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.
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.
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.