Raiders 2014 draft grade, analysis

Levi Damien

With the 2014 NFL draft firmly in the rearview mirror, it's time to collect all the chips the Raiders picked up and see just what kind of haul they pulled in. They came in with seven picks and as of day two, had added an eighth. Let's look at those picks one by one.

Round 1, pick 5 - Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo

Grade: A

Analysis: Mack was easily the best player on the board when the Raiders made their pick at five overall. The Raiders needed a pass rusher and he excels in that role. He is versatile with the ability to play either outside linebacker in a 3-4 or 4-3 as well as being a straight up defensive end in a 4-3. He is also an extremely high character individual. Very little flaws can be found in him and his availability at that selection was a pleasant surprise.

Other options: Trade down. The Raiders could have used some extra picks in this draft and had Mack not been there, I very much would have expected them to trade down.

How he fits in: He can either take over the starting job at weakside linebacker in place of Kevin Burnett or he can split time at defensive end with Lamarr Woodley and Justin Tuck. He will move around and that ability gives the Raiders some great options as well as finding more ways to get him on the field.

Round 2, pick 36 - Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

Grade: A-

Analysis: Getting a quarterback in this draft was a must. And after waiting until the fourth round last year and blowing a pick on Tyler Wilson, the Raiders needed to make it more of a priority. Carr was expected by some to go in the first round but with the other top quarterbacks all falling farther than many expected, Carr fell out of the first round altogether. The Raiders wanted Carr but never considered trading up to get him. They waited hoping he would be there at 36 and they were right.

Other options: Top wide receivers. When the Raiders picked at 36 there were a boat load of very talented wide receivers still on the board they could have taken. They need a number one receiver and there were some great potential to find one here. Wide receivers still on the board when the Raiders picked included Marqise Lee (USC), Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt), Davante Adams (Fresno State), Cody Latimer (Indiana), Allen Robinson (Penn State), and Jarvis Landry (LSU) - all of whom had either first round or high second round grades heading into the draft.

How he fits in: He is not pegged as a starter this year. He will sit behind Matt Schaub and Matt McGloin for now. If Carr starts at all this season it's because things went terribly wrong (again). So, the hope is they can stick to the plan of letting him learn the ropes with a clipboard at least for one season.

Round 3, pick 81 - Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State

Grade: A

Analysis: In this round, the Raiders were sitting at 67 until they got a great offer from the Dolphins to swap picks with them in the third round and move down to pick 81. They received the Dolphins' fourth round pick (116) in the deal. This is right about where Gabe Jackson was expected to go. He was the best guard on the board at the time as well. Tony Sparano likes his guards big and at 6-3, 336 pounds Jackson is the heaviest guard in this draft. It looks like the Raiders got the guy they were targeting and even after trading down to pick up an additional fourth round pick.

Other options: Arizona State DT Will Sutton (taken with very next pick), Mississippi WR Donte Moncrief. I thought Sutton would be the pick, actually. A very good pick there especially after the trade down. The Bears took him with the next pick to be a day one starter for them. Moncrief was the last potential starting caliber receiver in this draft.

How he fits in: There was set to be a logjam at left guard where Jackson will be lining up. The team signed Kevin Boothe in the off-season as the possible starter, they also re-signed Khalif Barnes who started the final six games there last season, and they were hoping Tony Bergstrom could make a push as well. Now the job is in Gabe Jackson's hands. He'll have every opportunity to win the job in camp.

Round 4, pick 107 - Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech

Grade: A-

Ellis dominated his level of competition, though he didn't play in a major conference at LaTech. He is an ideal size for a nose tackle at 6-1, 345 pounds though his weight has fluctuated considerably in college anywhere from 330 to 390 pounds. He gained some notice at the East West Shrine game which is common for players who didn't play on a big stage at a major school. The fourth round is a perfect place to take a chance on a player like Ellis and the Raiders were looking to at a big nose tackle, space eater in this draft. He also has some unexpected quickness and rush abilities for his size.

Other options: Penn State DT DaQuan Jones. Whether Jones would have been a better option than Ellis is debatable. The Raiders saw Ellis as the better of the two and one can't really argue that.

How he fits: The Raiders didn't re-sign Pat Sims until late in the free agent process and only brought him back on a one-year deal. Sims earned better than that last season by all accounts but there just isn't interest there from around the league or the Raiders for some reason. Ellis and Sims could make for a very stout rotation at nose tackle with Ellis seen as the hopeful long term answer.

Round 4, pick 116 - Keith McGill, CB, Utah

Grade: B

Analysis: This was essentially a free draft pick in a trade with the Dolphins in the third round. McGill has all the skills and physical traits to succeed at the next level. He came to Utah as one of the most highly touted JuCo safety prospects in the nation. They played him there for one season and he looked good for the five games he was healthy. He then went down with a serious shoulder injury which caused him to miss the rest of his junior season and sit out the following season as a medical redshirt. His senior season they switched him to corner and he basically shut down Pac-12 receivers all season. The Raiders have said they drafted this 6-3, 211-pound DB to play corner but you can bet he will be earmarked for free safety if the need arises or he struggles at corner in the NFL.

Other options: Wyoming FS Marqueston Huff. McGill has the versatility of potentially succeeding at corner or free safety, but I believe he is destined to move to free safety eventually. That being the case, Huff is one of the best free safety prospects in this draft. And he doesn't come with a major injury history like McGill.

How he fits in: For now, he will be a backup cornerback who can step in and play in dime packages while contributing on special teams. He could double as a backup safety as well which would allow the team to be more flexible in roster space.

Round 7, pick 219 - T.J. Carrie, CB, Ohio

Grade: C+

Analysis: In an attempt to infuse some competition at punt returner, Carrie was the team's first pick of the seventh. He was All-MAC first team at punt returner for the Ohio Bobcats. The biggest red flag with  him is his injury history. He missed two full seasons of college football with a hip and shoulder injury and then injured his knee in the combine workouts. He is a local product having grown up in Antioch and attended De LaSalle high school.

Other options: Oregon CB Terrance Mitchell. With Carrie's injury history including at the combine itself, it seems very possible he would have gone undrafted altogether. Especially considering he is not seen as a viable cornerback option. And being a local player with ties to current players Taiwan Jones and Maurice Jones-Drew, you'd have to think the Raiders could have reeled him in as a UDFA. Mitchell is an established cornerback. Just like McGill in the previous round, he shut down Pac-12 receivers. He too is a fairly local product, coming out of Sacramento.

How he fits in: He will compete to be the team's primary punt returner. The job is very much wide open.

Round 7, pick 235 - Shelby Harris, DE, Illinois State

Grade: D

Analysis: Easily the most head scratching pick by the Raiders in this draft as Harris has a history of character issues. Harris started his college career at Wisconsin where he was suspended for behavioral problems and opted to transfer to Illinois State. He played three seasons at Illinois state before being dismissed from the team for conduct detrimental to the team. He put up good number his junior season, albeit against lesser competition in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Sure, seventh round picks are considered low risk by virtue of their draft status but all draft picks are valuable and this guy's character history suggests he wouldn't fit in with this team as assembled. Reggie McKenzie spoke of giving players a second chance but Harris passed that several chances ago.

Other options: Missouri DE Michael Sam. The Raiders chose a raging head case who didn't play a down of college football last season over the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the year at the same position. He also has an incredibly strong character. How very odd. Can't imagine why that would be. I guess it will remain a mystery.

How he fits in: Providing he can crack the regular season roster, he would be depth at defensive end in competition with Jack Crawford and Ryan Robinson for playing time.

Round 7, pick 247 - Jonathan Dowling, SS, Western Kentucky

Grade: B

With the pick the Raiders received the Seahawks in the Terrelle Pryor trade, they grabbed this 6-3, 200-pound safety. Dowling began his career at Florida. He played in two games for the Gators before being cut from the team after skipping practice and classes and having an altercation with an assistant coach. You have to seriously screw up for Urban Meyer to cut you from the team. He then sat out a season while transferring to Western Kentucky. He went to Florida at a 4-star recruit and it's possible he was pretty high on himself and thought he could skate by out of pure talent. He has since put his head down and worked himself back into an NFL prospect so the incident can be seen as a wake-up call - one he clearly needed. Certainly worth a shot with the team's final pick. His talent had him as a 5-6 round prospect so getting him this late could pay off.

Other options: Stanford LB Shayne Skov, USC SS Dion Bailey, Michigan State SS Isaiah Lewis. All three of these players went undrafted. Skov was deciding between the 49ers and Raiders and if the Raiders really wanted him, they could have secured him here. His presence would have been welcome as a backup middle linebacker. Bailey was considered one of the better strong safeties in this draft out of USC and became one of the most surprising UDFA's out there. Lewis was a three-year starter at Michigan State and was an All-Big Ten First teamer. How he goes undrafted is beyond me. The Raiders clearly liked what Dowling brought to the table more than Bailey and Lewis even though Dowling played against lesser competition.

How he fits in: He adds much needed depth and competition at strong safety behind Tyvon Branch. He can also contribute on kick coverage teams.

Overall draft

Grade: A-

Positives: Getting Khalil Mack at the top of the draft is huge. It was a pick they had to make and they did without hesitation. Their biggest weaknesses last season were quarterback, pass rush, and offensive guard and they got all three in their first three picks. They potentially got three instant starters in Mack, Gabe Jackson, and Justin Ellis. They added depth to the secondary at corner and safety in Keith McGill and Jonathan Dowling.

Negatives: They were unable to address the need for a number one receiver. Sammy Watkins was gone by the fifth overall pick and with Derek Carr sitting there at 36, he was hard to pass up even with a lot of great receivers on the board. They got a pass rusher in Khalil Mack right away but for the second draft in a row, they didn't specifically address the defensive end position until the seventh round. The one thing you can say about this Raiders draft is, unlike last year, there were no big "what were they thinking?" picks in the first four rounds. Only Shelby Harris begged that question.

Final analysis: Overall probably the best draft I can recall top to bottom in a very long time. The only time in the past 15 years the Raiders had this positive a grade was 2010 when they got Rolando McClain (had all the talent in the world and wasted it with bad character), Lamarr Houston and Jared Veldheer with the top three picks. They also got Bruce Campbell, Jacoby Ford, and Stevie Brown in that draft. This one has the potential to trump that one.

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