Now that the major free agent signings have been finalized, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be looking at the top three needs for each team heading into the 2015 NFL Draft. Today, the Oakland Raiders are under the microscope.
The Raiders went into the offseason with approximately $50 million in salary cap space and put most of it to good use. They missed out on some big names, including Ndamukong Suh, but they picked up plenty of solid players, including Rodney Hudson, Dan Williams, Nate Allen, Lee Smith, Malcolm Smith, Roy Helu Jr., Curtis Lofton, James Dockery, Christian Ponder, and Trent Richardson. The Raiders have turned their attention to the 2015 NFL Draft now.
Oakland Raiders 2015 NFL Draft: Top 3 Needs
The Raiders drafted their quarterback of the future in Derek Carr last year. The plan now is to get Carr the weapons he needs to succeed. In free agency, the team agreed to a one-year contract with Michael Crabtree, who hopes to rebound from a disappointing year in which he totaled just 698 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns. The Raiders are hoping that Crabtree will return to his 2012 numbers of 1,105 yards receiving and 9 touchdowns.
Returning starters Rod Streater and James Jones will join Crabtree. Streater suffered a nasty fractured foot last season but looks to be in great shape this offseason. Backup receivers include Andre Holmes, Brice Butler, and Kenbrell Thompkins.
The draft will provide the Raiders with plenty of options to add a quality starter with big-play ability. With the fourth overall pick, the team should be able to choose between Amari Cooper and Kevin White. White is regarded as having the higher ceiling, but Cooper has the higher floor and is assumed to be the safer pick.
All indications at this point are that the Raiders will pick Amari Cooper with the fourth overall pick. With Cooper and Crabtree starting and Streater and Jones being key backups, Derek Carr should have the opportunity to put up much bigger numbers in 2015.
The Raiders addressed the interior of their defensive line by signing Dan Williams to play alongside promising second-year player Justin Ellis. This gives the Raiders almost 700 pounds of run-stuffing muscle inside. An issue still plaguing the team is their lack of pass rushing prowess. As a team, the Raiders managed just 22 total sacks last year, with returning starter Justin Tuck managing just five. Second-year stud Khalil Mack contributed with four sacks, and should rack up more in his second year. However, Tuck is another year older and could see his numbers decline.
The draft has some intriguing options at defensive end, but most of the highly-touted players are on the small side and may be best suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Vic Beasley, Bud Dupree, Shane Ray, and Randy Gregory all fit this description. Preston Smith, on the other hand, is a 6’5” 271 pound monster who will likely be available in the second round. One interesting scenario would be if defensive lineman Leonard Williams, regarded as the best talent in the draft, falls to the Raiders with the fourth overall pick. With this draft being deep at wide receiver, Oakland could select Williams with the fourth overall pick and address the need at wide receiver in the second round. Williams could start at left defensive end and slide inside on passing downs to give the Raiders a dominant pass rushing force. Williams and Khalil Mack would form a formidable duo for years to come.
If the season started today, the Raiders would be starting D.J. Hayden and T.J. Carrie at cornerback. While the team is excited about their potential, this is a scary scenario due to Hayden’s health issues the past two years and Carrie’s lack of experience, as he was just a seventh-round pick in last year’s draft. Key backup Keith McGill will also be in his second season after being selected in the fourth round last year.
Oakland has yet to address the need at corner and may have to do so in the draft. If they pass on wide receiver and defensive end early in the draft they are left with only a couple of options that would be considered reaches at fourth overall. If the Raiders can trade down and grab more picks, then intriguing options include Trae Waynes, Byron Jones, Kevin Johnson, and Marcus Peters. Waynes may be the only cornerback who could start immediately. Peters, while talented, brings off-field issues that the Raiders may avoid at all costs. Oakland may have to wait until after the draft, possibly even until after cut down day, to address this need at cornerback if they notice their young players are not developing. This position should be closely monitored during the offseason.
Oakland was able to land some quality starters last year in Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, Justin Ellis, and T.J. Carrie. If Reggie McKenzie can have another quality draft and address these top three needs, Raider fans will definitely have something to be excited about.
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