Raiders

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders could find late-round steal in Harrison Hand

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders could find late-round steal in Harrison Hand

Wide receiver and linebacker are the Raiders' two biggest needs as they enter the offseason.

But the Silver and Black need upgrades across the entire defense. All eleven positions will be evaluated and improved if possible. That improvement won't just be for the starting unit, but for the depth as well.

While the linebackers are the most glaring issue, the secondary also needs to be fixed. Trayvon Mullen showed lock-down potential during his rookie season, and the Raiders will be excited to get Johnathan Abram on the field in 2020.

The Raiders first can address their leaky defense in free agency, before turning their attention to the 2020 NFL Draft. There they will find a talented crop of corners from LSU's Kristian Fulton to Alabama's Trevon Diggs.

I don't expect the Raiders to use a first-round draft pick on a cornerback, but even if they do, they'll still need to improve their depth at the position and Harrison Hand could be a great fit.

Hand started his career at Baylor before transferring to Temple. Hand, 5-foot-11, 197, is projected to be a Day 3 pick. He won't be ready to jump in right away, but he's a physical corner, who has worked hard to become a better tackler. He's long, rangy and has solid ball skills.

He believes he has the tools to be a star at the next level.

"I'm a lockdown corner," Hand told NBC Sports Bay Area on Radio Row during the week of Super Bowl LIV. "I've got speed in coverage. Not a lot of corners tend to want to come up and tackle and be in the box -- be that aggressive -- but that's a part of my game that I like to make an impact."

With Gareon Conley traded to the Houston Texans and Daryl Worley hitting free agency, the Raiders need to find a long-term solution to the corner opposite of Mullen. 

Some believe Hand would be a better safety than corner at the next level, but the Temple product wants to mold his game after another corner who many counted out in the draft -- Richard Sherman. 

"His knowledge," Hand said of what part of his game he wants to model after Sherman. "He's a film junky. He knows the game like the back of his hand because of all the film he watches."

[RELATED: Ruggs, Claypool, Jefferson should have Raiders' attention after combine]

The Raiders only have one Day 3 pick right now, but Hand might be someone for them to look at if he's still on the board. He's not afraid to be physical and has the potential to be a solid corner in the NFL if the right team gets ahold of him.

How Raiders' NFL free-agency signings could impact returning players

How Raiders' NFL free-agency signings could impact returning players

The Raiders signed several free agents we can immediately insert into the starting lineup. Put Nick Kwiatkoski at middle linebacker and Cory Littleton at weakside linebacker right now. Go ahead. Use permanent ink.

Those guys shouldn’t leave the field. Unless something goes really wrong, they won’t have to compete for spots. Last year’s starting linebackers no longer on the roster.

There are others, however, who will battle incumbents for playing time, starting spots or for prominent a role in a rotation. The Raiders upgraded their roster several times in free agency, and definitely increased the level of competition on the roster. That will happen again after the 2020 NFL Draft, where the Raiders have two first-round picks and five selections in the first 91.

Before that happens, let’s take a look at how some of the new free-agent additions will impact longer-term Raiders heading into the 2020 seasons.

DT Maliek Collins

The former Dallas Cowboy isn’t here to take Maurice Hurst’s job. It’s entirely possible, even likely, they play together in obvious passing situations as the team’s most athletic interior rushers.

Who pairs with Johnathan Hankins on rushing downs and in the base package is a bit up in the air, and Collins could take that job if he earns it. He played 763 defensive snaps last year, including 271 against the run. The Raiders typically have four defensive tackles on the roster and P.J. Hall makes that group right now, but Jon Gruden threw a shot across his bow in a meeting with reporters at the NFL combine. He’ll have to step up to fend off challenges from Daniel Ross, whom Rod Marinelli worked with in Dallas, and anyone else who comes via the draft.

Collins is a solid player, especially rushing the passer and fending off double teams, as this ESPN graphic shows:

Collins is going to play a lot, meaning others may play less with a new guy in the group.

Carl Nassib

The Raiders reportedly are paying the edge rusher handsomely, securing his services with a three-year, $25 million contract with $17 million guaranteed. That sum suggests a starting spot, but that shouldn’t be assumed.

Maxx Crosby will anchor one end on all three downs, and the Raiders expect to get better production from 2019 No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell on the other side. The Clemson product was solid against the run and knows he must be better rushing the passer. He vowed to come back a brand-new play in Year 2, and his work ethic and drive could bring about a production jump.

Nassib could fit in as a situational pass rusher on third down, possibly taking snaps from Ferrell in those situations. He can be a standup rusher as well, possibly playing some strongside linebacker if required considering he has some coverage experience. Time will tell on that.

Nassib’s a significant upgrade over Benson Mayowa in run defense, so he could play more often if he earns additional responsibility. Nassib is capable of playing all three downs, giving the Raiders an option should Ferrell’s second season not go as planned.

Jeff Heath

The Raiders have an experienced, solid option to start at free safety. That’s a role Erik Harris played in 2019, and he certainly won’t hand over that job without a fight. It could turn into a full-scale position battle if another safety isn’t added in the draft, as those two could fight for the right to pair with Johnathan Abram in the middle of the secondary.

It looks like a fair fight and could be a close one this summer.

The Raiders could use an extra body at safety, considering Abram, Harris, Heath and Dallin Leavitt are the primary options there. At this point, the position group doesn’t seem set.

Nelson Agholor

The Raiders will upgrade their receiver corps in the NFL draft. They just have to. If a top option is added, that won’t impact Tyrell Williams’ gig. He should start in 2020 and play a ton if he’s healthy.

Agholor could step in if the rookie(s) underwhelm in the preseason, but Zay Jones is the incumbent most impacted. Jones never gained Derek Carr’s trust in 2019, and Agholor’s addition could push him to the No. 5 receiver spot or off the roster completely if he doesn’t perform well in the preseason.

[RELATED: Raiders bet big, 49ers surprise among NFL draft bold predictions]

Marcus Mariota

The veteran quarterback isn’t on this list because he’s in a real competition to take Derek Carr’s gig. Derek Carr is the starting quarterback. Marcus Mariota is the backup. The position group is deeper, but Carr is the guy familiar with this offense. The Raiders are surrounding him with talent that will allow Carr to thrive in the team’s first season playing in Las Vegas.

Mariota should push Carr and help him in the meeting room and on the practice field and could get more quality out of him.

NOTE: Eli Apple isn’t mentioned because he’s currently set to take a starting spot from Daryl Worley, now an unrestricted free agent not expected to return. It’s also believed the Raiders will address the cornerback spot in the draft and create competition there. We’ll address Apple’s role closer after the draft.

NFL free agency: How Raiders stack up with Chiefs, AFC West rivals

NFL free agency: How Raiders stack up with Chiefs, AFC West rivals

NFL free agency hit like a tidal wave last week, as some of the league's best players headed for news homes with better paychecks.

The AFC West was at the forefront of the dealing as the Raiders, Los Angles Chargers and Denver Broncos do whatever they can to close the gap between themselves and the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

So, as NBC Sports Bay Area Raiders insider Scott Bair and I discussed on the latest edition of The Raiders Talk Podcast, let's grade how each AFC West team did and see where the Silver and Black now stack up against their rivals.

Raiders

Additions: Marcus Mariota, Jason Witten, Cory Littleton, Eli Apple, Nick Kwiatkoski, Jeff Heath, Carl Nassib, Nelson Agholor, Maliek Collins, Daniel Ross and Nick O'Leary.
Subtractions: Tahir Whitehead, Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley

The Raiders' defense got a lot better with the addition of Littleton and Kwiatkoski, two three-down, play-making linebackers who can cover tight ends. Littleton, 26, is a great athlete, a sure tackler and adept at rushing the passer. Those additions were made to help combat Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce who has been a nightmare in the pattern. The addition of Apple, should he become consistent, gives the Raiders a physical corner to put on the likes of Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins to try and slow down the track team in KC.

Grade: A-minus. The Raiders got loads better on defense. While they whiffed on Byron Jones and Chris Harris, they still made wholesale improvements and the additions at linebacker should allow them to better defend the Chiefs -- in theory.

Denver Broncos

Additions: A.J. Bouye, Jurrell Casey, Graham Glasgow, Melvin Gordon, Nick Vannett, Sam Martin Jeff Driskel
Subtractions: Chris Harris, Joe Flacco, Conor McGovern, Will Parks

I really like what the Broncos did on defense. They traded for Bouye, giving them a No. 1 corner and a healthy Bryce Callahan should help them lessen the blow of losing Harris in the slot. They then somehow got the Titans to trade them Casey, who still is a productive player.

Adding Glasgow is a good addition to what was a suspect offensive line last year. There's still no reason why they should have given Melvin Gordon $8 million a year, when they have Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. Gordon looked slow, unathletic and couldn't hold onto the ball last season. Maybe I should try out for the Broncos?

Grade: B. I love the defensive additions and if Bradley Chubb returns healthy this will be one of the better defenses in the NFL. They didn't get another receiver opposite Courtland Sutton and appear to be convinced Drew Lock is the guy. Best of luck.

Kansas City Chiefs

Additions: Mike Remmer, Antonio Hamilton
Subtractions: Kendall Fuller, Emmanuel Ogbah, Stefen Wisniewski

The Chiefs' roster is stacked and they know the bill for Mahomes is coming due soon. They lost one corner in Fuller and the other starting corner Bashaud Breeland currently is a free agent. That's a big issue for a defense that started to come on toward the end of the season. 

But they franchise-tagged Chris Jones and were able to retain Mike Penne and Anthony Sherman. They'll have a decision to make with Sammy Watkins, who currently is the highest-paid player on the roster, but the champs did well to keep most of the group together.

Grade: B-minus. Losing both starting cornerbacks hurts. But they still have Mahomes and the most dynamic offense in the league.

[RELATED: Five bold predictions for 2020 NFL Draft]

Los Angeles Chargers

Additions: Chris Harris, Trai Turner, Bryan Bulaga, Linval Joseph and Nick Vigil
Subtractions: Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Thomas Davis, Russell Okung, Derek Watt, Travis Benjamin and Adrian Phillips

The Bolts were wheeling and dealing. They waved goodbye to franchise quarterback Philip Rivers and took a swing at Tom Brady. They missed. So they currently are planning to go into the season with Tyrod Taylor as the starter. It's not great. They should give Cam Newton a call whenever they can get him in for a physical, but that could take some time due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Adding Harris and Joseph to a defensive unit that already includes Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Derwin James, Casey Hayward means this could be one of the best units in football if healthy.

They also franchise-tagged Hunter Henry and kept Austin Ekeler around. It's a complete roster except for the most important position in sports.

Grade: B-plus. This has room to go up if they sign Newton or give the keys to Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa in the draft. Taylor is a solid NFL backup quarterback. But this roster is loaded and that defense has the parts to at least combat the best weapons the Chiefs have. Just have to find a quarterback.

The AFC West is one of the deepest divisions in the NFL.

The three teams chasing the Chiefs each made moves to try and stake claim to the No. 2 spot in the division and a shot at the wild-card spot.

The Raiders did well to bulk up their defense and surely will add more important pieces come draft time. Their offensive line when healthy can hold up against the best rushers in the division. With improved quarterback play from Derek Carr or a relief appearance from a reborn Marcus Mariota, the Raiders have the pieces to be the second-best team in the AFC West. They still are a couple of leagues behind the Chiefs, but that will happen when you are chasing a generational talent who has yet to enter his prime.

I expect the Raiders, Chargers and Broncos to beat up on each other in what looks like a relatively even AFC West after the Chiefs.

The Silver and Black are on the rise. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have a clear plan and are executing it, choosing to play the long game in a multi-year rebuild. They've checked some boxes and have more holes to fill -- most notably wide receiver and cornerback -- but I expect them to compete for eight or nine wins and a wild-card spot if things go right.