Raiders

Boom or bust: Some best, scariest options for Raiders' first-round picks

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USATSI

Boom or bust: Some best, scariest options for Raiders' first-round picks

Raiders general manager Mike Mayock wants four foundational players from this NFL draft. Finding them is far easier near the top, where the Raiders have three first-round picks.

He and head coach Jon Gruden have to hit at an above average rate even with all that draft capital, which could increase with a trade down at either No. 4, 24, 27 or 35.

The defense needs serious help almost everywhere, and the offense has specific holes to plug as the 2019 season encroaches. Every upgrade-worthy position won’t get addressed in one draft, but they have to make the most of selections they do make.

Will the Raiders land some boom picks or busts in the first round? We’ll choose a few options at each first-round pick that could end up like Khalil Mack or, JaMar—well, the quarterback who shall not be named.

No. 4 overall

NOTE: We’re going to set some rules at No. 4 to think outside the box a bit: The Raiders love Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa as a producer and scheme fit, but we’ll assume he’s gone in the top three. We’ll take Quinnen Williams away as well to make things interesting, even though we think the interior defensive lineman is a sure thing and would be the pick if he’s sitting there at four.

Boom?: LB Devin White, LSU The do-it-all linebacker doesn’t fill a glaring need here, but the Raiders need to take the best player available wherever possible to strengthen this roster long term. If Bosa and Williams are gone – they have been eliminated as options for this story – and the Raiders don’t like options to trade down, White could be a dynamic, safe selection at No. 4.

He has great playing speed, hits hard, isn’t afraid to blitz and can cover tight ends. The Raiders haven’t had a player like that in the middle for years, and he could lead this Raiders defense for years. Sure, the Raiders have Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall, but those veterans aren’t long-term answers and shouldn’t stop the Raiders from taking someone who seems to be a surefire NFL standout at No. 4. While the team’s primary focus at No. 4 hones on a few prospects or trade down, White could offer great value and Jon Gruden-like tenacity at an important position.

Bust?: OLB/DE Josh Allen, Kentucky Before we all freak out at this selection and tag him with this link on social media, let’s make this clear: Josh Allen should be an excellent pro. He has the size, speed, and pass-rush ability and work ethic to succeed in this league. But…would that happen with the Raiders? Is he a perfect scheme fit? Probably not. Analysts say he’s better suited for a 3-4 defense as a standup outside linebacker, where he could rush, stop the run and cover. While coordinator Paul Guenther is an innovative mind who can make any talented player work, this might not be a perfect pairing. Again, and I can’t say this enough, we’re talking bust POTENTIAL, with players consider worthy of the No. 4 pick. Those guys are almost always elite talents.

No. 24 overall

Boom?: RB Josh Jacobs, Alabama Taking runners in the first round can be a polarizing proposition, but Jacobs is a do-it-all player who would fit well as Jon Gruden’s feature back. He has power and acceleration to rush inside and out. He’s a solid receiver with some elusiveness in space. Analysts see potential in him as a pass protector. He also doesn’t have many carries to his credit, so he’s fresh and ready to assume a large workload. He’ll still get rest with Gruden’s preference of using several runners, but Jacobs could be an excellent lead back with plenty of touches in this scheme.

Bust?: DE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson The Raiders need edge rush help at some point early in the draft and would look to get one in the 20s if their top pick goes in a different direction. As with Allen, there’s a real possibility Ferrell develops into a solid, productive pro. After all, he was steadily productive at Clemson. But…if we’re playing devil’s advocate, he was playing on an awesome defensive line with intimidators everywhere. Also, Ferrell won’t wow you with athletic traits, creating some concern with how he’ll fare against the NFL’s best offensive tackles. He’s a 4-3 defensive end and would fit the scheme, but will great college production continue in the pros at a level worthy of a first-round pick?

[RELATED: Raiders send scouts home for lack of trust]

No. 27 overall

Boom?: CB Rock Ya Sin, Temple This aggressive cover man is tough, competitive as heck and has great ball skills. Does that sound like a Raiders cornerback, or what? The former wrestler can obviously mix it up at the line of scrimmage, and analysts say he’s good finding the ball in the air and making plays on it. He’ll play tough against the run and battle throughout a game. He could give the secondary some grit as the Raiders search for quality, depth and long-term solutions at an important position.

Bust?: Greedy Williams, LSU Williams has a lot of plus traits and an excellent first name for a cornerback. Analysts say he lacks play strength and has a thin frame. He’s could be a quality cover man, but there he’s not terribly physical. The Raiders like corners who tackle well and never give up.

NFL preview 2019: Derek Carr, three other possible MVP sleepers in AFC

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NFL preview 2019: Derek Carr, three other possible MVP sleepers in AFC

With training camps getting started, hope once again springs eternal in the NFL.

Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are primed to defend their crown, but a pack of worthy challengers is frothing at the mouth for the chance to take down the king.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes sits atop the NFL's other throne as The Shield's reigning league MVP. The dynamic signal-caller once again is viewed as the favorite to take home the hardware, and while the like of Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Baker Mayfield, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers are viewed as the most likely to take the crown from Mahomes, the AFC has a few other young passers who are lying in wait.

When looking at possible MVP sleepers in the AFC, I made sure to look only at players that had odds at 80-to-1 or higher, as listed by Westgate Las Vegas. With the framework set, here are four potential MVP sleepers who reside in the AFC.

Derek Carr, QB, Raiders

The Case For: Carr has the arm talent and the leadership qualities to be an MVP. We saw that in 2016 when he led the Raiders to a 12-3 record before fracturing his fibula in Week 16. With a wealth of offensive talent around -- including Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, -- and a full year of Jon Gruden's system under his belt, it wouldn't be hard to see Carr returning to his MVP-caliber form in 2019. If he puts up big numbers while helping the Raiders navigate a tough early-season schedule, he should be in the mix.

The Case Against: There was little about the Raiders' offense in 2018 that would tell you a turn around is coming. The offensive line struggled and the running game was relatively non-existent. This is a make or break year for the Carr-Gruden relationship and there's a chance it just won't work.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans

The Case For: Despite a shaky offensive line, Watson completed 68.3 percent of his passes while throwing for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 551 yards and five scores. If the Clemson product can get some protection, he could put up big numbers and lead the Texans to another AFC West title. The recipe for an MVP campaign is there for Watson.

The Case Against: The offensive line is atrocious. Watson might spend more time running for his life than looking downfield for the streaking DeAndre Hopkins. If the Texans can't keep Watson off his back, there will be no MVP delusions in Houston.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans

The Case For: When he's been healthy, Mariota has put up good numbers. That was with an offense designed for the 1940s with one offensive weapon. Mariota enters a make-or-break year for him with the Titans with two new wide receivers in rookie A.J. Brown and former Buccaneers Adam Humphries. If new offensive coordinator Arthur Humphries can tailor the offense to Mariota's strengths, the possibility for a breakout season is there.

The Case Against: Look, he hasn't been able to stay healthy. If Mariota can't stay on the field, then his chance at winning the MVP and the Titans' playoff hopes go in the trash can.

[RELATED: How Raiders' defense stacks up against AFC West rivals]

Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens

The Case For: Jackson rushed for 556 yards in the seven games he started last season. If you extrapolate that over a 16-game season, it amounts to 1,271 yards. That would be more than the 1,039 yards Michael Vick rushed for in 2006. If Jackson has improved his passing and leads the Ravens to the playoffs, he could very well be an MVP sleeper.

The Case Against: As the Los Angeles Chargers showed in the AFC Wild Card Game, it's easy to stop Jackson if he's only able to move the chains with his legs. If the Louisville product hasn't made big strides with his accuracy and pocket presence then he won't be in the MVP conversation.

Raiders' Jon Gruden ranked as 15th-best veteran head coach by NFL.com

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AP

Raiders' Jon Gruden ranked as 15th-best veteran head coach by NFL.com

Just win, baby.

Twice in his career, Jon Gruden has been given that directive as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. He was considerably more successful the first time around.

Gruden never finished below .500 in his first go-around with the Raiders, but in making his return to the franchise last year, he led Oakland to a 4-12 record -- tied for the worst record in the AFC.

Right after Gruden signed a 10-year, $100 million contract to move out of the Monday Night Football booth and back to the sidelines, many questioned whether his time away from coaching would put him behind the eight-ball. Given how the Raiders performed last season, it didn't exactly silence that noise.

And yet, at least one analyst believes Gruden is still an above-average coach. NFL.com's Elliot Harrison ranked the 32 NFL head coaches Monday, and Gruden came in at No. 15.

Here's what Harrison had to say about Chucky:

"As [Gruden] shipped out star players and cut ties with front office execs he didn't want in Oakland last year, the Raiders managed just four wins. That's why '19 should be the tell on what kind of coach he is going forward. New GM Mike Mayock helped Gruden begin to rebuild the roster after stockpiling picks, providing an infusion of talent that should at least make this team more competitive. Given the strength of the division-rival Chargers and Chiefs, simply leading Oakland to the playoffs should be a ringing endorsement for the coach."

[RELATED: Raiders given 20th best outlook in future power rankings]

Indeed, if they make the playoffs this coming season, that's an undeniable success for Gruden and the Raiders in their final season in Oakland -- one that would be worthy of Gruden ascending on next year's coaching rankings. But, as Harrison suggests, it's not going to be easy.