Reggie McKenzie completed his sixth NFL draft as Raiders general manager last weekend, trying to shore up position groups in the present and future. Many of his selections have high ceilings reached only with proper development. Some will be counted on to contribute quickly. Others have time to marinate.
McKenzie harvested three defensive backs, two defensive tackles, two offensive linemen, a running back and an inside linebacker from this crop. Can they upgrade the Raiders’ depth and production? Time will tell.
“I think the way it fell, we got a lot of players, at the end of the day, it looks like we needed,” McKenzie said after the draft. “We felt like we got a lot of good players with high talent levels from top to bottom. Some are going to be more raw than others.”
McKenzie also said every pick will have a chance to compete for a major role, something that will drive the 2017 rookie class this offseason.
Let’s take a look at how each draft pick fits into the Raiders system:
First round, No. 24: CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State
Fit:The Raiders don’t believe in entrenched starters. Every job can be had, and Conley will be allowed to compete for a spot on outside against Sean Smith and David Amerson. The Silver and Black don’t have an established slot cornerback, a role he was first asked to fill late in his senior season at Ohio State. He played outside in the base defense, and moved inside for sub packages and fared well there. Conley believes he can cover from anywhere. If that’s true, he’ll be a significant upgrade to the Raiders secondary.
What Jack Del Rio thinks: “He’s the type of corner you look for. I mean he is hard to get separation from. He can play the deep ball. He can play press. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, and he understands the game. You can tell he loves the game, the way he plays. Watching his tape, being around him, interviewing him, it was no question. We had no question about his skillset and his ability to play the game.”
Second round, No. 56: S Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut
Fit: The former Husky has the size and raw physical tools to be an excellent NFL defensive back. He’s a bit raw in some areas, but 4.4 speed and a 6-foot-3, 217 pound frame provides and excellent foundation. He’s a hard hitter in the run game and excels covering tight ends, an issue that has plagued Raiders defenses in recent seasons. He could be effective in that role now possibility as a safety/linebacker hybrid in certain pacakges, and eventually become a full-time starter. Reggie Nelson is 33 and entering a contract year, so Melifonwu could pair with 2016 first-round safety Karl Joseph for a long time to come.
What Jack thinks: “He’s very gifted athletically. The tape is good. He’s done a variety of roles. He’s played on tight ends. He’s played on receivers. He’s been in the back. He’s been in post safeties. Kind of done a little bit of everything. He’ll come up and strike you. We like him and happy to be able to get him.…Look this is no secret, we’ve struggled for the last couple of years covering the opponents’ tight ends. We think this is a guy that can help out with his length, matchup against some of the bigger tight ends, some of the better tight ends. We’ll put him right in the mix.”
Third round, No. 88: DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
Fit: Vanderdoes joins a position group that struggled some against interior rushing and significantly rushing the passer. They need agility and power at that position, traits Vanderdoes possesses when he’s healthy and in shape. That hasn’t always been the case, though he’s 100 percent and down nearly 40 pounds over his 2016 playing weight. The Raiders hope he can become a frontline defensive tackle right away, especially after Dan Williams was recently released. He’ll have a chance to compete for a big role right away, but will be expected to fill the rotational role Stacy McGee held before bolting in free agency.
What Jack thinks: “He’s a good, active defensive lineman that we think his best football is in front of him. He had an ACL a couple of years ago. His weight has been up and down. We expect him to come in here and be a real professional and work hard with (head strength and conditioning coach) Joe Gomes and the strength staff and get himself ready to roll. Come in here and add depth to our defensive line and give us a little interior push.”
Fourth round, No. 129: OT David Sharpe, Florida
Fit: The Florida alum is a left tackle by trade, but the Raiders are set with Pro Bowler Donald Penn at that spot. They don’t have a natural backup there – Menelik Watson had to switch sides after Penn got hurt last year – so Sharpe could earn the No. 2 spot and develop behind one of the best. He insists he can play right tackle as well. There’s a open competition at that spot between frontrunner Marshall Newhouse, Austin Howard and Vadal Alexander, and Sharpe might want to throw his hat in the run. It seems more likely he develops behind Penn while trying to prove he can become an heir apparent.
What Reggie thinks: “He’s big. He’s a guy that can play both tackle positions. He’s a big man, big wingspan, boatloads of talent, good feet and very coordinated with his hands and feet. He has the ability to move people and also stay in front of the pass-pro guy. We like a lot of things. He’s got a lot of refinement that he has to do, just like any young player, but we like his potential.”
Fifth round, No. 168 overall: LB Marquel Lee, Wake Forest
Fit:Inside linebacker was arguably the Raiders biggest need heading into the NFL draft. McKenzie didn’t address it until the fifth round, with Lee became a Raider. There is no set starter at middle linebacker, meaning Lee will compete with Ben Heeney and Cory James for a role there. The position could be platooned between the base defense and sub packages, and Lee will have an opportunity to earn significant snaps. The Raiders could eventually add a veteran here, but McKenzie will evaluate talent currently on the roster before looking outside.
What Reggie thinks: “He’s very instinctive. He’s an inside linebacker primarily, he’s a middle linebacker. He plays with strength. He has a feel for the game. He’s a great size. He’s what we look for in a big, middle linebacker.”
Seventh round, No. 221 overall: S Shalom Luani, Washington State
Fit:It’s hard to project significant roles for seventh-round draft picks. It’s rare they become major players though it’s not impossible to carve out a niche early on. Just ask TJ Carrie, who played significant snaps as a rookie in 2014. Luani had great college stats, though there is some question about how his traits will translate in the NFL. Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph are already established, and second-round pick Obi Melifonwu will get a real crack to contribute right away. Luani must excel on special teams and prove an able reserve during the offseason to be active when real games come around.
What Reggie thinks: “That guy is a playmaker. You can look at one quarter of football and you know he loves the game. He’s very aware as a football player. You can tell he’s a student of the game. You can tell he loves the game. … He’s tough. He’s physical. He has ball skills. He can kind of do it all. They did a lot of things with him, so it’s hard to pigeon hole him as a particular type of safety because he’s more like a rover. He does a lot of things. We just like the football player.”
Seventh round, No. 231: OT Jyan Ware, Alabama State
Fit: Ware is a mountain at 6-foot-8, though he needs to add bulk to compete at the NFL level. His athleticism was lauded by draft analysis including NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, who called him a “dancing bear.” The Raiders like athletic linemen, and Ware falls into that category. He needs time to develop, and the practice squad might be the best spot to do so.
What Reggie thinks: “He’s extremely athletic for a big man. Great size and great length, that really registered in his play. He’s a guy that he’s going to need a lot of work from a technique and strength standpoint. He is very talented. He plays extremely hard. We’re excited to get him where we did.”
Seventh round, No. 242: RB Elijah Hood, North Carolina
Fit:The Raiders are stacked at running back. Marshawn Lynch, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington and Jamize Olawale are all set to make the 53-man roster. Special teamer Taiwan Jones is also expected to continue in 2017. That doesn’t leave room for another running back, though the Raiders have done an excellent job mining rushing talent from late rounds of the NFL draft. Hood is a powerful runner, and could provide injury protection should something go wrong with Lynch’s return to the NFL. Hood idolizes Lynch, and learning from him while on the practice squad could help prepare Hood if he’s called to action.
What Reggie thinks: “We feel like he’s going to be a good player. He did have a couple injuries, but not to the point that we see a big drop-off. Their offense has gotten better with the quarterback and the way they’re throwing the ball around a little bit and we think that played a little part in it. We like him. He’s a big, physical running back and that’s what he liked about him.”
Seventh round, No. 244: DT Treyvon Hester, Toledo
Fit:Hester plays the right position to compete for playing time despite low draft status. The Raiders need quality interior defensive lineman, even on rushing downs, and Hester will have a chance to fight for positioning or a chance to develop another year without playing. Darius Latham wend undrafted last year and found his way to the field. Hester should try and emulate that ascent this offseason.