Raiders

Raiders

The Raiders took on the challenge of upgrading their defense during free agency, improving a linebacking corps that had been a zero for years and adding talent to the defensive line.

But they exited free agency with a massive hole at cornerback after their contract agreement with Eli Apple fell through. As it stands now, Trayvon Mullen is cemented at one corner with either Isaiah Johnson or Nevin Lawson starting on the other side.

Of course, the NFL draft gs the Raiders several draft options to fill the gaping cavity at cornerback. With picks No. 12 and 19, the Raiders could select Florida's CJ Henderson, LSU's Kristian Fulton or Clemson's A.J. Terrell. Those three are in a group of cornerbacks slated to go after Ohio State's Jeff Okudah, a projected top-10 pick. But the Raiders -- with two first-round picks --- have the ammo needed to trade up for Okudah -- a potential future star -- and shore up their secondary for the next five years with him, Mullen and safety Johnathan Abram.

The Raiders have more than one need, though. Corner is pressing, but they need to find wide-receiver help and reportedly are interested in taking a defensive tackle in the first round. A trade up for Okudah would force them to surrender the No. 12 and No. 19 picks. Should the Raiders, a team with multiple needs, sacrifice one first-round pick and a shot at an elite wide receiver in a loaded class to snag Okudah?

 

The short answer is yes. Normally, I'd say a team like the Raiders should stack as much talent as possible, but Okudah's transcendent talent at a marquee position makes him an exception.

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Let's break down Okudah first.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound defensive back might as well be an alien.

You turn on the tape and see an elite, shutdown corner with skills that would make the likes of Deion Sanders, Champ Bailey and Aeneas Williams drool.

Okudah has ridiculously quiet feet that allow him to backpedal and shuffle outside his frame while maintaining balance. His ability to play in press-man coverage is textbook and should be taught in grade school in lieu of geometry. He is comfortable playing and staying connected or trailing. His ability to mirror receivers' release moves and understand when he's being tricked is uncanny.

Then, there are the ball skills. Okudah is nothing short of elite in this area as well. He has incredible leaping ability, excels at locating the ball at the catch point and forcing pass breakups with his toughness and physicality.

If you aren't sold yet, let's talk about his reactionary quickness. Okudah is never, and I do mean never, out of place. He has the quickness to be able to bait quarterbacks by giving separation and closing at what seems like an impossible rate. The junior was the only cornerback in the 2020 class to not allow a reception of more than 15 yards.

Okudah is not scheme or matchup dependent. He has all the tools of an elite, shutdown, Pro Bowl corner and one who can be that good very, very quickly. The combination of size, speed and athleticism is reminiscent of Jalen Ramsey and Stephon Gilmore. The only knock on Okudah would be that he only had three interceptions last season, but that's because opposing quarterbacks were too scared to throw at him.

Look at this footwork.

These coverage skills don't come around every year.

So, he's a top 10 pick and a likely Pro Bowl/All-Pro talent. What's it going to take to go get Okudah?

If we assume Joe Burrow is going to go No. 1 and Chase Young No. 2, that would leave the Detroit Lions on the clock with Okudah still on the board. There's a chance teams will start running up the draft board to secure quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa, which could see Okudah fall to No. 6 or No. 7. Regardless, there is zero shot Okudah falls to 12 and, frankly, I'd be surprised if he gets past the Lions at No. 3, unless they are blown away with a trade offer.

The Raiders' offer would have to include Nos. 12 and 19 and perhaps a future later-round pick or two. The Lions drive a hard bargain. They know what Okudah is worth, and they also will have other offers for teams wanting to go up and get a quarterback. As long as Okudah is on the board, the Raiders should be doing what they can to draft him.

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There's no doubt adding a CeeDee Lamb or Henry Ruggs would be a nice treat for the offense. But first-round receivers often are hit-and-miss, and you can find talent at receiver later on in the draft. This is a deep receiver class with talent throughout. You can find a Chase Claypool, Michael Pittman or Van Jefferson on Day 2.

The chances of finding a star cornerback late on Day 2 or early in Day 3 are slim to none, and Okudah is in his own stratosphere. Sure, the Raiders could take a shot on Jaylon Johnson, Damon Arnette or Cameron Dantzler and they could turn out to be starting caliber NFL cornerbacks, or even Pro Bowlers.

But Jeff Okudah is a sure thing. He'll make Pro Bowls (lots of them) and undoubtedly be a multiple-time All-Pro if he stays healthy.

To win in today's NFL, you have to be able to create explosive plays and stop them. By drafting Okudah, the Raiders would have two young, talented cornerbacks who can play on islands against the best the NFL has to offer.

Okudah has all the talent to be a star from Day 1, and he'll only get better. He's a bonafide plug-and-play shutdown star the second he steps on the field.

He's as can't miss as they get, and the Raiders should do what they can to put him in silver and black.