A roundup of the latest news and happening involving the Oakland Raiders — draft week edition.
We’re almost there. Thursday night brings Round 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft, when we finally find out who the Oakland Raiders will grab. Speculation is everywhere, but there is consistency in that speculation. Consensus in mocks across the board is the Raiders go defense with pick #10.
The draft is the main focus, but certainly not the only bit of news from the past week. Turning our attention elsewhere we see that:
2018 Schedule Is Out
Early returns, on paper, are positive for the Raiders. Based on 2017, they have the fourth easiest schedule in 2018. It definitely gave rise to some optimism:
That doesn't look like too tough of a schedule for #Raiders, nothing like the last few years. Go ahead and book your Super Bowl tickets.
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) April 20, 2018
Even if that optimism is part hyperbole. Still, the schedule on paper is definitely tamer than those in recent seasons. But there is always a but — so, but…
While there isn’t really a murderer’s row of opponents anywhere, the Raiders do travel more than any other team in the NFL in 2018:
The Raiders will have the most miles to travel in the NFL this season with 31,716. The Chargers are second with 30,797 miles, followed by the Seahawks at 29,088 and the Jaguars at 20,359. All four teams play in London this season. https://t.co/xolBFVLLEB
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) April 20, 2018
And the travel schedule is brutal. Only once do they play back-to-back home games. All other weeks are back and forth. They travel to the East Coast three times and to London once. They’re the only team to have three short visiting travel weeks. That’s when they have less than 7 days between their previous game and next away game.
The season opens in Oakland on Monday Night Football against everyone’s offseason darlings, the LA Rams. It’s on the road for the next two at Denver and Miami. Then they return to Oakland for Hue Jackson and the Browns in Week 4.
Then it’s off to LA to face the Corky Rivers and the Sunshine Gang in Week 5, before jetting off to London a Week 6 “home game” against the Seahawks. Week 7, mercifully, is their bye week.
With a rebuilding Seattle team, Denver’s questionable quarterback situation and the Browns being the Browns the early season opponents aren’t menacing. It’s the travel schedule and road games that are daunting.
After the bye the travel softens and the Raiders have five home games. They host the Colts in Week 8. Then, they travel across the bay for a primetime Thursday Night game against Jimmy G and the 49ers.
It’s back home for a Week 10 divisional game against the Chargers before going to Arizona in Week 11 to face the Cardinals. Then to the Northeast to Baltimore for Week 12 before coming back to Oakland in Week 13 to host the Chiefs.
The Raiders get a second consecutive home game when they host the Steelers in Week 14 on Sunday night before finishing up with two cold weather games in their last three. In Week 15 they head to Cincinnati where DC Paul Guenther will see his former Bengals, and then finish with two pivotal (hopefully) divisional games — home to the Broncos in Week 16 and at the Chiefs in Week 17. Here’s a quick glance:
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) April 20, 2018
That’s a lot of travel, and opponents be damned. Gruden could not have been happy with this schedule, at least the travel portion. Too many air miles; three short travel weeks after prime time games; and losing a true home game for the fourth consecutive season. Come on, man.
For what it’s worth, ESPN has set early predictions for the Raiders at 9-7. Paul Gutierrez specifically mentions that going 3-3 in the first six games would be an accomplishment based on travel — and the fact that the Raiders have three short road weeks.
Predictors around the league seem to think the Chargers will win the AFC West, will the Raiders and Chiefs closely behind and fighting for second. It’s early to predict but this is certainly possible. If Case Keenum plays like he did in Minnesota, don’t rule Denver out of the mix either. Should be another interesting year in the AFC West, and the Raiders have every reason to be in the hunt.
The Raiders have quite a few elder statesmen on the team it’s true — but they also have quite a few young players in need of guidance. That’s why…
Gruden Is Emphasizing Teaching In Early Camps
After two weeks of conditioning and getting to know his new players, Gruden turns his eyes to veteran mini-camp from April 24-26.
The voluntary camp will have practices – with no pads. This isn’t typical Gruden, and he knows it. But he has other things in mind for this mini-camp:
“This is going to be totally different than anything I’ve ever done,” Gruden told the Bay Area News Group Saturday evening. “It’s not going to be what everybody thinks it is. It’s not going to be anything but teaching, it’s going to be letting our players wrap their arms around a system of offense, a system of defense, a system of special teams.
“We want to go out there and communicate, execute and build on the camaraderie we’ve established. I want to see who can learn. Who loves to learn. Who loves football. To be on the field with these guys, breaking the huddle, hearing the calls, it’s really exciting, man.”
Gruden was extremely pleased with the two-week conditioning period that just concluded. The strength and conditioning aspect are being led by decorated veteran Tom Shaw and Gruden’s son, Deuce (Jon Jr.). Gruden acknowledged they pushed the players very hard over the two weeks but that it’s for a reason:
“It’s just a part of this business,” Gruden said. “If you want to have something nice, you can’t just show up. You can’t sit in an air-conditioned performance center and think you’re going to win. You’ve got to pay the bills. It’s hard. That’s why Tom Shaw and his staff are so important.”
This accountability factor is nice to hear. While Khalil Mack continues his absence from workouts while working out a new deal, official word is that:
Amari Cooper Gets Fifth-Year Option
Despite his struggles in 2017, this is no surprise. Cooper is a young, dynamic talent with size and speed who just needs to get his hands and head right to be a mega star. Per Sportrac.com, his fifth-year option will cost the Raiders roughly $13.92M per season.
GM Reggie McKenzie, as is his way, initially didn’t fully commit to anything when asked:
“We’ve been in contact with his agent,” McKenzie said. “I don’t want to put anything out there, don’t want to put the cart before the horse so to speak, but we like Amari.”
But it didn’t take long for word to get out that this was going to happen:
I'm told the #Raiders are expected to pick up the 5th-year option for WR Amari Cooper imminently, per source.
— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) April 22, 2018
Cooper will only be 24 years old on June 17 yet he’s a three-year NFL veteran. It’s rare to get this combination of youth, experience, size, speed and work ethic with a contract option. Cooper has already shown star potential and just needs more consistency to get into the upper tier of receivers.
Okay, so now let’s turn our attention to the draft. Before we get into the abundant mock drafts out there, let’s talk something Raiders-specific we DO know. That is…
Raiders Will Made Day 3 Picks From Nellis Air Force Base In Las Vegas
NFL teams have been having a good old time in recent drafts announcing their 4th through 7th round picks from various locations and with various people from around the world. The Raiders have previously done it at Travis Air Force Base, in Mexico City, and last year in front of the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.
This year Raiders alum Greg Townsend will be at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by service people, about fifteen of their children, and a variety of Thunderbirds (an air show crew) to announce the Raiders picks in rounds four through seven.
But who will the Raiders be picking? Well, it’s time for…
Raiders Mock Drafts
I wanted to wait to put these out there until it was close. It’s three days away, so I think we’re good. Prospects aren’t going to change between now and Thursday unless a catastrophic injury or life choice takes place. Here’s hoping it doesn’t.
So let’s get into it. Where available I will advise of all Raiders picks in a mock. Most are still only one to three rounds, but there are a few full ones out there.
First off, we have the Head vs. the Hair. McShay vs. Kiper – alternating picks. First round only.
McShay goes with Derwin James here. The Florida State safety is an athletic marvel (Obi?) but also has game film that makes you take notice. He is incredibly smooth in his transitions, tracks the ball like a hawk and plays with incredible aggression. He will be a great player — though McShay does infer Denzel Ward is better and the Niners were big winners in the coin flip. I disagree with that sentiment, and James would be a fine pick even with the youth and depth at the position already.
Next, let’s check in with Peter King at Monday Morning Quarterback. First round only.
King has the Niners sneaking Roquan Smith, so in this case gives the Raiders big Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey. With Donald Penn recovering from injury and aging, a new left tackle is necessary. With Vadal Alexander, Jylan Ware and David Sharpe unproven and Breno Giacomini mediocre at best the right side needs a viable starter as well. Tackle is a high need position for the Raiders, but would they go with McGlinchey this high?
Besides, there are rumors that the Raiders are very high on Kolton Miller from UCLA. This thought the Raiders may trade down to accumulate picks and take Miller is possible. McGlinchey’s tape is much more solid — he anchors well and plays with great technique. Miller is huge at nearly 6’9″ and has incredible athleticism, but he relies on it far too much. He plays with poor hand technique, doesn’t have a great initial get off and often lets d-lineman overpower him before he uses his athleticism to slide them aside. McGlinchey would be a much more immediately ready tackle – but Miller does have a ton of potential upside if he can improve his technique.
Moving on, let’s check in with Curtis Conway of NFL.com. Curtis thinks Roquan Smith. First round only.
This is an ideal pick. Smith is a team captain, Butkus Award winner, leader on and off the field and plays with instincts beyond his years. Gruden’s defense in Tampa excelled around Derek Brooks as the defensive captain and Smith has a similar football IQ and sense for diagnosing and running to plays.
Many have said Smith is too small. Brooks is 6’0, 235 pounds. While Smith played at Georgia at 6’1, 225 pounds, he came to the combine at 236 pounds and didn’t lose a step. So, the same size as Brooks.
Speaking of Brooks, Conway’s NFL.com colleague Bucky Brooks thinks Smith to the Raiders as well.
However, NFL.com colleague Chad Reuter has the Raiders passing on Smith to draft Tremaine Edmunds instead in his full mock draft here. Former NFL GM Charlie Casserly agrees with this pick, too, in his mock draft.
CBSSportsline’s final mock also has Edmunds going to the Raiders.
Edmunds is, of course, an intriguing prospect. It’s not often you find a young man at 19 years old that is already 6’4″, 255 pounds — with a frame to get comfortably bigger. Yet at this size, the young man runs a 4.54 40 yard dash and shows coverage instincts that are scary intuitive. He has a lot to learn regarding pre-snap diagnosis, pursuit of run plays and not overrunning the ball – but he is an unbelievable prospect.
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah continues on the defensive train. DJ rolls with Minkah Fitzpatrick, the dynamic safety from Alabama. Fitzpatrick isn’t quite – but almost – the athlete James is. But at this point, Fitzpatrick is more polished and game-ready, with a football IQ that may be a bit a higher. Fitzpatrick was the dynamo of Nick Saban’s championship defense, playing safety, corner, linebacker and calling plays, blitzing the QB one play while rolling deep coverage the next. A dynamic, versatile player the Raiders would do well to have.
Over at Bleacher Report, Doug Farrar thinks the Raiders will draft Fitzpatrick as well.
I like this pick, though some may think it’s high. Landry would be in the top-5 conversation if not for a foot injury that derailed much of his 2017 season. He is lightning quick off the edge with speed and bend difficult for tackles to handle, while still possessing the strength to get off blocks and play the run. An All-American in 2016, his 2017 was kind of a write-off but he has the talent to go in the top 10. Would be interesting to see reactions if the Raiders did make this pick.
Still with Bleacher Report, David McCracken thinks the Raiders will go with Smith as well.
One of the more interesting picks I’ve seen also comes from Bleacher Report’s Chris Roling. He predicts the Raiders will draft receiver Courtland Sutton of SMU with the #10 pick. With Cooper and Nelson in the mix, not bloody likely. But you never know. I wouldn’t like this pick – Sutton is a talent with size, but not a #10 pick.
So what do the draft experts at Only1Nation think? Well, let’s see.
Marcus Chai breaks down who the Raiders should target round by round. Only Smith and James make his list from the popular mock choices. Also there for Chai are Vita Vea – who a month ago was a much more popular mock to the Raiders – Bradley Chubb, who’s likely to be gone, and Jaire Alexander. Vea and Alexander would both be excellent picks as well – this draft is almost a can’t go wrong unless you do go wrong then you really messed up type of draft.
Editor Nick Hjeltness does a great job of breaking down picks based on Reggie McKenzie’s “type” of player. He breaks down who the Raiders are likely to target based on Reggie’s thresholds and types, and has done it for each round of this year’s draft. Let’s check out the first round.
In the first round, he’s breaks down his thoughts on Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson, Marcus Davenport, Da’Ron Payne, Leighton Vander Esch, Chubb, Fitzpatrick, Landry, Edmunds, Vea, and Smith as potential fits.
Barkley, Nelson, Chubb and Fitzpatrick are all likely to be gone at #10. Vander Esch may surprise some people but he is right up there with Smith in football IQ and play diagnosis and can hang with Edmunds athletically.
Davenport may be the most intriguing here. A raw prospect who stayed close to home, not much was known about him until this season. He’s long and explosive, with a quick first step. However, he played at Texas-San Antonio against lower-level competition, but that didn’t stop him from dominating the Senior Bowl. He brings his best during the game and his combination of length, speed and strength make him tough to block. He has a long way to go with technique and using his hands properly, but he is built like a great edge rusher.
Rarely have we seen a draft this deep, with this many versatile prospects. The mocks are certainly reflecting this. Generally you’ll have one, two, maybe three or four players thought to be going to a team. Here alone I’ve outlined seven players mocked legitimately to the Raiders – although the Courtland Sutton pick seems like a reach. Still, that’s incredible – and the fact that most would likely be happy with five of those seven speaks again to the depth and talent in this draft.
As does the fact that Maurice Hurst, possibly the best interior lineman in this draft, hasn’t been mentioned. Hurst has a first step and heavy punch like Warren Sapp did, with a bit more speed up the middle. He’d be a great compliment to Khalil Mack and all indications are that his heart is just fine. Don’t be surprised if he’s in the mix as well.
Alright Nation there ya go – some actual news, and a whole lot of draft speculation for ya. Who knows what’s going to happen – I definitely see a trade-down scenario playing out as well – but we won’t have long to wait to find out now.
Make sure you continue to follow @Only1Nation_ and checking out Only1Nation.com for all your Raiders needs during draft season and beyond. Thanks for reading and enjoy the draft!