The National Championship game between Alabama and Georgia was loaded with potential NFL talent, and one or more of the players in that game could end up becoming Oakland Raiders.
The 2017 season was one the Oakland Raiders will soon want to forget. The year started with them as favorites to win the AFC West with hopes of reaching the Super Bowl, but it instead ended with a 6-10 record, the firing of the Jack Del Rio and most of the coaching staff, and the team has more holes on the roster that need to be addressed than previously thought.
Oakland will be picking either 9th or 10th in the 2018 NFL Draft, and that will be determined via a coin flip with the San Francisco 49ers at the Scouting Combine. They own a pick in every round except the 5th (traded to Seattle), and their compensatory picks are to be determined.
With a top ten pick this year, the Raiders have to be looking for some defensive help. They finished in the bottom half of the league in passing yards allowed per game (241.1), points allowed per game (23.5), turnover differential (-14), and sacks (31). Simply put, they need all the help they can get on this side of the ball, and help in a few spots on offense wouldn’t hurt.
With that being said, Reggie McKenzie and the rest of the front office should have paid close attention to Monday’s Alabama-Georgia National Championship game, because both teams had players that would bring immediate help to the team’s roster in 2018.
Let’s start with three prospects from this game that could potentially be picked with Oakland’s first round selection.
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Roquan Smith had an incredible 2017 season for the Bulldogs defense. He finished the year with 113 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries. He was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the Butkus award winner (given to best linebacker), the MVP of the SEC Championship game and he was named an unanimous All-American.
RoQuan Smith really impressing me. Check out the closing speed. pic.twitter.com/L5AjtDNxwX
— Evan Groat (@Egroat5) January 2, 2018
Plenty of scouts are comparing the junior linebacker to Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, who Oakland’s new head coach Jon Gruden certainly remembers quite well. Many early mock drafts have him going to the Raiders in the first round and the fit could not be more ideal. It has been a long time since the Raiders had one, let alone two dominant linebackers, but Smith playing alongside Navorro Bowman could be a thing of beauty in 2018. He is the fan favorite for the pick at the moment.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama
Minkah Fitzpatrick has the size and the skill set of a versatile defensive back that can play both cornerback and safety. He has drawn comparisons with current Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, a defensive back capable of playing both up in the box and matching up with receivers and tight ends in man coverage.
College quarterbacks stayed away from Fitzpatrick in 2017, but that didn’t stop him from racking up 9 career interceptions to go along with 171 tackles, 24 pass deflections and 5 sacks. A lot of mock drafts have Minkah being selected before the 9th pick, with some as early as 4th overall. But if he does fall to 9th or 10th spot come draft day, it would be nearly impossible to pass up on a player of his caliber.
Fluid hips and great acceleration here by Minkah Fitzpatrick to allow the inside release and break on the ball like that. pic.twitter.com/cd5j4ERlH5
— JustWinBaby (@Future_NFL_GM) November 12, 2017
With the future of cornerbacks Sean Smith and David Amerson and safety Reggie Nelson up in the air, Fitzpatrick could fill a couple of different secondary needs in Oakland, depending on how he would be utilized. Adding Minkah would give the Raiders a quality young core of secondary players to build the defense around, if him, Karl Joseph, Obi Melifonwu, Gareon Conley all panned out.
Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama
Da’Ron Payne is this year’s Alabama’s star defensive lineman entering the 2018 draft. But unlike his former teammates that were drafted before him, Payne is quicker and a better pass rusher than run stopper. He is extremely athletic for someone who is 6’2”, 319 pounds, and he even caught a touchdown pass in the semi-final game against Clemson. More importantly, he’s a disruptive presence on the interior.
da’ron payne in the backfield almost immediately pic.twitter.com/EdaoFh0hED
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) January 9, 2018
Payne, who is projected to go late in the first round, would be a great fit alongside edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin and a great backup selection if Smith and Fitzpatrick are already off the board. The top ten might be early, but if the Raiders are in a position to trade down, he could be a great pick while also adding other assets via the trade.
Here are a few other Alabama and Georgia players that the Raiders should have their eyes on in the later rounds.
Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Michel has been overshadowed by star teammate Nick Chubb for much of his career, but he had big games against Oklahoma in the semi-final (181 rush yards, 3 rush TDs and 4 receptions, 41 receiving yards, 1 TD) and against Alabama in the title game (98 yards). Michel has great speed, vision, the ability to catch the ball downfield and he is a quality pass blocker to boot.
Sony Michel knows a thing or two about speed pic.twitter.com/HrcKiUM3r9
— The Sports Quotient (@SportsQuotient) January 1, 2018
Plenty of NFL scouts think Michel is more of a three-down back than his teammate Chubb, and he has no major injury scare like Chubb has. In a draft class stacked with star running backs such as Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Bryce Love and others, expect Michel to fall to the second or third round.
It is not clear if Marshawn Lynch will be back with the Raiders next year, but even if he does, Oakland still has to be looking for their primary back of the future and Michel could be that guy.
DeAndre Baker, CB, Georgia
Baker had a strong 2017 campaign and became Georgia’s primary shutdown corner that was asked to shadow the opposing team’s best receiver much of time. He matched up with Calvin Ridley quite a bit during the title game and came away with a key interception. He has ball skills that would help a Raiders secondary that severely lacked in the turnover department in 2017.
DeAndre Baker with Dawgs 1st INT of the season Big Play. pic.twitter.com/d1OcfgimAy
— UGA (@ugaFBnation) September 24, 2017
He finished his senior season with 44 tackles, 9 pass breakups and 3 interceptions. Baker is viewed as a little bit undersized to play the boundary corner in the NFL, but he can be utilized in nickel packages and cover opposing team’s slot receivers, which is a major need for the Raiders. If Baker declares for the draft, he’s projected to go between the fourth and sixth rounds and would be a nice get that late.
Levi Wallace, CB, Alabama
The Raiders need as much defensive help as they can get and Wallace is a guy that can be a late-round steal. He originally started his college career as a walk-on at Alabama and became a key component on the ‘Bama defense by his senior year.
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) October 1, 2017
In 2017, Wallace finished with 48 tackles, 15 pass breakups, 3 interceptions and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week two times during the season. Like DeAndre Baker, Wallace is viewed as a bit undersized but he makes up for that with his long arms and physical style of play at the line of scrimmage. Wallace is projected to be selected a bit later, perhaps the sixth or even seventh round, which is where the Raiders drafted T.J. Carrie. He could be another quality late-round pick to help get the secondary on track.