’Tis the season, Raider fans! Teams are typically tuned up in free agency, but the tried and true way to build a championship football team is through the draft. While General Manager Reggie McKenzie has made his fair share of questionable draft selections since he took over player personnel decisions back in 2012, he has also hit some home runs.
As we all know, the 2014 group on Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Gabe Jackson in the first three rounds is arguably one of the greatest draft hauls in franchise history, if not THE greatest. After all, you wouldn’t be hard pressed to say that Mack (#5 overall) and Carr (#36 overall) would go #1 and #2 overall in a hypothetical re-draft, and McKenzie has been able to hang his hat on that for the last few years.
However, after a rough 6-10 season and the recent rehire of Head Coach Jon Gruden, it’s crucial the Raiders nail the upcoming draft. So, let’s run a 7-round mock and see if we can address all the positional needs while still staying realistic. Please note that we are going to stay away from trading up, trading back, and will assume all the selections stay as is.
1st Round, #10 Overall
Derwin James, S, Florida State
Yes, I know we have 2017 2nd round pick Obi Melifonwu on the roster, but I cannot help but think Derwin James will be the very best player available left on the board. Here’s what I’m thinking - If Gruden and new Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther are open to moving Karl Joseph to Free Safety, I think Derwin James could be the answer at Strong Safety for years to come.
James, in my opinion, is so good that he’s worth bumping Melifonwu back on the depth chart at safety and/or moving him to cornerback. In fact, Melifonwu showed some promise at corner during his senior bowl appearance, so don’t rush to judgement and allow that Mexico City performance against the Patriots to be the focus. Anyways, back to Derwin James. The former Seminole is a versatile player, as he’s impressive in the box against the run, can cover tight ends, is a solid tackler, and can be an effective blitzer when called upon.
Essentially, James can solve a lot of what the Raiders have been lacking in their defensive backfield in recent years, and can certainly help contain matchup nightmare players like Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce. Lance Zierlein from NFL.com has appointed Eric Berry as James’ pro comp, while being quoted saying, “Derwin’s talent is best utilized in an active, attacking capacity in a robber role or near the line of scrimmage where he can support the run, blitz, and handle physical coverage responsibilities”. It’s safe to say I concur with that assessment. James has all the athleticism you can ask for, while also having leadership traits that can have positive effects in the locker room.
He does have an injury history, however, as he tore cartilage in his knee in September 2016. The positive take away from that is that he bounced back in a big way in 2017, amassing 84 total tackles (49 solo), 11 registered passes defended, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and 1 defensive touchdown.
2nd Round, #42 Overall
Marcus Davenport, EDGE, Texas-San Antonio
Raw, but with a ton of potential, and a guy I think could be a great option opposite Khalil Mack for years to come. Davenport is long and powerful, with the ability to make an impact as a pure pass rusher right away. The reason he may drop to the second round is the level of competition he faced in college, as the former UTSA Roadrunner played in Conference USA.
However, Davenport continues to rise to the occasion, as he had a good showing at the Senior Bowl and posted solid Combine scores (ran a 4.58 40yd dash!). The bottom line - the Raiders need to develop an edge player that can disrupt opposing QB’s on a consistent basis other than #52, and the value here in the second round (if available) makes this close to a no-brainer.
3rd Round, #74 Overall
Darius Leonard, ILB, South Carolina State
I know, I know, you probably wanted Roquan Smith in the first round. Well, if history teaches you anything, it’s that Reggie McKenzie doesn’t take linebackers too early. Darius Leonard could be the long, athletic, sideline-to-sideline type of player that Oakland has needed at the second level for quite some time. Leonard recently showed off his impressive speed at the combine, as he posted a 4.70 40yd dash time.
I think he would have a great opportunity to compete for the starting WILL position, as his pursuit and coverage ability would make it difficult to keep him down on the depth chart. Also, it’s worth noting - zero character concerns and nothing but praise about his attitude and leadership traits.
4th Round, #112 Overall
John Kelly, RB, Tennessee
In the 2017 season, with an underwhelming supporting cast on offense, John Kelly rushed for 778 yards (4.1 ypc) with 9 rushing touchdowns, while adding 37 receptions for 299 yards. Kelly is a “Gruden Grinder” type player so to speak, as the former Volunteer has a tough running style, can run between the tackles, will fight for the extra yards, and complements all of that with his ability to be a consistent receiving threat out of the backfield.
He doesn’t have electric speed, he isn’t exceptionally quick, but he has great balance and a skill set that should be effective at the next level. Another former Tennessee Volunteer who played a similar role under Gruden? Charlie Garner.
6th Round, #189 Overall
Darren Carrington II, WR, Utah
Good size, good speed, strong hands, and has natural playmaking ability. In 2017, Carrington impressed with 70 receptions, 980 yards, and 6 receiving touchdowns. He could potentially develop into a really solid possession receiver at the next level, but will need NFL coaching to improve his route running. He had some character/maturity concerns, hence the sixth round selection, but I feel this is great value at this point in the draft.
6th Round, #197 Overall
Brandon Parker, OT, North Carolina A&T
This would be a very Reggie McKenzie-ish pick, giving the Raiders another project offensive tackle with great size and a high ceiling. It seems the thought process is that Vadal Alexander, Jylan Ware, David Sharpe, or potentially Brandon Parker in this example, could develop into a starting caliber OT to protect franchise Quarterback Derek Carr without having to use a high pick. Marshall Newhouse didn’t get it done this past season at Right Tackle, and Parker likely wouldn’t be the answer right away (if ever).
6th Round, #210 Overall
Will Dissly, TE, Washington
Possible Lee Smith replacement. Will Dissly is a tough, hard nosed blocking tight end that needs to be developed before he’s relied on to be a consistent pass catching threat.
6th Round, #212 Overall
Justin Lawler, EDGE, SMU
Not thinking Justin Lawler is the answer opposite Khalil Mack, but was productive enough in college to bring in and try to develop. Lots of people coming out and complimenting his football character and work ethic, so that should help him maximize his potential.
6th Round, #216 Overall
Bilal Nichols, DT, Delaware
At 6’4”, 290 lbs and a motor that doesn’t stop, Bilal Nichols is an athletic guy who can push for a roster spot with his interior pass rush ability. Nichols had 24 solo tackles and 5.5 sacks this past season.
6th Round, #217 Overall
Nick DeLuca, ILB, North Dakota State
The unfortunate part about Nick DeLuca’s collegiate career is his injury history, as he had a hard time staying on the field. However, he was solid on special teams and could have some value in that phase, while providing depth at the linebacker position with the opportunity to compete and earn playing time at WILL or MIKE for the Raiders down the road.
7th Round, #231 Overall
Nic Shimonek, QB, Texas Tech
The thought here is that the Raiders may stick with Connor Cook as QB2, but want to bring someone in to push him a little bit, while also developing a young QB for depth purposes and seeing where it goes. This pick is very unlikely if Gruden decides to bring in a veteran backup to compete with Cook in free agency. Shimonek has good size with a more than capable arm, but likely wouldn’t be more than a practice squad candidate his rookie season.
Okay, that wraps it up! Some quick thoughts before you go . . .
How could I not draft a corner?!
Reggie taking ANOTHER Safety early? Looking iffy.
Will Davenport make it to round 2? Looking even more iffy.
I’ll smile for weeks if Leonard and Kelly are the 3rd/4th round picks.