Raiders

Ranking top five Raiders needs heading into the 2019 NFL Draft

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Ranking top five Raiders needs heading into the 2019 NFL Draft

The Raiders' roster needs a lot of help. That’s no secret, a fact Mike Mayock has acknowledged since becoming Raiders general manager.

That is common at this stage of a roster reset where the Raiders have exchanged top talent for draft capital and let several veterans walk during last season or right after.

Free agency has quelled some concerns, importing major upgrades to positions on the Raiders' needs list a few months ago. Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner have changed things some. Linebackers Brandon Marshall and Vontaze Burfict and running back Isaiah Crowell and backup quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Landry Jones have removed urgency from their respective spots, though they don’t eliminate draft selections within those position groups.

In fact, some still remain high on the priority list. Let’s break down the top five Raiders needs heading into this NFL draft. That doesn’t mean they’ll address these positions in order and could deviate from Gruden’s list by adding the best possible player available. With eight draft picks and four in the top 35 to Raiders need to improve the roster because, more than any particular spot, the Raiders need upgrades almost everywhere.

We all know, however, which position belongs in the No. 1 slot:

1. Edge rusher

The Raiders can at least fill out a two-deep after late free-agency signings, but they won’t head into the regular season with Arden Key, Benson Mayowa, Alex Barrett and Josh Mauro. That crew won’t intimidate many. Adding one of the early draft picks could add a fear factor, especially if one comes at No. 4, in a small trade down from there or trade up from two picks in the 20s. Let’s be honest here -- the Raiders could use two edge rushers ready to contribute right away. That’s how big an issue this is right now.

Montez Sweat becomes one to watch on draft day, with news some teams are scared off by a heart condition that didn’t prohibit participation at the NFL Scouting Combine or halt his excellent 2018 season at Mississippi State. NFL Network reports he has an enlarged heart that has taken him off some draft boards. He would offer great value in the 20s if he falls on draft day, assuming the Raiders are comfortable with his medical evaluation.

Josh Allen, Brian Burns, Clelin Ferrell, and Rashan Gary – the Michigan man’s an excellent scheme fit – are first-round options. Jaylon Ferguson, L.J. Collier and Chase Winovich could be options at No. 35 overall.

2. Cornerback

The Raiders have a solid corps on the roster, but Gareon Conley’s the only true cornerback under contract beyond next season. Daryl Worley and Nevin Lawson are also in the mix, but another cornerback should join the group in the draft as the Raiders figure out long-term solutions at this premium position. The Raiders could well look for a cover man late in the first round, which could be a solid spot to select one from a class that shouldn’t thin out during the draft’s early picks. Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin, Georgia’s Deandre Baker and Washington’s Byron Murphy could fit there, and the Raiders might go for Michigan State’s Justin Layne as a Day 2 pick.

3. Tight end

The Raiders have some quality depth here, with receiving tight end Darren Waller, blocker Lee Smith and versatile tight ends Luke Willson and Derek Carrier. Gruden’s still on the hunt for a front-line tight end who could contribute heavily in the passing game. That could come early in the draft, especially if Iowa’s Noah Fant lasts into the mid-20s. There are other options to be had later as well to upgrade the tight end group and create some serious position battles this summer.

4. Running back

Here’s another case of the Raiders having plenty at the position but still looking for a featured player. That’s why an early selection is possible here to join Crowell, Jalen Richard, Chris Warren III and DeAndre Washington in the mix. Position coach Kirby Wilson was at Alabama’s Pro Day, checking out do-everything backs Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris. Those guys should be the first two runners off the board, with other quality options behind them.

[RELATED: Why Raiders could be looking to move up and draft Kyler Murray]

5. Guard

The Raiders traded Kelechi Osemele and his eight-figure cap number to the New York Jets, leaving some uncertainty at one of two guard spots. Gabe Jackson will fill one and Denzelle Good is an option on the other. Gruden has mentioned the prospect of getting a guard in the draft to further solidify all positions of the offensive line. A good line makes everything else easier, and the Raiders are pretty close to being pretty darn good up front.

Raiders OTA primer: Five questions entering important offseason phase

Raiders OTA primer: Five questions entering important offseason phase

The Raiders are progressing right through the offseason program, which starts its third and final phase on Tuesday when organized team activities formally begin. The first phase is all about conditioning and meetings. The second allows on-field workouts, without helmets or offense vs. defense work.

They can put it all together over the next four weeks. Well, almost. Players can put helmets on at least, but there’s no live contact over the course of 10 OTA practices and a mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

Units can go against each other these days, a vital part of learning/mastering Raiders schemes. And the competition for roster spots formally starts Monday. Nothing will be decided for months, but players can make an early impression on an organization looking for improved production in most spots. The 2019 Raiders really start coming together now.

Here are some key questions to keep an eye on throughout OTAs and minicamp:

Will veteran LBs flash old form?

Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall know how to run a defensive front seven. Both guys have done so for the Bengals and Broncos, respectively, for several years. Injuries (and maybe age) have pushed them out of old markets and toward the Silver and Black, where they’re looking to restart careers representing new colors.

Recent past creates question marks about whether they can find old form and be three-down mainstays for a Raiders defense needing stability inside. Burfict’s intimate knowledge of Paul Guenther’s scheme while working with him Cincinnati should help tremendously. So should Burfict’s aggressive play inside.

Marshall’s a cerebral sort and a sure tackler capable of playing any linebacker spot.

Those guys could help a great deal. Keyword: could. Don’t forget the optimism surrounding Derrick Johnson last offseason, when spring promises of upgraded play were never met.

Marshall and Burfict will start fitting into this Raiders' defense during OTAs, and we’ll see how much spring remains in veteran steps. Both guys are working on one-year contracts but hope to remain for a longer term. They’ll have to prove themselves deserving in 2019 to stick around.

How will TE shakeup shake out?

The Raiders have mixed up their tight end position group this offseason, letting Jared Cook walk in free agency before cutting Lee Smith recently.

Darren Waller’s set for a big receiving role that he’ll have to earn in OTAs and training camp. He has all the speed and athleticism needed for success, but he must be reliable in the pattern to get targets in the passing game.

Fourth-round pick Foster Moreau will compete for a role, alongside Luke Willson and Derek Carrier. The group will look different, and those guys must step up and fill an important blocking role in the run game, especially. Competition for snaps should be fierce in that group. OTAs will give some a leg up heading into training camp.

Chemistry class in session?

Quarterback Derek Carr worked extensively with new receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams at universities and even public parks trying to establish an early rapport with his new receivers. The offseason program has afforded regular opportunities to do so with them and other newbies Ryan Grant and J.J. Nelson and even fifth-round draft pick Hunter Renfrow.

Thus far, they’ve only worked against air. Adding coverage and defensive resistance will be a solid litmus test to see if the timing is in fact right. There’s no real worry even if not, considering how much time remains to get it right.

Will three first-rounders make a good OTA impression?

The Raiders used three first-round picks on guys who need pads to truly be evaluated. That’s especially true for defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell (No. 4 overall) and running back Josh Jacobs (No. 24), who won’t really be able to thump until training camp.

Athleticism and burst and elusiveness could be seen clearly in OTAs, where these guys could jump right into top units. Safety Johnathan Abram will be asked to cover and do a bit of everything, but he might be brought along initially behind Karl Joseph at strong safety. That doesn’t mean the hierarchy will remain, but it could ease Abram’s initial transition.

The Raiders are counting on all three first-rounders to make an immediate impact, and they’d like to hit the ground running and show positive flashes while learning the scheme.

[RELATED: AB posts cryptic tweet after Big Ben apology]

Who jumps out in cornerback rotation?

Gareon Conley seems set to start at one outside cornerback spot. Daryl Worley’s favored to start on the opposite end, with safety Lamarcus Joyner sliding into the slot when required. Veteran Nevin Lawson will have something to say about that. And the Raiders didn’t draft Trayon Mullen at No. 40 overall to sit around and play fourth fiddle.

Expect some competition from that position group during OTAs and beyond, as we find out who can excel playing the physical coverage style Guenther requires. Rashaan Melvin never figured it out, and had a rough 2018. There’s enough talent here that a slow start could hurt fighting for regular-season snaps, as we see how a premium position group fares against a loaded receiver corps that will start testing coverage ability immediately.

Antonio Brown posts cryptic tweet after Ben Roethlisberger apology

Antonio Brown posts cryptic tweet after Ben Roethlisberger apology

Sometimes you have to accept an apology you never received. That could have been Antonio Brown's mentality following a hindered relationship between him and his former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. 

That may not be true, but if it was -- he has nothing to worry about now following Big Ben's recent, public apology.

The Steelers' signal caller talked it all out with Bob Pompeani of KDKA in Pittsburgh. It appeared he accepted full responsibility for his part in the broken relationship with his former wide receiver. Roethlisberger admitted he feels bad for the criticism he made of Brown when he claimed the wide receiver didn't read the coverage accurately during a game-ending turnover against the Broncos:

Brown appeared to have a reaction to Roethlisberger's comments:

And while we cannot confirm this tweet is 100 percent geared toward the situation, we do know that AB's relationship with Big Ben and the Steelers deteriorated around the same time erratic behavior ensued. This included skipping team meetings the last week of the season and not playing in a crucial  Week 17 game. Brown was soon thereafter traded to the Raiders for two NFL draft picks. 

[RELATED: Steelers use AB trade pick on wide receiver]

The apology from the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback appears to be genuine, but this "sorry," could be too little too late.