It should not of come as a surprise that when Jon Gruden re-joined the Oakland Raiders with a historic 10-year, $100 million deal, he’d waste no time making a mark on the roster. With a roster now filled to the brim with “Gruden’s Grinders” the team looks forward to the 2018 NFL Draft for some grinders in training. With no extra picks in the first two days (rounds 1-3) and a top 10 pick as of late March, the pressure will be on both Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie for the team to get better early on draft weekend.
The news-wire for the Raiders continues to tick as additions and subtractions continue to be made, but the general makeup of the team is quickly solidifying as the draft approaches.
Before the National Football League offseason, the linebacker position continued to stick out as a pressing need for the team. The signing of Tahir Whitehead this offseason and the emergence of Corey James and Nicholas Morrow from a season ago gives the Raiders some flexibility in approaching the position via the draft. The secondary has also seen some attention, but only last year’s first round pick, Gareon Conley, and one of this year’s prized free agent signings, Rashaan Melvin, can be counted on as reliable starters come week 1. The re-signing of Justin Ellis before the start of free agency eschews the need for a starting nose tackle, but the team continues to search for a supplemental pass rusher opposite Khalil Mack.
Offensively, the team has seen less attention. The swapping of receiver Michael Crabtree for Jordy Nelson doesn’t address the need for a reliable third receiver for common three receiver formations. The addition of runningback Doug Martin doesn’t promise a proper heir for Marshawn Lynch, but he may provide useful insurance for the short term if the position isn’t addressed early in the draft. The most pressing need on offense remains on the offensive line where right tackle remains unresolved and the future at left tackle remains bleak. 34-year old starting left tackle Donald Penn has ended each of the last two seasons early with injury. Last year’s 4th round pick David Sharpe didn’t instill much confidence in his brief starting roles last season, earning a 38.4 grade on Pro Football Focus.
Prospects to look out for
An expected run on quarterback at the top of the draft should push some premier players to the bottom of the top 10. On the high end, a total of four quarterbacks are expected to be draft before the Raiders take the podium at 10th overall. Considering quarterback is not a need for the team, the Raiders will likely have the option of drafting a player ranked no lower than 6th overall on their big board. Below are some options the Raiders will likely consider at ten, if they chose to stay.
1) Denzel Ward, Cornerback, Ohio State
Denzel Ward is the latest of the Ohio State cornerback lineage to enter the draft highly rated. Aside from his relatively diminutive size, Ward possesses the elite athleticism and man coverage technique to start immediately from the slot in Oakland.
2) Vita Vea, Defensive Tackle, Washington
Although the Raiders re-signed Justin Ellis, Vita Vea is a force of nature most teams would salivate to add to their defensive fronts. He won’t likely get more than 5 sacks in a given season, but he’s an interior space eater who demands a double team any time he’s on the field.
3) Maurice Hurst, Defensive Tackle, Michigan
If it’s an inside rusher the Raiders want, it’ll be an inside rusher they'll get in Maurice Hurst. Although relatively undersized, Hurst wins with leverage and burst in the offensive line focused Big 10. Teams will also have to sort out his heart condition which held him out of the 2018 combine.
4) Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker, Virginia Tech
Few linebackers possess both the elite size and athleticism as Tremaine Edmunds. And at only 20-years old, Edmunds has plenty of time to grow both physically and mentally at the position.
5) Roquan Smith, Linebacker, Georgia
Smith has become the somewhat de facto pick for mock-drafters this offseason. As the defensive heart of one of the best college teams last year, Smith demands respect with his electrifying run and chase style.
6) Minkah Fitzpatrick, Defensive Back, Alabama
Given the recent re-signing of Reggie Nelson, the Raiders are chock-full of starting caliber safeties. Fitzpatrick, though, is not a typical safety in that he specializes near the line of scrimmage as both a slot corner and blitzer.
7) Derwin James, Safety, Alabama
Like with Fitzpatrick, the Raiders might have to get creative to get Derwin James on the field. Also like Fitzpatrick, James excels near the line of scrimmage. Given his bigger frame, James could easily line up at weakside linebacker and give the team the a premier coverage player on the second level.
8) Mike McGlinchey, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame
Before the college season began, the 2018 draft was predicted as being a great offensive tackle class. While it turns out none of the top tackles are widely considered top 10 material, McGlinchey has followed up his solid 2017 season at Notre Dame with an equally solid post draft process.