Oakland Raiders look to build through draft
Last season the Oakland Raiders once again finished with a losing record of 3-13, but something was different. They produced five starters from their 2014 draft class: Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, Justin Eliis and T.J Carrie. Mack and Ellis earned a place in the NFL’s All-Rookie team for 2014, something that has not been done by the Raiders since 2010. Now they are in the position, with the fourth pick, to build upon last year’s successful draft.
My mock is comprised from information from the draft experts at NFL Network, ESPN and Bleacher Report as well as from my own research. This is not my dream draft, but a well-thought-out piece that I believe fills the team’s needs with players who will most likely be available on draft night.
No. 4 Overall Pick: Leonard Williams, DL, USC
Can the Raiders get lucky two years in a row? I think so. I predict the three teams ahead of the Raiders—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars—will take quarterbacks Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and edge rusher Dante Fowler, Jr. respectively. Like last year, Oakland will be faced with the tough decision of choosing between wide receivers Amari Cooper or the best player available, Williams. The Raiders have so many needs, so taking the best player available is what they should do, similar to last year when they chose Khalil Mack over Mike Evans. At 6 feet 5 inches tall and 302 pounds, Williams is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line. He is a versatile football player, who can play either the defensive tackle or defensive end positions. At USC, he earned a spot on the All-American first team his junior year and amassed 218 tackles, 36.5 tackles for loss, 21.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in his three years there. Because he is considered to be the number one prospect in the draft by many, adding Williams to a front seven that already has Mack on it would scare opposing offenses for years to come.
No. 35 Overall Pick: Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State.
The Raiders will finally address their receiver need and give second year quarterback Derek Carr a new weapon. Smith is the best vertical threat in the entire draft and he put his talents on display in the first ever NCAA Football playoffs, winning the title with his Buckeye teammates. Smith gives Oakland the big play receiver they so desperately need, especially with the addition of former 49ers wide out Michael Crabtree this offseason. The only season Crabtree amassed 1,000 yards was when Randy Moss lined up on the other side of him. Moss, a threat to go deep, let Crabtree operate underneath coverage’s, something I believe Smith can do for him this upcoming season.
No. 68 Overall Pick: Tre’ Jackson, OG, Florida State.
Oakland’s offensive line has a really big hole to fill and at 6 feet 4 inches tall and 330 pounds, I think Jackson will clog it. The Raiders currently do not have a starter at right guard after moving last year’s free agent acquisition Austin Howard back to his original position at right tackle. So choosing now to draft Jackson, who was a three-year starter at Florida State and the South’s 2015 MVP in the Senior Bowl, would be the logical choice. Coincidentally, this would be the second year in a row the Raiders draft a guard with the last name Jackson in the third round. Let’s just hope this Jackson works out as well as Gabe did.
No. 102 Overall Pick: Vince Mayle, WR, Washington State
In this round, I believe the Raiders will pick a second receiver after passing on the opportunity in the first round. This time they should go for the big-bodied Mayle, who accumulated 106 receptions, 1,493 yards and nine touchdowns his senior season as a Cougar. This is a bit of a nostalgic pick for me, since he and I went to high school together in Sacramento. Mayle, a former basketball player, is new to the position of wide receiver, but his ability to catch high balls and gain yards after the catch makes scouts believe that he can play the position in the NFL. Even if being a receiver is not his true calling, I can see him switching to fullback much like Oakland’s Marcel Reece. Mayle would become a matchup nightmare for defenses, catching passes out of the backfield.
No. 140 Overall Pick: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Ekpre-Olomu was once considered to be the best cornerback headed into the 2015 NFL draft. Then injury struck as he tore his ACL in practice. His 5-foot-9-inch height paired with his injury has left him plummeting down draft boards. I think this gives the Raiders the perfect opportunity to scoop up a player once considered a Day 1 lock-in during the draft’s third day. He has great ball skills and is not afraid to tackle. He would fit perfectly in the nickel next to projected starters D.J. Hayden and T.J. Carrie. Maybe he can abbreviate his name to I.J. to keep the flow going. He can also switch to safety to replace 18-year veteran Charles Woodson.
No. 179 Overall Pick: Hayes Pullard, LB, USC
Yes I am suggesting another USC Trojan, but let’s not forget the Raiders’ new head coach Jack Del Rio played for USC, and as a linebacker no less. Pullard gives the Raiders something they desperately need—depth at the inside linebacker position. Before signing veteran linebacker Curtis Loftin in the current off-season, Oakland’s starting inside linebacker was Miles Burris, who Pro Football Focus ranked as the worst at his position in the entire NFL. Pullard will be an upgrade over Burris, giving former USC linebackers coach and new Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. the opportunity to work with a player he was unable to coach there.
No. 221 Overall Pick: Marcus Rush, OLB, Michigan State
By choosing Rush in their last pick of the draft, the Raiders will finally address their need for a pass rusher. Rush is a four-year starter at Michigan State and owns the all-time starting record there with 53 games. Rush mostly played defensive end in college, but he would surely translate to a 3-4 outside linebacker due to his small size for a defensive lineman. Recent reports have indicated that Oakland has worked him out, meaning the team may have interest. Rush should be there during this pick, as he is projected as a seventh rounder or a priority-free agent by NFL.com. If I were deciding for the Raiders, I would take the intelligent pass-rushing linebacker with the name to fit and not wait for free agency.