The NFL Department of Last Word on Sports will be examining the 2016 NFL Draft and the top three draft needs for all 32 NFL teams. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the Oakland Raiders.
The Oakland Raiders have been quietly rebuilding their team since Reggie McKenzie took over as the general manager in 2012. He has subsequently blown up the roster, built up boatloads of cap space, made some franchise changing picks in the draft, and then became a big player in free agency. This off-season, they added guard/tackle Kelechi Osemele, defensive end/linebacker Bruce Irvin, cornerback Sean Smith, and safety Reggie Nelson. They also re-signed left tackle Donald Penn. With these moves, they have put themselves in the position to take the best player available, instead of having to draft based on their needs. Regardless, no team is perfect, and the Raiders do have some positions that they should look at upgrading in the draft.
Oakland Raiders 2016 NFL Draft Top 3 Needs
This position has the biggest question mark on it. Right now, second-year player Ben Heeney is listed as the starter. Heeney was taken in the fifth round of the 2015 draft by the Raiders, and he wasn’t expected to make a real impact this last year. However, with the underwhelming play by Curtis Lofton, Heeney became a regular player later in the season. Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith also manned the middle, but his natural position is on the outside. If Heeney is that guy, he should have to prove it. The Raiders need to find some competition in the draft, or, if they want, they can find someone that they think is more of a sure thing at the middle linebacker spot. The linebacker prospects are a little weak compared to the state of this year’s secondary and defensive line options, but former Alabama middle linebacker Reggie Ragland seems to be a pretty safe pick at the 14th selection. Former UCLA linebacker Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame) are considered the best linebackers in the draft, and might be available at a convenient spot as well because of the injury issues clouding them before the draft. If the Raiders decide to draft a different position with their first two picks, Kentrell Brothers (Missouri), Scooby Wright (Arizona), and Beniquez Brown (Mississippi State) are all options for the third round and beyond.
Although the Raiders signed two great players to strengthen their secondary, drafting a corner and a safety would definitely be beneficial for Oakland. They have impact players but still have some question marks, and with a great draft, they can find the answers. As of now, it is assumed that Reggie Nelson will move from free safety to strong safety, and Nate Allen will be able to stay in his natural position of free safety. Reggie Nelson has always excelled at free safety, but has the ability to play strong safety as well. If the Raiders were able to add a strong safety in the draft, and if he would be ready to start right away, that would help their safety situation. Keanu Neal (Florida) and Karl Joseph (West Virginia) are the best strong safety prospects in the draft, and both will most likely be taken in the second round. Miles Killebrew of Southern Utah is another hard-hitting strong safety that will be available in the second round and maybe even the third. Drafting one of these player might allow Allen to come off the bench on obvious passing downs.
At cornerback, the Raiders signed Sean Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs, and still have waiver wire gem David Amerson to start opposite him. Sean Smith has been consistently good for his whole career, but what if Amerson was a fluke? And after those two, the cornerback situation gets ugly, with the backups being first-round bust D.J. Hayden, T.J. Carrie and Keith McGill. With the abundance of great cornerback prospects in this draft, it would be puzzling if the Raiders did not take one in the first or second round. Vernon Hargreaves (Florida), Eli Apple (Ohio State), William Jackson III (Houston), and Mackensie Alexander (Clemson), are all great options that could be available for the Raiders to pick. Even if Amerson and Smith play great this year, it would be beneficial for the Raiders to have another corner to play in the slot and be ready to take over as a full-time starter when called upon.
The Raiders boast one of the best offensive lines on paper, but again, being the best on paper doesn’t mean much. The Raiders interior offensive line looks really nice, as it is made up of guard Gabe Jackson, center Rodney Hudson and guard/tackle Kelechi Osemele. The questions that come up surround the tackle position. Veteran left tackle Donald Penn was re-signed this off-season, and right tackles Austin Howard and Menelik Watson are coming back healthy to battle for the starting spot. Penn has played like a top 10 left tackle since he joined the Raiders and Howard was the third-highest rated right tackle on Pro Football Focus. So what exactly is the problem? The problem is Howard’s season could be a fluke, and Penn’s play could fall off next season as he turns 34 this month. There is no reliable insurance for either one. If they chose to, the Raiders could draft Jake Conklin out of Michigan State or even Ronnie Stanley from Notre Dame. Stanley seemed like a top 10 pick a couple weeks ago, but with it looking like quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz will go 1-2 now in the draft, that leaves some players falling in the draft. Stanley might be one of them. Drafting a tackle might not be the best choice in the first round, but later in the draft, the Raiders should have their eyes on an heir for Penn.