An in-depth look at the Oakland Raiders current roster strengths and weaknesses, and how that will determine draft targets in the 2018 NFL Draft.
We are through the first third of the season and have a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the current Oakland Raiders roster, and it’s never too early to start to think about where this team will need to improve in the offseason. Here’s a look at the biggest positions of need looking towards 2018, with an emphasis on where Reggie McKenzie might focus his attention in the draft.
I have ranked these positional needs based on:
- Performance/production of current players
- Possible 2018 free agent departures
- Forecasted development/decline of current players
#1 – Cornerback
- TJ Carrie (Free Agent)
- Sean Smith (Cut)
- David Amerson (Cut)
Of the three players listed above, I believe the most likely 2018 Raider is David Amerson. He’s had back to back down years and consistent health concerns, but the Raiders still believe in his ability and it would not be surprising if he gets one more year to regain his 2015 form. Personally, I think they should cut ties with Amerson, as it would save $6M in cap space as he is not inline for any guaranteed money next year.
TJ Carrie will be a very interesting player to track in Free Agency. He has been one of the better defensive players for the Raiders and by far the best cornerback this year. He’s putting together a really nice season at the perfect time as he becomes a UFA in 2018. He’s versatile and dependable, but not spectacular. He can play both outside, over the slot and has even played safety during his tenure as a Raider. I don’t think Oakland will break the bank for the local product, but Reggie could be willing to pay him $5M to $6M per year for three to four years. His return will all depend on how the rest of the NFL values him.
Sean Smith is the most obvious decision of the group, and may not end up being an offseason decision. With his recent demotion it may make sense to cut ties during the season. A benched vet usually leads to discontent in the locker room, which is the last thing the team needs right now. If he’s not going to play, and he shouldn’t play, why have him on the roster?
In The Mix:
- David Amerson
- Gareon Conley
- Dexter McDonald
- Antonio Hamilton
- Breon Borders
This group looks a lot better if the Raiders re-sign TJ Carrie, but I’d say the chances of that happening are 50/50 at best. McKenzie will have some cap room to work with if he chooses to cut Amerson and Smith, even with the impending Khalil Mack extension, so it’s possible the Raiders address this area in Free Agency. Either way, a healthy Gareon Conley is the most important thing for this group. Oakland needs him to get on the field and become a #1 corner to help elevate the defense.
Dexter McDonald is another viable starting option. He’s played well at outside corner when given the opportunity. He is essentially auditioning for a future starting role from here on out with the demotion of Sean Smith. His development has a big affect on how big of a need cornerback is.
I am starting to like this draft class of cornerbacks the more and more I watch film. There are some really talented guys that can play outside and/or over the slot. There is a good mix of big corners and high level cover corners. It looks as though the Raiders could be drafting in the early/middle parts of the first round and there might be some really nice talent available to them.
Top 10 Draft eligible Cornerbacks thus far:
- Minkah Fitpatrick, Jr, Alabama
- Derwin James, RS So, Florida St (labeled a safety, but plays mostly over slot and can play anywhere, much like fellow Seminole Jalen Ramsey)
- Jaire Alexander, Jr, Louisville
- Denzel Ward, Jr, Ohio St
- Isaiah Oliver, Jr, Colorado
- MJ Stewart, Sr, North Carolina
- Tarvarus McFadden, Jr, Florida St
- Iman Marshall, Jr, USC
- Heath Harding, Sr, Miami (OH)
- Quenton Meeks, Jr, Stanford
#2 – Interior Defensive Line
- Justin Ellis (Free Agent)
- Denico Autry (Free Agent)
- Jihad Ward (Cut)
McKenzie will have a couple of very interesting decisions to make with this unit during the offseason. Initially, they will need to decide the value they place on 1-technique/base defensive lineman Justin Ellis, who is having the best year of his career. He is in shape, motivated and playing really well against the run. I expect the Raiders to make a valiant effort to bring him back.
Second, Reggie will need to do the same thing with Denico Autry, who is playing very well now that he is back in his appropriate rotational role in sub packages. He has played really well at 5-technique against the run and has been disruptive in pass rushing situations as well. Denico may also be a piece that Reggie would like to keep as he has put together multiple productive seasons as a rotational player.
Lastly, and most frustratingly, is Jihad Ward. He was always thought of as a developmental project, but was forced into too much action in his rookie year. This year he has been buried on the depth chart behind Edwards, Autry, Vanderdoes and Hester. It didn’t help that he missed most of training camp and preseason with an injury. He will get one more offseason to grow, but if the Raiders bring in a couple more pieces to this unit, which I anticipate that they will, Jihad could be on the outside looking in before the start of the regular season, much like Shilique Calhoun this year.
In The Mix:
- Mario Edwards Jr.
- Eddie Vanderdoes
- Treyvon Hester
- Darius Latham
It’s been great to see Mario Edwards Jr. back in action and playing at a high level. He’s been a bright spot and should be apart of the core of this young defensive unit going forward as long as he can stay healthy. He’s proven that when healthy he can be one of the better 5-techniques in the NFL. The rest of the guys signed to contracts have some growing to do.
After an impressive start, Eddie Vanderdoes has been really disappointing. I am not sure if he is wearing down, if he has an injury that has not been publicized, or if he is just not adjusting to the week in and week out grind of being a defensive lineman in the NFL. The skills are there, and so have the double teams, but he needs to develop if this unit is to improve next year.
Hester has been okay as a rotational player after showing a lot of pass rush ability in the preseason. First string offensive lineman seem to be getting the best of him now that we are in the regular season. He should get better as well but his ceiling is probably a rotational player.
Latham has been active for one game before getting suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He is Justin Ellis’ 1-technique backup and could possibly get a chance to fill that role next year, although it’s not likely. Oakland’s leadership team does not appear to trust him even though when he is on the field he does flash as a quality player versus the run and pass. If he can get his attitude and motor in check he might have a chance to fill Jelly’s role if he does not return in Free Agency.
From what I have seen thus far, this year’s draft class of interior defensive lineman has a diverse set of talented guys that could go in the middle part of the first round and the early part of the second round.
Top 10 Draft eligible Interior Defensive Linemen thus far:
- Vita Vea, RS Jr, Washington (1 or 3-tech)
- Mo Hurst Jr, Sr, Michigan (3-tech)
- Christian Wilkins, Jr, Clemson (3 or 5-tech)
- Derrick Nnadi, Sr, Florida St (1 or 3-tech)
- Rasheem Green, Jr, USC (5-tech)
- Da’Ron Payne, Jr, Alabama (1 or 3-tech)
- Aikeem Coleman, Sr, Idaho (3 or 5-tech)
- Trenton Thompson, Jr Georgia (3 or 5-tech)
- Daylon Mack, Jr, Texas A&M (1 or 3-tech)
- Lowell Lotulelei, Sr, Utah (1-tech)
#4 – Edge Rusher
In The Mix:
- Khalil Mack
- Bruce Irvin
- James Cowser
- Shilique Calhoun
Khalil Mack is remains a top 10 player in the NFL and will be a Raider for a long time. Bruce Irvin got off to a slow start against high level OT competition and has started to play better against mediocre OTs. I think that is what Bruce is, average to slightly above average. He makes for an adequate pairing with Mack, but not elite, and in order to be an elite defense in the NFL you need more than one elite edge rusher. That is why this position is as high as it is for me.
The pass rush is still not diverse enough outside of Mack. Cowser and Calhoun are below average and there is a noticeable difference in the defense when they come in and Mack goes out. The Raiders defense needs more talent here so that Mack can take needed breaks and still have an affective pass rush.
This is not as strong of an edge class as we had last year, but there’s still some serious talent to be had in the first and second rounds. There’s a good balance of stand-up/3-4 edge rushers and hand in the ground/4-3 edge rushers that can also bump inside to 5-tech in sub packages. Both skill-sets are needed and can be targeted by the Raiders under the current defensive scheme.
Top 10 Draft eligible Edge Rushers thus far:
- Harold Landry, Sr, Boston College (3-4)
- Bradley Chubb, Sr, NC State (4-3)
- Arden Key, Jr, LSU (3-4 or 4-3)
- Clelin Ferrell, RS Jr, Clemson (4-3)
- Lorenzo Carter, Sr, Georgia (3-4)
- Ogbonnio Okoronkwo, Sr, Oklahoma (3-4)
- Hercules Mata’afa, Sr, Washington St(3-4 or 4-3)
- Dorance Armstrong, Jr, Kansas (3-4)
- Duke Ejiofor, Sr, Wake Forest (4-3)
- Chad Thomas, Sr, Miami (4-3)
#4 – Offensive Tackle
- Marshall Newhouse (Cut)
Marshall Newhouse has been decent. He has been better than the two RTs before him, but he is not more than an average NFL right tackle. The Raiders have some youth behind him and if one steps up and develops, Marshall could be a one and done for the Raiders. If the team does not see the type of development from Alexander, Sharpe or Ware they hope for, and do not draft an OT higher up in the draft, Newhouse may be the starting RT for the second year in a row.
In The Mix:
- Donald Penn
- Marshall Newhouse
- David Sharpe
- Vadal Alexander
- Jylan Ware
Donald Penn will have another year on his contract and I expect him to play that out as the starting LT. He is still an above average left tackle even though he has allowed a few more pressures this year. As stated above, Marshall Newhouse is the favorite to start at RT, but that could change if one of the young fellas develops at a high rate or if the Raiders do decide to draft another OT.
David Sharpe has the highest ceiling in my opinion and could be the LT in training or could transition to RT next year to fight for the starting job there. This is also a VERY strong OT draft class. Much stronger than last year, so the Raiders could get a very good tackle in the second round, one they may not be able to pass up.
Top 10 Draft eligible Offensive Tackles thus far:
- Connor Williams, Jr, Texas
- Orlando Brown Jr, RS Jr, Oklahoma
- Cole Madison, Sr, Washington St
- Tyrell Crosby, Sr, Oregon
- Dalton Risner, RS Jr, Kansas St
- Yosuah Nijman, RS Jr, Virginia Tech
- Tariq Cole, Jr, Rutgers
- Andre Dillard, Jr, Washington St
- Brian O’Neill, Jr, Pitt
- Michael Deiter, Jr, Wisconsin
#5 – Offensive Weapons (RB, WR, TE)
In The Mix at RB:
- Marshawn Lynch
- DeAndre Washington
- Jalen Richard
- Elijah Hood
In The Mix at WR:
- Michael Crabtree
- Amari Cooper
- Seth Roberts
- Cordarrelle Patterson
- Johnny Holton
- Keon Hatcher
- Isaac Whitney
In The Mix at TE:
- Jared Cook
- Clive Walford
- Pharoah Brown
Possible Departures at TE:
- Lee Smith (Free Agent)
- Clive Walford (Cut)
Most of Oakland’s problems on offense are schematic, and if things don’t start to get better fast, I expect Todd Downing to be on his way out. This team does have a ton of offensive weapons, but there’s room for improvement.
Crabtree isn’t getting younger, Cooper has struggled and I don’t believe Seth Roberts is an above average slot receiver even though the drop totals are down this year. The Raiders may look to get a taller, bigger bodied receiver that can go up and make contested catches and stretch the field. There are a number of options that might be attractive for McKenzie in the second or third round.
Lynch has been okay, but the outside zone running scheme isn’t working with this offensive line so the Raiders may want to get a young power back to groom for the future. Jalen and DeAndre remain has above average situational running backs.
Tight end has been a bit of a disappointment. After a promising start to his career, Clive Walford has become non-existent. Jared Cook has been decent, but mostly underwhelming and Lee Smith might be out the door as our top blocking tight end. Pharoah Brown is an interesting talent on the practice squad but has been mired with injuries over his football career. The Raiders may take a look at drafting a tight end in the mid rounds to try and upgrade this unit.
Top 5 Draft eligible Running Backs thus far:
- Saquon Barkley, Jr, Penn St
- Derrius Guice, Jr, LSU
- John Kelly, Jr, Tennessee
- Akrum Wadley, Sr, Iowa
- Damien Harris, Jr, Alabama
Top 5 Draft eligible Wide Receivers thus far:
- Calvin Ridley, Jr, Alabama
- Deontay Burnett, Jr USC
- Courtland Sutton, RS Jr, SMU
- Cedrick Wilson, Sr, Boise St
- James Washington, Sr, Oklahoma St
Top 5 Draft eligible Tight Ends thus far:
- Mark Andrews, Jr, Oklahoma
- Dallas Goedert, Sr, South Dakota St
- Troy Fumagalli, Sr Wisconsin
- Mike Gesicki, Sr, Penn St
- Adam Breneman, Sr, UMass