Why Gareon Conley trade makes sense for Raiders, might not be last one

Why Gareon Conley trade makes sense for Raiders, might not be last one

ALAMEDA -- Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley had a game he’d rather forget on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. It was his last in silver and black.

He was traded to the Houston Texans for a 2020 third-round NFL draft pick, a source said Monday, ending a relationship that didn’t seem long-lasting.

Conley’s an excellent cover man with speed, ball skills and all the physical traits one finds in a top cornerback. There were some inside the Raiders complex who thought he was at times disinterested and disengaged, wondering whether he was a perfect match for what they do defensively and the level of physicality required of Raiders cornerbacks.

Actions suggested a possible breakup before Conley's contract expired. The Raiders added two cornerbacks in the first four rounds of this year’s NFL draft despite having entrenched starters in Conley and Daryl Worley, a player the staff likes a great deal.

Conley has struggled this year. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Conley has allowed 18 catches on 26 targets for 266 yards and four touchdowns. That included a 74-yard score on Sunday against the Packers, where he also provided some lackluster run defense.

The Raiders decided to move on now, taking the best deal on the table from Houston despite playing the Texans next week.

The added selection gives the Raiders three in the third round next year. They also have two in the first and none in the second. The Silver and Black have the capital to go get just about anyone they want or can use the picks to move around the draft board and back into the second round if they choose.

They’ll stomach some awkwardness for the added draft capital, which could be used to add a player before the Oct. 29 NFL trade deadline.

“It’s tough. It’s difficult,” Gruden said in his Monday press conference. “But it does give us three third-round picks next year. Five picks really in the [top 96], and that’s an area that we wanted. We wanted to continue to add to our football team. We’re excited about the possibilities next year in the draft. It is hard, it’s hard trading anybody. We have some young guys that we want to have an opportunity and that’s the decision we made.”

The Raiders have options to help the team now and/or in the future by trading someone not firmly in their long-term plans. That’s what makes this a good move by Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock.

Conley’s not a perfect fit? Ship him for a pick that can help acquire someone who is. The roster turnover under Gruden has been significant, but he has the 10-year contract and owner Mark Davis’ unconditional support, so why not build a roster as he sees fit? It’s his decade. He can do what he wants with it.

We’ll know in time if it was a good move or not, once we see the tangible return from this selection.

We know for sure the Raiders are still in the midst of a rebuild, even if they’re far more competitive than last year. They’re in the playoff picture as we near the halfway point of the season, with a tough Texans team ahead and a schedule that gets far easier after that.

The Raiders need some help at several spots, including pass rusher, linebacker and maybe even receiver despite two trades already to fortify the position. The trade market could be an avenue for assistance, and this Conley deal could be the latest -- but not the last -- domino to fall in a busy year for Raiders trades.

[RELATED: Raiders turning to rookie to fill Conley's spot at corner]

There could be another deal (or two) before this trading period is done. Time will tell on that front, but Gruden and Mayock will keep a close eye on possible deals and will certainly discuss them with teams as we head toward Oct. 29.

“We’re going to try. We’re going to do what we feel like we can to improve,” Gruden said. “Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into making trades. We’re excited about having three third-round picks, two first-round picks in next year’s draft.”

NFL Draft 2020: Why Henry Ruggs could be what Raiders are looking for

NFL Draft 2020: Why Henry Ruggs could be what Raiders are looking for

Speed kills. The Raiders have got an up-close look at that as the Kansas City Chiefs built their Death Star led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes and a track team of wide receivers better known as the "Legion of Zoom."

The Raiders are chasing the Chiefs. The Silver and Black currently are leagues behind the reigning Super Bowl champions, but Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock are building something from the ground up. In order to compete with the Chiefs and win any shootout with Mahomes, they'll the requisite speed and playmaking ability to do just that.

Enter: Henry Ruggs.

The Raiders' need at wide receiver is well-documented. It's been rehashed a million times ever since Antonio Brown blew up the Silver and Black's plan for a dominant receiving corps. They are in desperate need of a wide receiver who can take the top off a defense, challenge corners vertically and make plays with the ball in his hands.

Ruggs is seen as the third member of the elite tier of prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft, following Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and Ruggs' teammate Jerry Jeudy.

Both are expected to go in the top 15 and most have mocked the Raiders as selecting either Lamb or Jeudy. But Ruggs' freakish speed and otherworldly athleticism are blue-chip skills you can't teach. Skills Chiefs star Tyreek Hill has and has torched the Raiders with over the past few seasons.

You have to fight fire with fire. Speed with speed.

Ruggs showed up to the NFL Scouting Combine and blazed a 4.27 40-yard dash. The second he steps on an NFL field he and Hill will the two fastest players in the NFL.

In the mold of Hill and Chiefs young rising star Mecole Hardman, Ruggs is an offensive weapon. He might not arrive in the NFL as a polished No. 1 option, but he has all the juice that will make defenses focus on where he is at all times. His break-neck speed and unreal acceleration give him the ability to turn the ho-hum curl, slant or out route into six.

Ruggs is not the polished receiver that Jeudy is, although he has more route savvy then you think. He has soft hands and is a tough runner. He's a three-level threat who can strike from anywhere at any time. 

Alabama schemed him open a lot and Ruggs had issues with the physical corners at LSU, so he doesn't come without question marks and might not be a go-to No. 1 receiver right away, but few rookies are.

All that said, his release can be improved and the deep-ball tracking worked on. The freakish speed and athleticism Ruggs possesses can't be taught. Having a player with game-changing athleticism is almost a requirement if you want to be a true contender in today's NFL.

The Chiefs have three in Hill, Hardman and Demarcus Robinson. The Raiders have zero.

[RELATED: Six receivers for Raiders to target on Day 2]

Ruggs would give the Raiders something they don't have, a dynamic offensive weapon who can alter a game in the blink of an eye. A receiver who can take a safe pass from Derek Carr and blow past a defense in the blink.

Lamb and Jeudy are talented, stars in the making and they are both possess speed and athleticism in their own right. But they can't match Ruggs there.

We know Gruden has been envious of what Andy Reid gets to scheme around in Kansas City. He could take his first step in building a Death Star of his own by taking Ruggs and injecting three tanks of NOS into the Raiders' offense.

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders can fill glaring receiver need in first round

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders can fill glaring receiver need in first round

The Raiders desperately need a top wide receiver.

That’s a shocking revelation to be sure. Probably should add “BREAKING:” before that first sentence, or maybe “This just in.”

Or, sarcasm aside, it’s as big and obvious a need as there is heading into the NFL draft. Raiders fans and NFL followers at large know this to be true, and it would be a surprising development if the Silver and Black didn’t take a receiver at either No. 12 or No. 19 overall.

It’s possible the Raiders could take a receiver high and again with one of three third-round picks as they flesh out a position decimated by Antonio Brown’s implosion last summer and a series of unsuccessful receiver trades and free-agent signings.

While they really need a cornerback and could use defensive line help and an extra running back, receiver should reign supreme on the Raiders' checklist. Lucky for general manager Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden, this is as deep a receiver class as you’ll see. There’s quality deep into the middle rounds, with three elite prospects and several first-round talents after that.

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Let’s take a look at options the Raiders could have available with their first-round picks.

As a note, there’s obviously no guarantee of how the NFL draft will go, and most expert mock drafts blow up after a few picks or a blockbuster trades, so this is an estimate for who might be around at a particular pick.

No. 12 overall

CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma (6-foot-2, 198 pounds): The former Sooner typically is ranked atop this receiver class, with a debate about who’s best between him and Jerry Jeudy. Throw Henry Ruggs in there as well, with his freak athletic gifts possibly making him the first receiver taken.

Lamb, however, is my favorite. He’s a dynamic outside threat who can make plays at every level. His yards after the catch are unreal, though college coverage played into that, and that’s a trait vital to Jon Gruden’s offense. The Raiders offensive mastermind loves it when a quarterback makes a safe and smart pass leading a receiver into space, and Lamb can take full advantage of that. He has good hands and can create separation while running routes. There’s some concern about him handling physical NFL corners and he was often schemed open, but coaches can work on techniques and pro-style route refinement. He might be gone before the Raiders pick at No. 12, but he’d be hard to pass up if available.

Jerry Jeudy, Alabama, Alabama (6-foot-1, 193 pounds): Picking between Jeudy and Lamb is like choosing between steak and lobster. Both guys are elite prospects expected to make an instant impact. Jeudy is considered an excellent route runner, with sharp and precise movements to create separation within a pro-style offense. He knows how to work cornerbacks and create leverage and space. Some analysts believe he’ll be best in the slot, a spot Hunter Renfrow occupies with the Raiders. He can work all three levels and seems as ready as any receiver to make an instant impact.

Henry Ruggs, Alabama (5-foot-11, 188 pounds): Ruggs is offensive rocket fuel, an athletic freak with a track star’s speed. He ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, the quicks required to blow past college stars and pros alike. He isn’t just a straight runner, with more route savvy than one might expect. Analysts believe he’ll have to work on his releases dealing with press coverage, but he’s got Tyreek Hill speed. Gruden wants a Tyreek Hill-type of player in his pattern. While he doesn’t possess some of the traits Lamb or Jeudy have, he still could be the first receiver taken and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be around for the Raiders’ second pick in the first round.

[RELATED: NFL Draft 2020: Six receiver prospects Raiders should target on Day 2]

No. 19 overall

Justin Jefferson, LSU (6-foot-1, 202 pounds): The former Tiger has great hands, ball skills and could be a solid possession receiver. He can move inside and out, though his big season came primarily working from the slot. He could use more precise route running, but those are things coaches can work on considering his solid build and savvy finding the football. Can he create separation from the outside at the next level? That’s something Raiders scouts will have to ponder before making a Jefferson pick.

Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State (5-foot-11, 205 pounds): News broke from NFL Network on Tuesday that Aiyuk had surgery on a core muscle injury, though the delayed/eliminated offseason work due to the coronavirus pandemic may make this a non-factor in terms of missing on-field time. Teams still will factor that into their decision, especially with an inability to bring him in for a late pre-draft visit. There are upsides that make him worth the 19th pick or an option in a trade down. He’s solid after the catch and tracks the ball well, especially on deep routes. He can move around the field, something Gruden would like, in addition to a knack for making big plays out of nothing.

Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado (6 feet, 227 pounds): The former Buffalo has the biggest frame on this list, with the power to separate and act like a running back after the catch. He can create leverage and explosive plays, and is the willing run blocker Gruden loves. He doesn’t have the raw speed of others on this list and has battled injury issues for the last two years. This is another player possibly available at a slight trade back from 19, allowing the Raiders to pick up a quality receiver and another pick.

Other names to consider: Tee Higgins, Clemson; Denzel Mims, Baylor; Jalen Reagor, TCU