Ranking the Raiders' Top 5 draft needs
Who is McKenzie targeting?
The Raiders have a talented roster with some significant holes, especially on defense, heading into this NFL Draft. This is a deep draft at several areas of consequence, allowing general manager Reggie McKenzie to focus on a spectrum of positions as the draft carries forward without losing sight of the fact he must fill some voids with young quality...
The Raiders have an initial-ballot Pro Bowler in free safety Reggie Nelson and last-year’s first round pick Karl Joseph at strong safety. That doesn’t mean they don’t need help here. On a team with few holes in the starting lineup, drafting for depth and developmental talent is a smart move. Nelson is 33 years old and in a contract year. The Raiders have next to no depth behind their starters, with little-used Keith McGill in a contract year and Nate Allen and Brynden Trawick departed in free agency. The Raiders could look for a free safety later in the draft, and Colorado’s Tedric Thompson is a quality cover man expected to last until the middle rounds who could develop behind Nelson.
4. Running back
This need may get filled before the draft, if the Raiders can bring Marshawn Lynch into the fray. They’ll need to agree on terms of a contract, acquire his rights from Seattle and have him formally come out of retirement to do so, and they’d prefer all that happen before the draft. He would fill a void atop the depth chart with Latavius Murray in Minnesota and provide a bruising style the Raiders need in the position group. If that doesn’t happen, running back becomes a crucial draft need. There are others more pressing – GM Reggie McKenzie has been good mining rushing talent from later rounds – and quality can be found later in this deep class. Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara may be an earlier option, though Pittsburgh’s James Connor or Toledo’s Kareem Hunt, BYU’s Jamaal Williams could be available later on.
3. Defensive tackle
Head coach Jack Del Rio made it crystal clear after last season the Raiders need more interior pressure. They’ll get some if Mario Edwards Jr. can stay healthy, but they’ll need more from others up front. Another active interior pass rusher is required, and the Raiders could use a higher pick to find one. While they need more immediate help in other places, interior pressure solves a lot of problems. Michigan State’s Malik McDowell is a highly rated, athletic defensive tackle, though Florida’s Caleb Brantley might be a great fit in the second round.
The Raiders have an immediate need at slot cornerback, but might also mine this deep cornerback draft class for a longer-term solution on the outside even with Sean Smith and David Amerson under contract a while. LSU’s Tre’Davious White has reps in the slot and can work outside in time, with the talent to strengthen a secondary in need of help right away. It seems likely the Raiders take a cornerback in earlier rounds, and Washington’s Kevin King might be another first round option, but there’s plenty of talent later on at this premium position. .
The Raiders don’t have set starters at either middle linebacker or on the weakside, where coverage and run defense are primary responsibilities. That must get remedied before the season starts. Jelani Jenkins is an option on the weakside, so most draft pundits now envision the Raiders going linebacker with the 24th overall pick. General manager Reggie McKenzie doesn’t like to be bound by need, and he could look to last year’s starter Perry Riley – he’s still on the open market – in a pinch for the veteran’s price. Still, it seems the Raiders almost have to look at linebacker in early rounds. There just isn’t enough quality or depth there to let the position group lay fallow. Florida inside linebacker Jarrad Davis has the football and off-field traits the Raiders love, and seems like a great fit. Temple’s Haason Reddick and Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham have also characteristics that would help the Raiders defense.