It's NFL draft season, which also means it's rumors/smokescreen season. Every year as the draft nears, rumors, reports and whispers emerge as teams try to throw other franchises off the scent of their plans.
It appears the latest potential smokescreen involves the draft's top two cornerback prospects -- Ohio State's Jeff Okudah and Florida's CJ Henderson. Both are players the Raiders would love to add to their secondary. Okudah is expected to be long gone by the time the Raiders go on the clock, and the Silver and Black might have to choose between Henderson and a top wide receiver at No. 12.
Unless ... Henderson also is gone by No. 12, perhaps even before Okudah?
In his latest Football Morning in America column, NBC's Peter King has an interesting note about the cornerback class.
“I bet 40 percent of the teams in the league have C.J. Henderson higher on their boards than Okudah. Better cover guy," one GM told King.
Okudah is an elite cover corner with zero question marks. Henderson, while a great press-cover corner, has a tendency not to get physical with receivers in routes and give up catches due to mental lapses. I digress.
If, say, 12 teams do have Henderson rated above Okudah, how could that affect the Raiders, who sit at No. 12 and No. 19 with massive needs at cornerback and wide receiver? The obvious point is that this is a smokescreen by a GM hoping a team in the Raiders' range (11-19) will make a trade up into the top 10, where the anonymous GM's team likely sits, to grab Henderson.
Like I said, smokescreen season.
But, let's say 40 percent of the league does have Henderson rated higher than Okudah. Given the number of quarterbacks and tackles expected to go in the top 10, along with edge rusher Chase Young, a rise up the draft boards by Henderson could see the Raiders get lucky.
Let's play this out with Henderson as the top corner off the board:
1. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
2. Chase Young, Washington
3. Tua Tagovailoa (Detroit Lions trade pick to Miami Dolphins)
4. Tristan Wirfs or Mekhi Becton, New York Giants
5. CJ Henderson, Detriot Lions
6. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
7. Isaiah Simmons, Derrick Brown or Jeff Okudah, Carolina Panthers
8. Becton or Wirfs, Arizona Cardinals
9. Okudah, Simmons or Derrick Brown, Jacksonville Jaguars
10. Jedrick Wills, Cleveland Browns
So based on that very rough sketch, the New York Jets will go on the clock at No. 11 with all three elite wide receivers still on the board and one of either Okudah, Simmons or Brown still available. The Jets, while in need of a playmaker, also need a left tackle and Georgia's Andrew Thomas still is on the board.
All this tells us is that a rise by Henderson could allow the Raiders to sit back and have a star fall into their lap, or make a trade up into the Nos. 7 to No. 9 range and snag a guy like Okudah or Simmons who has dropped due to Henderson's late surge.
Once again, the smart money is on Okudah being the first cornerback selected and possibly going at No. 3 overall if the Detroit Lions keep the pick.
But every year there is one or two draft prospects who shoot up the boards late, knocking projected top-10 players down a peg.
The Raiders like Henderson, of that there is no doubt. But they'd be willing to see him get snatched up if it meant a player of Okudah, Simmons or Brown's caliber fell to them.
I've advocated for the Raiders to take the top wide receiver at No. 12. A guy like Alabama's Henry Ruggs or Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb would be a game-changer for an offense that desperately needs a home-run threat.
But the Raiders can't turn down the chance to select a possible future All-Pro in Okudah, a defensive Swiss Army Knife tailor-made for today's NFL in Simmons or a dominant defensive tackle in Brown. Either of those three players would take an improving defense up a notch.
There have been whispers of the Raiders wanting to add a dominant defensive tackle in the first round and Brown fits the bill. Okudah filling the corner spot opposite Trayvon Mullen would set the Raiders' secondary up for the long haul. Simmons long has been my favorite prospect in this class, and while the Raiders filled their linebacker void in free agency, Simmons can fill a variety of roles.
The Henderson over Okudah whispers could be just noise, but if it's real, the Raiders could benefit.