Kristian Fulton

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders should select one of these five defensive backs

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders should select one of these five defensive backs

The Raiders took great strides to improve a leaky defense in free agency.

After years of toiling in linebacker hell, the Silver and Black signed two, three-down linebackers in Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. They bulked up their defensive line by adding Maliek Collins and edge rusher Carl Nassib.

The secondary, however, remains an issue. Trayvon Mullen showed shutdown corner potential during his rookie season. The Raiders hope Johnathan Abram is a presence at safety. Lamarcus Joyner is locked in at slot corner. The Raiders wanted to bring in Eli Apple to compete for the second corner position, but the contract wasn't finalized. Jeff Heath and Erik Harris likely will compete for the second starting safety spot.

But the Raiders must continue to upgrade their secondary. They have two first-round draft picks -- No. 12 and No. 19 -- and likely will use one on either a corner or safety while the other is allocated to a wide receiver.

Ohio State's Jeff Okudah is the best cornerback in the class. He's a plug-and-play corner who would look great in silver and black. But he'll be long gone by the time the Raiders go on the clock. There still are a number of defensive backs for the Raiders to select to take their defense to the next level.

Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama

This is who Dalton Johnson and I have the Raiders selecting at No. 19 in our latest mock draft. McKinney is a versatile playmaker who would pair well with Abram in the backend.

The Alabama safety is a sure tackler with instinctive zone coverage skills and great disruptive ability at the point of the catch. While he's not considered a lockdown defender in man coverage, he does have the ability to be a pest.

He's a high-IQ player who projects as a three-down, plug-and-play defender at the NFL level. His versatility allows him to thrive as a deep safety in the deep third of the field in the nickel and as a blitzer who can key in on the run as well.

McKinney's skills make him the optimal defensive weapon to stop modern offenses.

C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida

The Raiders need a cornerback, that much is clear.

After Okudah, Henderson is the best cornerback in the class. He's got great man coverage skills and his long, wiry frame coupled with his eye discipline makes him a solid cover corner, but he has a tendency to have mental lapses, particularly when defending the run game.

He could be a good option at No. 19, but his deficiencies in the run game could hurt him.

Henderson is an elite athlete and can thrive as a press-man corner. His issues with tackling and lack of ball production have some analysts questioning him, but you'd rather have a guy who can stick with top receivers -- as Mullen can on the other side -- and miss a few tackles, than have a guy who is average in coverage but better at tackling. Wouldn't you?

Here's Henderson shadowing and sticking in the pocket of LSU's Ja'Marr Chase, the Biletnikoff Award winner.

Kristian Fulton, LSU

The next tier of cornerbacks stars with Fulton.

The LSU star went up against the best of the best in college football and thrived. When facing Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Tee Higgins, Fulton gave up just three catches for 39 yards and zero touchdowns on 11 targets.

Henderson might be seen as the next best cornerback after Okudah, but I love Fulton's game. The 6-foot, 200-pound cornerback has exceptional man coverage skills. He has great feet, fluid hips, exceptional awareness and physicality to eventually become a No. 1 corner in the NFL.

The thing that makes Fulton so special is his ability to handle big physical receivers as well as the faster, twitchier pass-catchers. He forced an incompletion on 37.5 percent of man coverage snaps during the last two seasons and was rated the most valuable defensive back in college football since 2018 by Pro Football Focus.

He has a lot of room for growth, but Fulton has all the potential to be a star.

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A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson

An all-Clemson cornerback party in Las Vegas might be tough for general manager Mike Mayock to turn down.

Mullen's defensive backfield mate showed tremendous growth during his time in Death Valley. The 6-foot-1 corner is a terrific athlete with quick feet, fluid hips and a great ability to find consistent success in press coverage. Terrell had terrific success at baiting quarterbacks into throws in college, so he'll need to be a tad more cautious in the NFL. He's long, wiry and great at playing through the hands of the receivers.

The last time we saw Terrell he was getting abused by Chase in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Chase will be a top-five pick next year, so there's no reason for that to ding Terrell.

He'll need to work on his tackling and get a little stronger, but Terrell has all the tools and could pair nicely with Mullen.

[RELATED: Raiders go offense/defense in latest mock draft]

Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU

One of the rising stars of the cornerback class, Gladney is a tough, physical cornerback who thrives in man coverage.

He doesn't get bullied by bigger wide receivers and is a willing tackler in the run game. Gladney's a tad short at 5-foot-10 and some change, but he makes up for it with his competitive tenacity and physicality.

His fast feet, smooth hips and route-mirroring ability make him an attractive option late in the first round.

How Raiders' free-agent signings impact their 2020 NFL Draft plans

How Raiders' free-agent signings impact their 2020 NFL Draft plans

Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock entered free agency with a plan, and they executed it to near-perfection

The Raiders agreed to terms with six defensive players, including linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, shoring up what had been a literal black hole for years. With two three-down, playmaking linebackers now in the fold, the Silver and Black could take a different approach to the 2020 NFL Draft than initially presumed. 

With the No. 12 and No. 19 picks, many had presumed the Raiders would use the first pick on one of the best wide receivers in a loaded class and the second on the likes of LSU's Patrick Queen or Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray to help fix the linebacking issue. That likely won't be the case now with Littleton and Kwiatkoski in the fold. 

The Raiders still are likely to take a receiver with one of their first two selections, but their first-round strategy almost certainly has changed after free agency. Let's take a look at a few ways the Raiders could attack the first round, with linebacking needs now on the backburner. 

Draft CeeDee Lamb (duh) and go corner at No. 19

If I were a betting man, and I am, I'd still put money on the Raiders selecting either Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb or Alabama's Jerry Jeudy at No. 12. Lamb is more of a threat with the ball in his hands, a tenacious competitor and he has the speed to be a deep vertical threat at the next level. Jeudy is the most-polished receiver of the class and likely will settle in as a slot guy at the next level.

Either way, the Raiders can't lose. But if Lamb is on the board, they should sprint to turn in the card with his name on it. 

After addressing the offense with their first pick, the Raiders go back to defense and get defensive coordinator Paul Guenther another athlete for his new-look defense. The Raiders have Trayvon Mullen, a blossoming star at one corner, and took swings at Byron Jones and Chris Harris in free agency before missing out. They ultimately agreed to a deal with Eli Apple, but don't pencil him into the other starting corner spot. 

While Ohio State's Jeff Okudah will be long gone by No. 19, the Raiders could look at LSU's Kristian Fulton, Florida's C.J. Henderson or Clemson's A.J. Terrell to form a young duo with Mullen. 

There are some concerns about Fulton's size and speed, but the LSU product gave up only 48 catches over the past two seasons while notching 20 pass breakups.

Henderson is a gifted athlete and the second-best man cover corner in the class after Okudah. He has shown a tendency to not be physical with receivers, which has led to some big plays. 

As for Terrell, the last time we saw him he was having an awful game against LSU in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. That's going to happen against the likes of Ja'Marr Chase. Contrast that with the 2019 title game when Terrell was all over Alabama's DeVonta Smith Jr. and you can see why the Raiders might like him. He's long, rangy, athletic and comes from a culture the Raiders love to farm from. 

Get big Kinlaw energy early and see which receiver falls

It seems unlikely the Raiders don't draft a receiver at No. 12. If South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw still is available, however, I could see the Raiders locking him down and further cementing their defensive line. Kinlaw is an absolute monster on the interior at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds. He's long, explosive and powerful. Kinlaw needs to play with a consistent motor, but you have to think Guenther would love to add him to the DL rotation. 

If the Raiders do snap up Kinlaw at No. 12, they'll be hoping Alabama's Henry Ruggs falls to No. 19. Since that's pretty unlikely given the 4.27 40 Ruggs blazed at the NFL Scouting Combine, the Raiders will be left to choose between LSU's Justin Jefferson, Clemson's Tee Higgins, Colorado's Laviska Shenault and Baylor's Denzel Mims, who also was a combine star. 

Adding Kinlaw and Jefferson would get top marks across the board. 

Gruden gets his toys

The Raiders' defense just got loads better in free agency, so it's time to get Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota or the QB of the future (more on that in a minute) some weapons. 

Not only do the Raiders draft Lamb at No. 12, but they go back to the well at No. 19 and take Jefferson, giving the Raiders two dynamic playmakers who can operate from anywhere on the field. 

[RELATED: Raiders should stick to draft blueprint, raid Clemson-LSU]

Look, we reeeeeeeallllllly like Jalen Hurts

It's no secret the Raiders like Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts. He has a lot of skills that would make him a great quarterback in the modern NFL. Hurts has great pocket awareness, can beat you with his legs, is good in the RPO game and has a strong arm. The footwork and delivery have to be cleaned up, but it looks like he's already working on that based on his combine and pro day results. 

With Hurts shooting up draft boards, could the Raiders take Lamb at No. 12 and their potential QB of the future at No. 19? It would be a huge gamble, but they could feel compelled to make that move if they like Hurts, considering they have zero second-round picks. 

But I'd call it unlikely. 

The Raiders also still need to address the safety spot opposite Johnathan Abram, but unless they like LSU's Grant Delpit, that doesn't seem like an option in the first round. 

The additions of Littleton and Kwiatkoski has changed the look of the Raiders' defense, and likely their draft plans. As someone who wasn't sold on Queen's meteoric rise up the boards or Murray's ability to cover tight ends, I'd say this is the best-case scenario for the Silver and Black. 

Now, Mayock and Gruden can draft two elite players without having to gamble on one based solely on need. 

Clemson vs. LSU: Ranking six NFL draft prospects 49ers should watch

Clemson vs. LSU: Ranking six NFL draft prospects 49ers should watch

There were moments to hold your breath, but in the end, the 49ers made easy work of the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday in their NFC divisional-round playoff game. 

San Francisco now faces Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, and are one win away from Super Bowl LIV in Miami. And while The Faithful is dreaming of sunshine and palm trees already, the 49ers' front office will have their eyes on a talent-laden college game. 

When two undefeated Tigers look to tame each other Monday in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, there will be a plethora of NFL draft talent between Clemson and LSU. As the 49ers keep winning, however, their draft slot keeps sliding. 

For a team without many holes on its roster, the 49ers should still be able to find talent near the end of the first round. If prospects from this season's national championship fall to them in April, general manager John Lynch will be grinning from ear to ear. 

Here are six prospects, ranked by fit, that the 49ers should have their eyes on in this year's natty. 

6. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Running back could actually be a bigger need than wide receiver for the 49ers in 2020. No, you didn't read that wrong. And no, this coffee isn't Irish. 

Tevin Coleman carried the 49ers past the Vikings, but the five-year veteran has no guaranteed money on his contract next season. Matt Breida is a restricted free agent and it sure seems likely the front office moves on from Jerick McKinnon, who has missed the last two seasons with injuries after signing a four-year, $30 million contract in March 2018.

That leaves just Raheem Mostert, who broke out this season at 27 years old. With his speed and versatility, Etienne could be a great compliment to Mostert, who still serves as a special teams star. 

Etienne has combined for 3,194 yards rushing yards the last two seasons and 48 total touchdowns. Oh, and he has game-changing speed. 

Shanahan could get the very best out of Etienne. Teams will vary their opinions on the explosive running back, but it's easy to see why he could thrive on the 49ers.

5. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

The 49ers could have a really interesting decision to make if Jefferson is on the board at the end of the first round. With so much receiver talent in this year's class, that could easily happen, too. 

As a junior this season, Jefferson turned into an absolute star. He hauled in four touchdowns in the Peach Bowl and has 18 on the year. The 6-3 target can play inside or outside, though he really thrived when he turned into a long slot receiver. 

Does coach Kyle Shanahan tell Lynch to make Jefferson his newest toy? Or does Lynch tell the coach the 49ers have bigger needs? 

Jefferson's spot in the draft will be really interesting. Another big game against Clemson will only help his stock.

4. A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson

Don't throw the ball to Terrell's side. Raiders second-round pick and former Clemson Tiger, Trayvon Mullen, looks like a quality starter for years to come. Terrell might be better. 

Terrell, 6-1 and 190 pounds, is rangy and knows how to use his hands as a physical corner in stride. He doesn't shy away from contact and invites QBs who wish to challenge him. 

There's no doubt Terrell should be mentioned with Kristian Fulton (see below). He might fall further than the LSU Tiger, but this Clemson corner is a stud.

3. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

Richard Sherman is a baller. That was true five years ago, and still is today at 31 years old. But Sherman can only cover one side of the field. 

As 49ers fan saw the past two weeks, in the two biggest games of the year, Ahkello Witherspoon sure doesn't look like the answer in Year 3. Emmanuel Moseley is solid, but he also is far from a star. 

Fulton, however, could be a shut-down corner at the next level. He played a bit banged up this season, yet still had 13 passes defensed. 

It seems likely Fulton will be gone by the time the 49ers are selecting, but another top corner could still be on the board in Terrell.

2. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

Stop me if you've heard this before, but the 49ers need help at wide receiver. 

Rookie Deebo Samuel already is a real weapon in Kyle Shanahan's offense and looks like a future, versatile star. Kendrick Bourne was the highest-graded 49ers offensive player in their playoff win over the Vikings, according to Pro Football Focus, but isn't a No. 1 option. 

Higgins can be. At 6-4, 215 pounds, Higgins has ideal NFL size as an outside threat. And he can make catches like this. 

And this.

The 49ers need a game-changer on the outside. In a deep receiver class, Higgins could be around late into Day 1. If he's there, Lynch needs to make him a Niner.

1. Grant Delpit, S, LSU

The draft always is unpredictable, but it seems highly unlikely if Delpit hasn't been taken by the time the 49ers are on the clock. That doesn't mean he isn't the best fit, though. 

Delpit is the top safety in the draft and a top-10 talent. The 2019 Thorpe Award winner is 6-foot-3, 203 pounds and has plenty of Derwin James in him. 

Now that we know Robert Saleh will return to the 49ers, the defensive coordinator could have a lot of fun with a player who can do this: 

[RELATED: 2020 NFL mock draft: 49ers, Raiders picks before national title]

Jimmie Ward will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The defense is completely different with Jaquiski Tartt. Pair him with Delpit, and the 49ers would have a dangerous duo at the back of their defense.