space required to add preferred members of this year’s amateur class.

A well-known name may be among them, considering the Raiders must free some cap space to sign their rookie class. Per the NFLPA, the Raiders have $1.8 million in cap space. Their rookie pool is $9.454 million. The space required to sign the class isn’t found with simple subtraction – we won’t bore you with the details – but the Raiders will have to create a little bit of space to get everybody signed under the cap. Such maneuvering could include cuts or restructures or 2018 space created by a contract extension given to a certain elite edge rusher. The Raiders have options in that regard.

Roster space, however, is a bit more cut and dry. Only 90 spots exist. They’ll have to shuffle folks out to bring others in, and it’s going to happen soon.