ALAMEDA – The Raiders entered the NFL draft's opening round with a couple defensive players in mind.
They were known to like North Carolina State edge rusher Bradley Chubb, as the Athletic first reported, and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. They couldn't secure either elite prospect on Thursday evening. Denver took Chubb at No. 5. Chicago snagged Smith at No. 8. That was no surprise.
Then the Raiders shifted focus solely on the offensive line.
They honed in on Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, universally considered the best offensive tackle in this draft. The 49ers snagged him at No. 9, a selection won with a tiebreaking coin flip against the Raiders.
The Raiders didn’t use their No. 10 pick. They regrouped quickly and traded back with Arizona, taking the Nos. 15, 79 and 152 selections for the drop.
Florida State safety Derwin James and Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds were still available at No. 15. The Raiders liked them both, but were undeterred in their quest to improve the tackle spot.
The Raiders took UCLA’s Kolton Miller at No. 15, the next tackle on their draft board.
The pick was met with some skepticism from the fan base, which considered him unworthy of the draft slot. That was especially true with top defenders available who play sexier positions. Leaving James on the board, in particular, was a point of contention for many.
The Raiders stuck with a guy NFL Network said they would’ve taken at No. 10. They got a couple extra picks – one quickly turned into Pittsburgh receiver Martavis Bryant – and shored up an area of weakness.
The Raiders have unheralded veteran Breno Giacomini and a mix of developmental prospects at right tackle. Miller will compete to start there this season, with a long-term plan of moving to left tackle when 35-year old Donald Penn’s contract ends after 2019 at the latest. The three-time Pro Bowler is still recovering from foot surgery, though a full recovery’s in the cards. Penn will make roughly $8 million in 2018 with a $10.3 million sum due the next year, though his 2019 money isn’t guaranteed.
Miller will cost far less than that. Having someone on a rookie deal playing a premium position – left tackles often get eight-figure salaries – will help the Raiders survive paying massive sums to Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and several star members of the offensive line.
Those plans are contingent on one key thing: Miller’s development. He has the physical tools to be an excellent NFL blocker, but must improve in some areas to reach full potential.
“He’s a big man that can move his feet,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “He’s played left tackle and right tackle. He’s been an offensive lineman pretty much his whole life. He understands the game. He’s an excellent athlete who has great potential, so we feel really good about adding him to the Raider roster.”
Miller was a second choice behind McGlinchey, but he still solves an issue on this offense. The right tackle has been a mess for years. Head coach Jon Gruden, this team’s primary shot caller, understood that. The Raiders have plenty of developmental linemen. They needed to use a premium pick in an effort to satisfy present and future needs.
While one source said there was some debate over Miller within the organization, offensive line coach Tom Cable is happy about this pick. He was a big Miller fan, and McKenzie said he played a big role in making this pick.
His 2017 game tape wasn’t great, but he tested well at the NFL combine. Miller’s known as a hard worker focused on shoring up individual weaknesses, vital to someone who needs to develop.
“When you talk about pass protection and staying in front of his guy, that’s what he does,” McKenzie said. “I mean he’s got the length, he’s got the great feet and when you’re talking about playing at the second level, pulling. I mean, this guy has a lot of talent and we think if we can get him on scheme and get (Cable) working with him, he’s going to flourish.”