The Raiders have pressing needs at receiver and cornerback, in that order. They can address both issues in the upcoming NFL draft, where they have the Nos. 12 and 19 overall selections and three third-round picks to add players or move around the draft board.
Such an arsenal gives the Raiders great freedom to add two impact players on the draft’s first day, and/or trade one of the picks to increase volume down the line.
It’s fair to expect the Raiders to have a new receiver and a new cornerback in their 2020 draft class, while helping other positions in the process.
There’s great uncertainty, however, about what general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden will address first. The No. 12 overall pick should (in theory) glean the draft class’ best talent.
Should the Raiders snag one of three elite receivers in a deep and talented class or go cornerback with their first pick? That has sparked some serious debate between me and fellow Raiders reporter Josh Schrock. We’re in lockstep about most things Raiders-related, but we can’t find common ground on this issue. That’s why we decided to stop burning through cell-phone minutes and trash-talking texts and make this debate public. Raider Nation can decide who’s right. Scott thinks there's a landslide coming in his direction, but pride often comes before the fall.
Bair's the favorite in this debate because he carries the most rational argument here. At least, it appears that way from the previous conversations both online and in the podcast.
Ignore Lamb, Jeudy and Ruggs. Take the best damn cornerback on the board. Here’s Bair's opening salvo, which Josh will try to refute. You decide the winner.
BAIR: Jeff Okudah’s going to be long gone by the 12th overall selection, and I think it’ll cost too much to go up and get him. My unsolicited advice to Raiders brass: Take CJ Henderson and run.
There’s a significant cornerback drop off after him. There are some solid first-round options available but guys who aren’t surefire plug-and-play guys. After the Raiders swung and missed on Byron Jones and Chris Harris Jr. and had the Eli Apple deal dissolve, they need a starting outside cornerback, stat.
The 2020 Raiders can’t wait on a developmental prospect. They need a guy who can get here and go, especially with limited offseason work due to the coronavirus pandemic. I won’t go through Henderson’s draft profile line by line when you can read it here, but you take the ideal fit at a premium position when you can get him and mine from a deep receiver class down the line.
SCHROCK: I'll start my argument off in the simplest way possible: If both needs are as glaring as we agree they are, and the choice is between Henderson and one of the three elite receivers on the board, you take the best overall player.
Henderson is talented, of that there is no doubt. But CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs all have the potential to be special receivers in the NFL. While Henderson has all the tools to be a plug-and-play corner, there are also questions about his willingness to be physical with receivers. He never was that intimidating of a force at Florida. The mental lapses are concerning. I don't much care about the tackling issues. He's getting drafted to cover first and foremost, but if college quarterbacks aren't scared to throw at you the way they were dealing with LSU's Kristian Fulton and Clemson's A.J. Terrell, that should tell you something.
Furthermore, the Raiders spent the majority of their free-agent capital improving their defense. That was the right move. But you can't go into next season hoping Tyrell Williams' feet don't catch on fire again and praying Nelson Agholor makes the first meaningful catch of his career since he was playing for USC. You need an elite talent at wide receiver. Not a "very good/could be great" talent. Fill the WR1 hole so it doesn't become an issue you're trying to fill for the next five seasons.
I've had a GIF locked and loaded for this moment.
BAIR: I can do this all day.
SCHROCK: We'll see.
BAIR: I hate to use your own stats against you (okay, I secretly love it), but you brought up a great point on the Raiders Insider(s) podcast I’m going to exploit. Pro Bowl cornerbacks generally come from the first round. Per Josh Schrock (that’s you), only three All-Pro cornerbacks in the last four years were taken outside the first two rounds. While that would include someone the Raiders could take with the 19th pick, it speaks to a greater truth: take legit cornerbacks as high as you possibly can.
Why wait until the latter portions of the round to get your guy? There’s a greater risk of missing the farther down you go, so why not get a competitive guy willing to work on deficiencies before another team reaps such rewards?
First-round receivers are a real boom/bust proposition. Amari Cooper and D.J. Moore are the only legit top tier pass catchers drafted in the first round over the last five years. There’s a flood of elite pass catchers available from the second round back (Hi, Michael Thomas, Davante Adams and Cooper Kupp) and this receiver class is super deep.
Take the elite talent at a premium position where you can get it.
SCHROCK: I knew that was going to come up here and that's fine. You're right, All-Pro cornerbacks almost always come from early in the first round, and if we were talking about Jeff Okudah this debate would have been over seven grafs ago. Alas, the gap between Okudah and everyone else is miles wide. Yes, CJ Henderson likely is the second-best cornerback in the draft, but that's not like a steak/lobster comparison as it is with Lamb, Jeudy and Ruggs. I'm all for drafting an elite cornerback if he's truly can't-miss. That's not what Henderson is. Yes, first-round receivers have been hit-and-miss, but this is the best receiver class in more than a decade and the last handful of classes haven't exactly been brimming with talent.
The farther down the draft you go the bigger the chance, in theory, that pick could miss. So you're advocating passing on an elite wide receiver for a could be great corner and could be great receiver later on. Seems dicey for a team that needs talent.
BAIR: You’re the biggest Chase Claypool fan on the planet. Maybe the universe. Faithful podcast listeners know that already. You don’t think the Raiders could get by with the Notre Dame receiver as the position group’s new kid in town? I bet you do. He might be available in the second round, and the Raiders could get him with a trade down.
You feel the same about Utah’s Jaylon Johnson or LSU’s Kristian Fulton or Alabama’s Trevon Diggs? That’s the crux of this argument. How can the Raiders address both needs well with instant impact players? By taking a cornerback first.
SCHROCK: I love Chase Claypool. No doubt. Let's be honest, 6-foot-4, 238-pound receivers who run a 4.42 don't grow on tree. I'd like him a whole lot more if he wasn't coming in as the savior for a wide receiver group and rather was the eventual replacement for Tyrell Williams.
Plus, if I want Claypool -- and I do -- the best way to do that is by trading down from No. 19, perhaps into the mid to late 20s while picking up a second-round pick. That option allows me to now have a top three receiver, Claypool and a corner who isn't that much different than Henderson.
To me, the gap between the top three receivers and the next four to six is much bigger than the gap between Henderson and Fulton, Terrell, Johnson and TCU’s Jeff Gladney. So I think the chances of getting two more franchise cornerstones are much higher if the class starts with Lamb/Jeudy/Ruggs and Fulton/Terrell/Johnson than it would with Henderson and Jordan Jefferson/ Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk or Baylor’s Denzel Mims.
I'm going to end my argument with this: The Raiders have one starting cornerback already in Trayvon Mullen. To be true competitors, they'll need a second, that's true. But the position isn't a total zero. For all intents and purposes, wide receiver --outside of Hunter Renfrow -- was a bagel last year. If the Raiders really want this rebuild to be successful, they need to determine whether or not Derek Carr is the starting quarterback of the future. They can't fully do that unless they give him the requisite weapons that eliminate the excuses. The further down the road they kick the can on the receiver, the further it gets kicked on quarterback, the most important position in sports, and the rebuild gets put at risk. They'll need a No. 2 corner when they are truly ready to compete for the AFC West crown, but it's not the only or biggest missing link.
Do I get my medal now or how does this work?
BAIR: There are a few benefits to being the Raiders beat crew’s senior member. One is getting the last word. Here it is. The Raiders are a few smart draft picks from being truly competitive in the AFC. Blow them and they’re mired in another middling season Raider Nation doesn’t deserve. I’m not saying Mayock and Gruden should play it safe, but they should play it smart.
Take the cream of a thin crop of cornerbacks. Take one, maybe two members of a dense receiver group. That’s how you get better the fastest. That’s how you make the biggest splash in Las Vegas. A secondary with a glaring weakness gets picked on ruthlessly. An offense with Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs and Jason Witten and Hunter Renfrow and a healthy Tyrell Williams can cover up a soft spot. Make the right choice and shore up that secondary.
The great debate is mercilessly over. Josh is currently practicing his victory speech while Scott examines the trophy he plans to present himself.
Only Raider Nation can decide who made the more convincing case.