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NFL Draft 2020: Raiders in great spot to fortify their receiver corps

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NFL Draft 2020: Raiders in great spot to fortify their receiver corps

The Raiders still have work to do shoring up their receiver corps and little salary-cap space to add veteran talent beyond Nelson Agholor. Don’t fret just yet.

They have significant NFL draft assets to add a top-tier pass catcher, maybe two, in this year’s draft. The Raiders enter April with the Nos. 12 and 19 overall selections, nothing in the second round and three in third. That’s three in the top 91, enough to make five impact selections or use them as trade assets to move around the board and get guys they really want.

There are quality options available early and later in what’s considered an extraordinary NFL draft class.

Fully expect the Raiders to mine it in late April.

NBC Sports Bay Area’s latest mock draft, from Josh Schrock and Dalton Johnson, has the Raiders using their first pick on a receiver. Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy was the selection, with the New York Jets nabbing Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb a selection earlier at No. 11. NFL.com’s latest mock draft has Lamb and Jeudy going in the same order. 

Those two receivers are considered the draft’s top options -- Lamb's typically rated higher -- with Alabama's Henry Ruggs, LSU's Justin Jefferson, Arizona State's Brandon Aiyuk and Clemson's Tee Higgins often considered first-round-type talents.

If the Raiders draft plays as recent mocks suggest, the Raiders receiver corps would look like this:

Starters: Jerry Juedy, Tyrell Williams
Slot: Hunter Renfrow
Reserves: Nelson Agholor, Zay Jones [or Marcel Ateman]

That’s not too shabby, especially with Tyrell Williams back to full health and Renfrow proving a savvy option inside. Agholor and Jones have experience in reserve, which is key with younger players in the starting lineup. Jones didn’t build chemistry with Derek Carr following an in-season trade but should have another shot at it during the offseason program and training camp.

Juedy's a do-everything standout who has been universally praised during the pre-draft process. 

This also assumes the Raiders don’t snag another receiver in later rounds, which they certainly could. Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool, USC’s Michael Pittman or Ohio State’s K.J. Hill could be options in the third round.

That looks like a solid depth chart on paper, but Raiders general manager Mike Mayock has been around the NFL draft long enough to know that even the best college receivers often don’t pan out in the pros. Even some that do struggle in their rookie seasons.

Receiver life can be hard in Jon Gruden’s offense especially, where they’re required to learn all three receiver spots.

Mayock gave three main reasons why receivers often struggle transitioning to the NFL game during a press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine. The full quote’s super long so we’ll paraphrase a bit, but Mayock cited the lack of quality press coverage in college and the fact receivers must adjust mentally after the snap in the pros, something they didn’t have to do in school.

“Why do guys not look as quick as they were in college? That’s the biggest telltale [of a tough NFL transition], because they’re confused,” Mayock said. “They don’t know where they’re going.”

Mayock's third reason is all mental.

“It’s just how much offense you have to absorb,” the GM said. “I’ve met with some of the college wideouts already this year, and what they’re doing, half of them are doing this (turning his head) pre-snap. They look over to the sideline, and they have their own individual coach telling them what route to run. Jon Gruden’s head would explode.

"You better get in there and get in the huddle, and you better learn three positions, not one. What he’s asking you to learn is mind-boggling, so those are the three main reasons why rookie wide receiver production isn’t where it should be in the NFL.”

That’s why signing Agholor was important, even if it was largely jeered by the fan base. The Raiders added a first-round talent, albeit with some drop issues and inconsistency, who knows the pro game and has experience required to play and start right away should a top receiving talent develop slower than the Raiders and their fans would like.

Free agency can glean impact, high-priced starters, fill out depth charts and form contingency plans that create freedom in the NFL draft. That last aim allows teams to follow their board and take the best players available without having to reach for needs.

Receiver is a glaring need that will be addressed in the draft when it fits best.

While skepticism is fair regarding unproven receivers in the draft, Mayock acknowledged that this draft class is super deep.

[RELATED: How free-agent signings change Raiders' NFL draft plan]

“The average over the last five years for wide receivers going in the first three rounds is between 12 and 13 a year,” Mayock said at the combine. “You can easily make an argument, from a grade perspective, that they’re 20-25 of those guys out there this year, and that’s from a grade perspective. I’m not saying 20-25 are going.

"So there’s depth throughout, and there’s quality up top. That’s what you’re looking for in class, and on paper today, in February, that’s what we see.”

If the Raiders mine gold from the receiver class, their offense should be as dynamic as any. They'd feature Williams, Renfrow and a draft pick, elite tight end Darren Waller and future Hall-of-Famer Jason Witten [who is well past his prime] and Josh Jacobs in the backfield.

That could make the Raiders an exciting group during their first season in Las Vegas. 

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders in solid salary-cap standing heading into event

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders in solid salary-cap standing heading into event

Damarious Randall’s deal with the Raiders went across the NFL transaction wire on Tuesday. The defensive back was the last veteran free-agent addition to get processed by the league and the players union, meaning all of the Silver and Black’s new players are now official.

That gives us a crystal-clear look at the Raiders salary cap situation and where they stand heading into the NFL draft.

The Raiders have $8.128 million in salary-cap space, according to a daily public report issued Thursday morning by the NFL Players Association. That’s a smidge under the roughly $9.4 million OverTheCap.com estimates required to sign their NFL draft class as currently slotted, but certainly not a big deal that won’t have to be addressed until picks start signing in May and June.

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There are plenty of corrections to be made through cutting expendable players -- they still have four veteran quarterbacks on the roster -- or a minor restructure to get under the financial threshold.

The draft could also take care of the issue, especially if the Raiders trade down or end up with few selections than they currently own.

The Raiders were able to add 12 veterans in unrestricted free agents and retained eight through extensions or various contract tenders.

Restructuring Rodney Hudson’s contract was key to adding this many new folks, as they shuffled his money around to spread out what would’ve been a significant 2020 salary cap hit.

[RELATED: Raiders' 2020 offseason scorecard: Trades, signings, NFL draft picks]

The Raiders would be in a different space had the Eli Apple deal gone through. He was set to sign a one-year deal worth $6 million before the pact fell apart. Randall came aboard after that on a one-year contract worth up to $3.25 million, but it comes with a $1.5 million base salary and a $2.1 million cap hit.

That swap was a win for the on-field product and salary-cap standing, though it intensifies the need to find a cornerback in the NFL draft.

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders could strike gold with Day 2 cornerback gems

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders could strike gold with Day 2 cornerback gems

The Raiders struck gold in the 2019 NFL Draft by finding Trayvon Mullen, a potential lockdown corner in the second round.

You can pencil Mullen as the starting cornerback on one side of the field for the foreseeable future. The Raiders tried to address the cornerback position in free agency, but they missed out on Byron Jones and Chris Harris Jr. After their deal with Eli Apple fell apart, cornerback became a pressing need to be addressed in the NFL draft.

The 2020 cornerback class has one surefire star in Ohio State's Jeff Okudah and two-to-five other likely NFL starters that should go in the first 40 picks. That's pretty much the range for elite cornerbacks. Over the last four years, Richard Sherman (fifth-round), A.J. Bouye (undrafted) and Malcolm Butler (undrafted) were the only three All-Pro cornerbacks who weren't drafted in the first two rounds. The other 13 all were taken at the top of the draft.

That doesn't mean it's impossible to find talent at cornerback later in the draft, it just means it's a little less likely. The Raiders should be able to address their cornerback need in Round 1, but there are a few later-round guys who they should target if the draft goes a different way.

Listen and subscribe to the Raiders Talk Podcast
 

Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn

Igbinoghene arrived on The Plains as a talented receiver recruit and turned into one of the draft's most intriguing cornerback prospects.

A relatively new corner, Igbinoghene has the athleticism and physicality to play at the NFL but he will need to get more comfortable with his coverage instincts. He's an explosive athlete with a high NFL ceiling, but there's no telling how long it will take him to reach it. Over 878 coverage snaps at Auburn, Igbinoghene allowed only three touchdowns. Not bad for a converted wide receiver.

Here's the athleticism:

And improving coverage skills.


Bryce Hall, Virginia

Hall returned for his senior season at Viriginia, but an ankle injury limited him to just six games, hurting his draft stock.

The 6-foot-1 defensive back is long and explosive with tremendous ball skills. He struggled at times in man coverage at Virginia and many analysts beleive he might be best suited for a zone-heavy scheme. While he comes with question marks, Hall has is an intelligent player, high character locker room presence and has the ability to make game-changing plays on the field.

He projects as an NFL starter as long as the fit is right.


Damon Arnette, Ohio State

If you're looking for a starter in press coverage, Damon Arnette is your man.

Overshadowed by his teammate Okudah, the 6-foot cornerback has great quickness, is sticky in man coverage, has the anticipation to play zone and brings exceptional ball skills and body control to the table. He had the lowest passer rating allowed in single man coverage in the NCAA last year.

The Raiders kicked the tires on a Darius Slay trade, but it fell through. Arnette has drawn comparisons to Slay and should be able to start in the NFL on Day 1.


Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State

One of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Dantzler has the height, length, competitiveness and versatility to be a solid NFL cornerback. While some scouts worry about his narrow frame, the tape shows a corner with great coverage skills in man, press and zone.

Dantzler's anticipation and instincts have some analysts believing he'd be a better zone-scheme fit in the NFL. His production across 22 starts at Mississippi State shows a corner who has the tools to fit into any scheme if given the time.

The 6-foot-2 corner also played LSU's Ja'Marr Chase -- the Biletnikoff Award winner and likely top-10 2021 pick -- the best of any corner. While Chase torched Clemson's A.J. Terrell, a likely top 40 pick, in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Dantzler only allowed two catches for 13 yards when targeted by LSU.

However, Dantlzer's 4.64 40 time and 30.5-inch arms will raise a lot of questions about his staying power in the NFL.

[RELATED: Why trading up to draft Okudah is perfect move for Raiders

Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame

Potentially one of the most underrated prospects in the draft, Notre Dame's Troy Pride Jr. played well at the Senior Bowl and could be one of the steals of the 2020 NFL Draft.

The 5-foot-11 corner has the requisite quickness, speed and change of direction to thrive in man coverage. While he thrives in man, Pride also has the instincts to play zone and has played in a press-scheme as well, making him not scheme dependent.

Hurting Pride are his less than exceptional ball skills and lack of production in run support. While he might not be a Day 1 starter, Pride does have the skills and potential to be a starter in Year 2 or Year 3.