NFL Draft

Raiders still need secondary help after Eli Apple, Jeff Heath signings

Raiders still need secondary help after Eli Apple, Jeff Heath signings

The Raiders have two new members of their secondary. Cornerback Eli Apple and safety Jeff Heath agreed to join the Silver and Back last week in free agency, part of an effort to shore up the defensive backfield that remains a work in progress.

Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock still are on the hunt for more help in an area with plenty of prospects and few established, standout pros.

Here’s how the Raiders secondary would likely look should the season start today:

CB: Eli Apple
S: Johnathan Abram
S: Jeff Heath/Erik Harris
SLOT: Lamarcus Joyner
CB: Trayvon Mullen
Key reserves: Nevin Lawson, Isaiah Johnson, Keisean Nixon, Heath/Harris, Dallin Leavitt

Is that group better than a 2019 unit that featured Daryl Worley, Karl Joseph, Harris, Joyner and Mullen? Not much, if any. It’s certainly functional on paper, maybe not fearsome.

Whether the Raiders can make significant upgrades in the NFL draft by finding someone who can make an instant impact is a large question mark. Defensive backs are one of several remaining needs the Raiders must fill, but it’s hard to count on rookies to play well right away. Last year’s Raiders draft class, which featured six instant impact players, is an outlier to be sure.

The Raiders could certainly count on Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah, but it’s virtually certain he will be drafted well before the Silver and Black pick at No. 12 and probably too high [and therefore costly] for a trade up to get him. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper mocked Florida’s C.J. Henderson to the Raiders at No. 12.

The Raiders own the Nos. 12 and 19 selections in this NFL draft, and then don’t pick again until the third round. They traded this year’s second-round pick to Chicago as part of the Khalil Mack trade.

Mullen was a second-round pick that proved effective down the stretch and should be a long-term solution at one cornerback spot. While Abram missed 15 games his rookie year with a shoulder injury, he flashed great ability and set expectations sky high as a tone-setting safety.

[RELATED: NFL free agency grades 2020: Raiders' best, worst player moves so far]

Alabama’s Xavier McKinney is built of similar stuff and could well be a first-round pick. The Raiders can’t address every need with an early pick and would be remiss by not adding a receiver on Day 1.

It’s entirely possible the Raiders will go with the group above. If that’s the case, position coach Jim O’Neil’s going to have to coach ‘em up and develop talent. That’s something he’s good at. Apple’s got a lot of untapped potential and a skill set that fits the Raiders' scheme. Heath has plenty of experience as a starter. The team has high hopes for Johnson, who remains a developmental prospect after missing most of last season with a facial fracture.

Joyner’s first Raiders season fell below expectations, but he has a track record of solid performance as a pro.

Abram and Mullen seem to be long-term solutions in the secondary. The Raiders need to identify a few more either on the roster, in the draft or on the open market. That will be important as they continue a roster rebuild that is going well but will take more time to complete.

Why Panthers signing Robby Anderson is bad for Raiders, 49ers' draft plans

Why Panthers signing Robby Anderson is bad for Raiders, 49ers' draft plans

Another big free-agent domino fell Tuesday when the Carolina Panthers agreed to sign wide receiver Robby Anderson to a two-year, $20 million contract. 

The Panthers, who supposedly are entering a full rebuild under new head coach Matt Rhule, added to one of their most glaring needs, giving new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a No. 1 receiver. The Panthers' signing of Anderson was bad news for the New York Jets, who were hoping to bring the receiver back, and tangentially for the Raiders and 49ers. 

As we head toward the 2020 NFL Draft, the Raiders (No. 12 overall pick) and the 49ers (No. 13 overall pick) both are looking to draft an elite wide receiver from a loaded class. Over the last few months, it has looked like both Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and Alabama's Jerry Jeudy could be available when the Raiders go on the clock at No. 12, giving Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock their pick of the litter and leaving the 49ers to take the best receiver left on the board. 

That all assumed that the Jets, who pick at No. 11, would draft an offensive tackle to keep Sam Darnold from getting beaten up for the third season in a row. This draft is as tackle heavy as it is receiver heavy at the top, with Louisville's Mekhi Becton, Iowa's Tristan Wirfs, Alabama's Jedrick Wills and Georgia's Andrew Thomas all expected to be top-20 picks. 

But, Anderson leaving the Big Apple to team up with his old college coach in Carolina gives the Jets a need that is as pressing as the one at left tackle. With Anderson gone, the Jets' only receivers are Breshad Perriman -- who they agreed to a one-year contract with Tuesday -- Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Braxton Berrios and Quincy Enuwa, along with assorted special teams and practice squad players. 

If you thought the Raiders' receiving corps last year was bad, this group is a whole lot worse. 

The Jets now will have to choose which position they think is more valuable to the development of their franchise quarterback -- wide receiver or left tackle?

In NBC Sports Bay Area's current mock draft, Dalton Johnson and I have the Jets taking Lamb, and that was before the Anderson signing. That had more to do with our infatuation for the Oklahoma receiver than the Jets' need at the position. But with Anderson and his 52 catches, 779 yards and five touchdowns now gone, the Jets have to get Darnold some playmakers on the outside or else he will be doomed to fail. 

If Jets head coach Adam Gase elects to take Lamb or Jeudy, that would give the Raiders the one left standing and have the 49ers choose between drafting Alabama's Henry Ruggs or trading down.

Make no mistake, Ruggs, who ran a 4.27 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine, is a prize unto himself. He's a dynamic downfield threat and a versatile weapon who can strike from anywhere. But he is just a tick below Lamb and Jeudy in my eyes. 

Another thing pushing the Jets the way of receiver and not left tackle is that Gang Green agreed to sign former Seattle Seahawks tackle George Fant in free agency. Fant, 27, was used as the sixth offensive lineman in Seattle, but he told KNJR in Seattle that he is coming to New York to play left tackle

“I made it very clear that I wanted to play that position at the end of the season,” Fant said, via Newsday. “That was a huge part of me making this decision to go there. I feel like that’s home for me. I feel like left tackle is the best position for me. Now it’s to the point where I’m ready to go out there and prove it and just go out there and do my job and try to help this team win games.”

[RELATED: How free-agent signings impact Raiders' draft plan]

Of course, the Jets still could take Wills or Thomas and put Fant at right tackle and address receiver later on in the draft. That might be the smarter choice in the long run. But, this is the Jets we are talking about. 

Anderson's departure appears to make it all the more likely the Jets go wideout at No. 11. That will leave the Raiders and 49ers hoping no other team in the top 10 goes wide receiver and they can still gobble up the remaining two of Lamb, Jeudy and Ruggs. 

Why PFF loved 49ers' DeForest Buckner trade for first-round draft pick

Why PFF loved 49ers' DeForest Buckner trade for first-round draft pick

The news was shocking at the time. Hours after agreeing to a five-year, $85 million contract with Arik Armstead, the 49ers traded DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. 

Buckner was voted as the team MVP last season. He is regarded as a better player than Armstead and seemed in line for a huge payday. Well, that payday came, but from the Colts instead of the 49ers. Indianapolis signed Buckner to a four-year, $84 million contract extension upon agreeing to the trade. 

While many 49ers fans shook their head at losing Buckner, analytics site Pro Football Focus loved the deal for San Francisco.

"With Emmanuel Sanders departing, the Niners are now in the market for a wide receiver, and by trading for Indy’s 13th overall pick, they are in a prime location to snag one of the elite receiving prospects in Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb or Henry Ruggs III," PFF writes.

In our latest mock draft between myself and Josh Schrock, the 49ers select Ruggs at No. 13 overall with Lamb and Jeudy both off the board. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. gave them Jeudy in his most recent mock draft after the first week of free agency.

All three of Lamb, Jeudy and Ruggs rank in PFF's top-10 draft prospects this year. The 49ers need a No. 1 receiver to complement Deebo Samuel and now are in prime position to do so through the draft on a cheap contract.

[RELATED: 49ers, Colts approached Buckner trade with opposite logic]

General manager John Lynch saved money he now can use on a George Kittle extension and didn't have to hand top dollars to Buckner, which PFF believes is way too much for a defensive tackle not named Aaron Donald. Coach Kyle Shanahan surely will miss Buckner, but has to be smiling at the thought of adding a young star as a weapon for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The 49ers' biggest strength took a hit by losing Buckner. One of their biggest weaknesses, however, soon could receive a significant upgrade.