The Raiders a lost a coin toss that dropped this year’s draft slot below the 49ers. We’ll ignore the overblown nature of the well-hyped non-event – it was broadcast live on NFL Network, for goodness sakes – and hone on one simple fact.
The Raiders still have a top 10 pick. While the 49ers share some needs with the Raiders, and could selected a coveted prospect, there’s a quality cluster of players general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Jon Gruden should snag without regret.
Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward and Washington’s Vita Vea could be available at No. 10. All three would fill a role of need with quality. They stood out at the NFL Scouting Combine, which supported excellent college game tape.
The Raiders could stay put and take someone right there, or trade down for a different tier player and more selections. That’s certainly possible if a quarterback run extends to the 10 slot.
All that guesswork is made for mock drafts. Let’s take a look at the aforementioned intriguing possibilities at No. 10 – we’re assuming elite options, like Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick are already gone – heading toward the NFL draft.
Smith is the coverage linebacker the Raiders have sorely missed in recent seasons. He has excellent speed. He’s an explosive tackler, a team leader and someone you could simply plug in and let him play.
“I feel like I’m very instinctual,” Smith said. “My IQ of the game and my sideline to sideline ability. My ability to strike guys. And make plays. I’m just a playmaker, if you ask me.”
Smith also stands a bit smaller than inside linebackers of old. He measured well at the combine, standing 6-foot-1 and was up 11 pounds over his college playing weight at 236. Smith looks and plays like the modern NFL linebacker required in a pass-heavy league.
He could fit in well even if NaVorro Bowman is re-signed. He would play on the weak side with Bowman in the middle, providing solid interior play the Raiders haven’t had in sometime. McKenzie hasn’t drafted a linebacker above the fifth round yet in his Raiders tenure, but Smith could buck that trend, and new voices in the draft room might help the cause.
There’s a real chance Smith is gone by then.
Ward could be, too, especially with the cornerback hungry 49ers sitting at No. 9. The Ohio State cover man ran the 40-yard dash in a combine-best 4.32 seconds. He’s more physical than you might think for his size (5-foot-10, 191 pounds) but isn’t afraid to hit.
“I would say my speed separates myself from other players,” Ward said. “Other than speed, my footwork at the line of scrimmage and my ability to be able to mirror receivers and stay in the hip pocket of receivers.”
He would pair with 2016 first-round selection and fellow Ohio State prospect Gareon Conley at cornerback. The Buckeyes could offer a solid solution in a problem spot with near-constantly rotating talent.
McKenzie has struggled drafting defensive backs to this point. Snagging one this high could be a sure thing. The Raiders could also add cover men in free agency – and possibly re-sign TJ Carrie – which would allow them to take a player like Vea.
Most analysts believe he’ll be available at No. 10, and could have an instant impact on the interior defensive line. Khalil Mack and Raiders edge rushers would benefit from him swallowing blockers on the inside.
The Milpitas native wants to play like former 49ers lineman Justin Smith. Raiders fans should want that type player, regardless of association with someone in red and gold. The kid’s an absolute freak. He stands 6-4, 347 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 5.10 seconds and bench pressed 225 a whopping 41 times.
He can play anywhere along the front, with rare versatility for someone his size. He wouldn’t mind playing close to home either.
“I guess anybody would say that would be awesome to play back home,” Vea said. “That would be a great start to anybody's career. That would be fun being around your family, especially being away from them for a while. You get to see them and be around them for a while. So, it would be cool if the opportunity came up.”
The Raiders will have an opportunity to shore up a weakness in the first round, with three quality options (and quite a few more) how have excellent tape and showed well at the combine.