Which small schools prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft could be fits for the Oakland Raiders?
We see it every year in the NFL — a rookie that was overlooked because he played at a small university but ends balling at the next level. Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is no stranger to small school prospects as he has drafted or signed a handful of current Raiders from smaller football programs.
- OLB/ DE Khalil Mack – University of Buffalo
- RB Jalen Richard – University of Southern Mississippi
- WR Seth Roberts – University of West Alabama
- TE Lee Smith – Marshall University
- OT Donald Penn – Utah State University
- DT Justin Ellis – University of Toledo
- CB T.J. Carrie – Ohio University
- P Marquette King – Fort Valley State University
Even after a busy first week of free agency, the Raiders still have a few holes on their roster that need to be addressed via the draft. With McKenzie’s tendencies to take a chance on smaller school prospects, here are some of this year’s top small school prospects that would bring immediate help to Oakland’s roster in 2018.
Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
After all the shuffling at the wide receiver spot this offseason, the Raiders still find themselves needing depth at the position. Amari Cooper and new addition Jordy Nelson are quality boundary receivers but the Oakland offense could use a little more explosiveness at the slot receiver. Enter Anthony Miller out of the University of Memphis.
Miller is a shade under 6′ but despite the lack of height, he wins a lot of 50/50 balls. He is one of the more polished route runners of this receiver class and he is very elusive with the ball in the open field. Miller finished with 92 receptions, 1,462 yards and and 18 touchdowns during his senior season.
When watching Miller’s tape, I see a lot of Steve Smith Sr. in him. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, high intensity and is not afraid to get in a defenders face. Miller, who is projected to go on day two of the draft, would be a great addition to the Raiders offense.
Roc Thomas, RB, Jacksonville State
With Marshawn Lynch’s future beyond this season in question and an injury prone Doug Martin on the roster, Oakland might have to be thinking of their running back of the future in this draft. Roc Thomas out of Jacksonville state is a back flying under the radar because he attended a small FCS school.
Out of high school, Thomas decided to attend Auburn University but transferred after two seasons of fighting for playing time. In two seasons at Jacksonville State, Thomas finished with 1,847 rushing yards, 20 rushing touchdowns, an average of 6.1 yards a carry and 37 receptions.
Thomas is not the most elusive runner and does not have home-run hitting speed, but he is a physical runner and reads holes very well. He is currently projected to go in the 5th or 6th round of the draft and Oakland could select the back with one of their four sixth round picks.
John Franklin, DL, Stephen F. Austin
Oakland has been busy the first week of free agency, but other than re-signing defensive tackle Justin Ellis, they have not addressed the need for interior defensive linemen. The departure of Denico Autry in free agency creates an even bigger void at the position and I expect McKenzie to address this need in the draft.
John Franklin out of Stephen F. Austin would be a good fit for the Raiders if they are still searching for defensive tackle help on day three of the draft. At 6’4″ 292 pounds, Franklin has the versatility to play both defensive end and defensive tackle in the NFL. He is an effective pass rusher and possesses the ability to shed blockers in the run game. Franklin participated in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl game and recorded a team-high seven tackles, one tackle for loss and a pass deflection.
In his senior season, Franklin finished with 55 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He ran a 4.75 40-yard dash and a 1.66 10-yard split which was much faster than scouts had projected him to run. This shows he could have a lot of room to grow as an athlete.
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
The Raiders have the 10th overall pick in the draft and who they select could very well depend on which prospects are still left on the board. If prospects like Roquan Smith, Minkah Fitzpatrick or Vita Vea are all off the board by pick no.10, Oakland should consider Marcus Davenport out of UTSA.
Bruce Irvin will be 31 years old this upcoming season which has to have the Raiders thinking about their future pass rushing tandem. Drafting Davenport would ensure Khalil Mack will have a pass rushing sidekick for a longer period of time. Plus, it would save Oakland plenty of cap space — $8 million in 2018, $9.25 million in 2019 — if they decided to part ways with Irvin either this year or next.
Many scouts have Davenport as the second best defensive end in this year’s draft and he is capable of being a factor in the passing and rushing game. At 6’5″ 265 pounds, he has great size which he uses well to shed blockers in the run game. He flashed during the week of the Senior Bowl recording a sack and forcing a fumble on heisman winning quarterback Baker Mayfield during the game. Davenport is still considered raw with his pass rushing moves but playing alongside Mack and Irvin for a season or two could really benefit the young defensive end.
Davenport is projected to go late first round so if the Raiders do not see any prospects they like at no.10, they could consider trading down and picking up the talented pass rusher.
Darius Leonard, OLB, South Carolina State
Darius Leonard is the prototypical modern day outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. At 6’2″, 229 pounds, he flies around the field and covers sideline to sideline in the running game. A lot of scouts have made the comparison to Deion Jones of the Atlanta Falcons.
During his senior season at South Carolina State, Leonard tallied 113 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, eight sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble. He did well enough to earn him an invitation to the Senior Bowl where he really stood out in the linebacker unit. Leonard also was named the MEAC Defensive Player of the year in 2017, his second time winning the award.
Scouts are mixed on projecting what round Leonard will go, but he is someone that will probably fly under the radar and be available day three of the draft. If McKenzie does draft fan favorite Roquan Smith in the first round and Leonard later in the draft, the two could combine to be an effective duo on defense.
Taron Johnson, CB, Weber State
I am sure Raiders fans have heard this quite a bit, but the cornerback situation needed to be addressed this offseason. During free agency, Oakland parted ways with David Amerson, Sean Smith and TJ Carrie and brought in average replacements. Still, the cornerback position needs more work before the 2018 season and I predict McKenzie will select multiple corners in this draft.
A corner that I have seen play in person that would be a good fit for Oakland is Taron Johnson out of Weber State. The Sacramento native was impressive during his senior season recording 43 tackles, 8 pass deflections, 3 interceptions and was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year in 2017. Johnson is a two time All-American and is Weber State’s career leader in pass deflections (42).
Johnson has good size standing at 6′ weighing 195 pounds and is a quality open field tackler. He participated in the Senior Bowl and competed well against receivers from bigger football programs. Johnson received some national recognition at the NFL combine during the gauntlet drill because an early throw hit him on the side of the head. Despite being knocked to his knees, Johnson got up and finished the drill strong.
Johnson is currently projected to go in the 6th or 7th round but he could be another diamond in rough type of prospect. He reminds me a lot of Carrie, who also happened to be an Oakland 7th round pick.