We're passed the halfway point of the NFL season, and the Raiders are in a unique position.
Yes, it's OK to start thinking about Jon Gruden leading the Silver and Black back to the playoffs. This Raiders team has been tough, gritty and resilient, fighting through a host of injuries, a five-game road trip against playoff-caliber competition, Vontaze Burfict's season-long suspension and Antonio Brown's meltdown to sit at 5-4, just on the outside of the playoff picture with a very favorable upcoming schedule.
But thanks to the much-criticized Khalil Mack trade -- which is looking better by the day (hi, Josh Jacobs) -- the Raiders also must start scouting college football's best players. The Bears, one year after going 12-4 and winning the NFC North, have been borderline abysmal as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky continues to show zero signs that he's a franchise quarterback.
With seven games left, the Bears sit at 4-5 and currently would have the No. 14 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. But because the Bears were brilliant last year, led by Mack and that vaunted defense, they were given a first-place schedule, so Trubisky and the Bears will finish the season with the Rams, Giants, Lions, Cowboys, Packers, Chiefs and Vikings.
The way the Bears are playing, at least four of those games are losses, and there's no telling which Chicago team will show up against the Giants or possibly the Jeff Driskel-led Lions on Thanksgiving. Even a positive view likely sees the Bears' finish at 6-10 or 5-11, and that could be enough to see them fall (or rise depending on the hat you're wearing) into the top 10 of the NFL draft.
A playoff berth and a top-10 pick in the same season? That's some kind of witchcraft only Gruden could have cooked up in his wildest nightmares.
The Raiders are just a half-game back of the Chiefs for first place in the AFC West, with a Dec. 1 meeting at Arrowhead Stadium still to come. They're just outside of the wild-card picture because of a tiebreaker loss to the Steelers based on conference record.
Still, the playoffs are a real possibility for the Silver and Black. While Gruden patches up the secondary after injuries to safety Karl Joseph and slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, general manager Mike Mayock is hard at work scouting what could be a top-10 pick from the Bears.
The 2020 NFL Draft class might not be as loaded as some in years past, but it does have just what the Raiders will be looking for: wide receivers, pass rushers and defensive backs.
So, let's pretend the Raiders hit the lottery and go to the playoffs for the second time since 2002, and the Bears plummet to finish 5-11. Here are six prospects the playoff-bound Raiders will be looking at with that top-10 pick.
Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
Speed. Speed. More speed.
One of Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's favorite targets, Ruggs is a burner who's projected to be the fastest player in this year's draft class. He's the perfect fit for the modern NFL. He's improved as a route runner during his time in Tuscaloosa, and would be great for a Raiders team that's thin at receiver after the AB debacle.
His teammate, Jerry Jeudy, is the top receiver in the class and likely will go in the top five, but Ruggs is no consolation prize.
CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Did I mention the Raiders have a need at receiver?
Lamb isn't as fast as Ruggs, but the 6-foot-2, 191-pound receiver has been dominant as Jalen Hurts' No. 1 target this season. He's a polished route-runner who has a knack for getting open and is almost impossible to tackle. Just ask Texas, which Lamb torched, pulling down 10 balls for 171 yards and three scores.
Lamb is a little taller than Ruggs, but either would be a great weapon to give Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
Isaiah Simmons, OLB, Clemson
Have you heard Gruden kind of likes guys from Clemson?
After the Silver and Black drafted three guys from Dabo Swinney's culture factory last season, don't be surprised if they go back to Death Valley should Simmons be on the board.
That's a big if, but the converted safety is just what the Raiders are looking for in a linebacker. He has the athleticism to cover tight ends but also can run sideline to sideline to track down backs. He has the versatility to play some safety if called upon to do so.
I'd expect he'll hear his name called somewhere in the No. 6-to-No. 8 range, but if he falls a bit, this would be a huge get for Mayock and Gruden.
Isaiah Simmons is so effective w/the blitz because of his timing & anticipation w/the snap count, as well as his closing speed to quickly shoot the gap & taking down the QB.— WBG84 (@WBG84) October 4, 2019
He ended the night w/11 tackles, 3.5 TFL & 2 sacks. Consistently blows up plays. #GiantsPride #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/01MJX11QOO
Isaiah Simmons of @ClemsonFB is 1 of 2 FBS players this season with 50+ tackles, 5+ sacks — @bgeis_bird with more on Simmons, the top defensive prospect on the nation's most efficient defense https://t.co/4gSy6XxUBn pic.twitter.com/9owb5LwCq4— ACCSports.com (@ACCSports) October 21, 2019
Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
At 6-5, 318 pounds, Brown has the size that NFL teams covet in a disruptive defensive tackle. He's still raw, but he has the tools to be a dominant game wrecker.
The Raiders were interested in Quinnen Williams in last year's draft, but he went off the board at No. 3. Will they go back to the D-line well here?
Derrick Brown (DT No. 5) is a damn tank pic.twitter.com/p8bwWEVIiW— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) November 4, 2019
Grant Delpit, S, LSU
The Raiders drafted Johnathan Abram in the first round last April, but he only made it one game before going down with a shoulder injury. Karl Joseph was having a productive season at the other safety spot before going on injured reserve after his game-sealing interception against the Chargers.
Joseph will be a free agent this offseason and would love to return to the Raiders. But if it doesn't work out, Delpit is the type of player Gruden would love to put alongside Abram in the defensive backfield.
The LSU star can line up just about anywhere and make plays. He's a versatile ballhawk who would give the Raiders one of the best safety combinations in the league.
As seen in the win over Alabama, Delpit has to improve his tackling, but it's not a big enough knock to warrant passing on him.
LSU Safety Grant Delpit (@realgrantdelpit) Highlights— JustBombsProductions (@JBP_Official) October 27, 2019
Delpit has been one of the best defensive players in the country since his 1st game as a Freshman. Opposing teams need to make sure they know where he is at all times #GeauxTigers
Full Video 🎥: https://t.co/yOPJ6OGJmL pic.twitter.com/kXmdmw9hjv
Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
So, you need a pass rush? Clelin Ferrell has come on of late, and Maxx Crosby has been a pleasant surprise, but the Raiders still lack the ability to consistently get after the pass rusher. They'd love to land Ohio State's Chase Young, but he'll be off the board by the No. 2 pick.
Gross-Matos is a lengthy defensive end with a massive wingspan and a big motor. He's relentless on every play, and we know Gruden loves that. He's only 21, so he has a ton of room to grow both physically and as a defensive end.
The Nittany Lion star could go inside the top 10 or fall to the late first round, so the Raiders could have a few cracks at him.
Yetur Gross-Matos would fix a lot of Baltimore’s pass rushing problems in 2020. pic.twitter.com/vFk7lWUF2U— Kip Smithers 🏁 (@Chughes612) October 12, 2019
Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
If you can't immediately fix the pass rush, you can address the coverage. The Raiders did that by drafting Trayvon Mullen in the second round in April, and the rookie has been solid since earning the starting job after Gareon Conley was traded.
Adding Fulton would give the Raiders two young, athletic cover corners on whom to build their defense. Heading to Las Vegas with the #NoFlyZone.
3 Cloud for the INT on 3rd— Cody Alexander (@The_Coach_A) October 19, 2019
SQUAT technique by the CB
"Squat" near the sticks
CB sinks down giving the illusion of catch coverage & to appear in man/Quarters
After 5 yds 👀s snap inside to Slot
QB anticipates a clean sideline only to find the CB trapping the Sail 💥#ArtofX pic.twitter.com/nmx1fap3jP