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How the Draft's Preceding Free Agency Bodes for our Oakland Raiders

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For the first time since the advent of free agency in this league, it will follow the draft, and the players chosen will remain unsigned until an agreement makes it possible. For many teams, those in charge of drawing draft boards and present in war rooms across the nation will say this makes the draft more clear-cut, and when they find themselves on the clock, the predetermined potential picks are narrowed down tremendously, especially if those personnel folks believe they can get who they want in free agency, and Al Davis and the Raiders are one such organization. So just how will things pan out for us in this draft? I currently have needs as follows, in this order, as I expect Nnamdi to remain a Raider despite speculation to the contrary: OT, LB, S, G/C, CB, WR, QB. You can change QB or WR, but I both think we have greater immediate needs and must use earlier picks to find potential starters first, and think picks for skills positions with any of our first four is reaching, and setting us up for a horrible outcome.

Pat Kirwan's breakdown on our needs is spot on with our own assessment, with the glaring exception at linebacker:

Oakland Raiders

Needs: CB, OT, QB, G, S, C

The Raiders improved to 8-8 last season, but fired their coach and don't have a first-round pick. In fact, they don't select until the middle of the second round (No. 48). By that time, the top six corners, top seven tackles and top five quarterbacks could all be gone. The Raiders are really going to have to do their homework to come up with impact players in this draft.

It appears Robert Gallery will not be back, so guard is a need. If cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha also leaves, the Raiders will have a big problem. There are also issues at quarterback, but fingers are crossed that quarterback Jason Campbell can finally lead this team to the playoffs.

* Draft choices: Nos. 48, 81, 112, 145, 176, 209

Here's the link to his story on KIRWAN

Hit the jump to read on how this affects the draft, and how I believe Al will navigate these uncharted waters with the prowess only living through all former labor unrest, NFL pre/post free agency, NFL pre/post merger as an owner, commissioner, GM, and coach can offer.

So if we believe PK to be correct come draft day, and the top seven tackles are gone, Cannon included, it's likely Ben Ijalana or we go another position for the first round, much like last year, when all the guys in whom we were interested were off the board. has it as follows:

Top Draft 2011 Prospects -- (Updated 3/26/2011)
OVR Player Pos. Position
School Class Ht. Wt. 40 Time Bench
14 Anthony Castonzo OT 1 Boston College Sr 6-7 311 5.21 28
16 Tyron Smith OT 2 Southern California Jr 6-5 307 5.08 29
20 Gabe Carimi OT 3 Wisconsin rSr 6-7 314 5.18 29
22 Nate Solder OT 4 Colorado rSr 6-8 319 4.96 21
29 Derek Sherrod OT 5 Mississippi State Sr 6-5 321 5.18 23
51 Marcus Cannon OT 6 TCU rSr 6-5 358 5.26 33
57 Orlando Franklin OT 7 Miami (Fla.) rSr 6-6 316 5.11 26
77 James Carpenter OT 8 Alabama Sr 6-4 321 5.22 23
83 James Brewer OT 9 Indiana rSr 6-6 323 5.21 25
102 Marcus Gilbert OT 10 Florida rSr 6-6 330 5.41 30

This would have Cannon on the board, and though we may look to free agency to fill a need there, taking one in the draft is still the right move for the future, and if the right guy is still there as a FA, taking another and creating much needed competition at the spot is absolutely the way to go. This team is looking to build a super bowl contender, and the only other question now, is do we entertain trade options to get a higher pick to maybe go after Costanzo or Carimi. While I don't expect or think this is necessary, the new format beginning on Thursday evenings has made the trade dynamic even more exciting on day two pick ramifications, and some offers just can't be refused. As more and more teams look to trade out of the top ten picks when the players projected there they might want have too many question marks, expect at least a few teams to move up or down. We know the Patriots have a ridiculous amount of picks, and the buzz is this is the one year they might wish to move up to get a lineman they want. Will they look to deal with the Raiders again?

I think the only realistic way we take anything other than tackle with our first pick, is if a guy like Jimmy Smith were to fall all the way to 48, making it a BPA pick and suddenly necessary. Once again, I'm expecting Nnamdi to remain, making corner not as glaring a need, but if a guy like Smith is there, don't be surprised to see him come in and eventually unseat Chris Johnson, or move another corner to the practice squad or relegated to special teams duties. Routt will continue to improve, but he'll need help from his fellow defensive backs at both his position and at safety.

Here's the projections for corners, although I believe we will go either OLB or FS, depending on who is there:

Top Draft 2011 Prospects -- (Updated 3/26/2011)
OVR Player Pos. Position
School Class Ht. Wt. 40 Time Bench
1 Patrick Peterson CB 1 LSU Jr 6-0 219 4.31 15
8 Prince Amukamara CB 2 Nebraska Sr 6-0 206 4.38 15
26 Jimmy Smith CB 3 Colorado rSr 6-2 211 4.42 24
33 Brandon Harris CB 4 Miami (Fla.) Jr 5-10 191 4.46 13
34 Aaron Williams CB 5 Texas Jr 6-0 204 4.55 18
53 Curtis Brown CB 6 Texas Sr 6-0 185 4.51 10
54 Davon House CB 7 New Mexico State Sr 6-1 200 4.44 14
66 Brandon Burton CB 8 Utah rJr 6-0 190 4.50 18
69 Ras-I Dowling CB 9 Virginia Sr 6-1 198 4.40 19
73 Chimdi Chekwa CB 10 Ohio State rSr 6-0 191 4.38 --
88 Shareece Wright CB 11 Southern California rSr 5-11 185 4.41 16
89 Marcus Gilchrist CB 12 Clemson Sr 5-10 195 4.45 26
91 Johnny Patrick CB 13 Louisville rSr 5-11 191 4.59 13
105 Curtis Marsh CB 14 Utah State Sr 6-1 197 4.42 12
113 Buster Skrine CB 15 Chattanooga Sr 5-10 186 4.37 20
117 Jalil Brown CB 16 Colorado Sr 6-1 204 4.52 24
132 Brandon Hogan CB 17 West Virginia Sr 5-10 192 4.43 19
138 Rashad Carmichael CB 18 Virginia Tech rSr 5-10 192 4.53 13
149 Cortez Allen CB 19 Citadel rSr 6-1 197 4.50 18

I also believe Al could have his eye on a select few safeties, who could transition to corner like another defensive back he took and received criticism for several years, for whom he now receives none. Both Robert Sands and Jaiquan Jarrett fit this bill perfectly, and might be ours in the third or fourth round. I'd prefer we remain patient and look for the FS in the fourth, but here are the guys projected in those rounds:

Top Draft 2011 Prospects -- (Updated 3/26/2011)
OVR Player Pos. Position
School Class Ht. Wt. 40 Time Bench
60 Rahim Moore FS 1 UCLA Jr 6-0 202 4.58 11
67 Quinton Carter FS 2 Oklahoma rSr 6-1 208 4.57 23
94 Chris Conte FS 3 California Sr 6-2 197 4.52 18
118 Robert Sands FS 4 West Virginia rJr 6-4 217 4.53 12
124 Chris Culliver FS 5 South Carolina Sr 6-0 199 4.36 --
145 Jaiquawn Jarrett FS 6 Temple Sr 6-0 198 4.62 14

When you turn on Jarrett's tape, it's hard to imagine this guy being a late round selection. I also expect Huff to remain a Raider, and believe Jarrett's projection to be the insurance policy that allows us to take an impact OLB with our second overall pick in the third round. Here are the guys in our range:

49 Brooks Reed OLB 4 Arizona rSr 6-3 263 4.65 30
63 Bruce Carter OLB 5 North Carolina Sr 6-2 241 4.57 25
65 Sam Acho OLB 6 Texas Sr 6-2 262 4.67 23
79 Dontay Moch OLB 7 Nevada rSr 6-1 248 4.40 21
85 Chris Carter OLB 8 Fresno State Sr 6-1 248 4.58 27
101 Mason Foster OLB 9 Washington Sr 6-1 245 4.75 22
103 K.J. Wright OLB 10 Mississippi State Sr 6-3 246 4.75 20
126 Lawrence Wilson OLB 11 Connecticut rSr 6-1 229 4.71 24
139 Ross Homan OLB 12 Ohio State rSr 6-1 240 4.66 32
156 Mark Herzlich OLB 13 Boston College rSr 6-4 244 4.91 29
168 Brian Rolle OLB 14 Ohio State Sr 5-10 229 4.53 28
189 Jonas Mouton OLB 15 Michigan rSr 6-1 239 4.84 -

Our second overall being one of these guys is what I'm expecting, but I also suspect Biekert, Bresnahan, and Hue Jackson have their eyes on a few players throughout the league, and it's been my belief that the way Al pulls these moves off is by planting seeds well in advance. Look for a potential trade scenario involving a linebacker, and if our first few picks don't include one, a potential free agent could become a Raider. Walter Football's free agent OLBS: Chad Greenway could completely transform our squad from weakness to strength, but a two down specialist like Stephen Nicholas could be the Sam we're looking for, and much more realistic considering what he'd cost. I'm still puzzled Pat Kirwan doesn't list linebacker on his needs. Come on, PK! Since Kam Wimbley is really an end (and with the voided contract, a free agent technically), as is Trevor Scott; even Quentin Groves is a better pass rusher than true lb. Our run defense continued to suffer, and these bigger guys brought in to cure what ails us added an element to our formidable pass rush, but offered only inconsistent help against the run, and covering TEs and RBs at the second level, and mismatch wideouts as well.

I don't care about his speed, or lack thereof, or of the titanium rod in his leg; I believe the smarts and the skill set Mark Herzlich brings to the position make him a Biekert like addition to our defense--a very smart player that takes great angles--who'd immediately make us better against the run. While he got lit up in coverage at the senior bowl, it was but one game and when I watch tape of his play all signs point to his playing much faster than his 40 times will indicate. Sam Acho and Ross Homan both would immediately unseat Groves or Wimbley by the end of preseason, if not sooner.

Headlines have entertained the possiblity of Stephen Wisniewski joining his uncle here, but a number of reasons including the Raiders really needing only depth at center make me wonder; it's also likely we get a guard who can play center or vice-versa. But with Satele, at least for now and during the draft a free agent, we must also be prepared to look at potential starters here and guys who can step in and provide a proficient substitute, and not a dropoff or makeshift replacement as we saw last year, which proved disastrous at times. I'd love to see Jake Groves in silver and black again. It appears there are enough guys to fit our needs in many rounds, both early and late. We may also be fortunate enough to find ones that bring versatility and experience playing multiple spots on the line, and in my world, you just can't have too many hogs up front.

It is high time we focused on this group up front, as a unit that will define us as physical, and elevate the offense to another level. I'm thinking of how Otto, Shell, Upshaw, Brown, Dalby humbled units that became household names like the Steel Curtain and the Purple People Eaters. We need a unit that does this to the Ravens, Steelers, Jets, and Chargers, and consistently humbles top ranked defensive lines. Veldheer and Satele provide two nice starters who can be a part of this unit, and perhaps Langston Walker as well, but making the same mistake as last year by thinking good enough, instead of looking to make a statement by looking to best the league in one of its all important positions--the one that John Madden believes wins super bowls--in offensive line. Here's the list of guys, 1-10; look hard at the ones who bring experience playing guard and elsewhere, as likely Raiders:

OVR Player Pos. Position
School Class Ht. Wt. 40 Time Bench
46 Rodney Hudson C 1 Florida State Sr 6-2 299 5.27 27
62 Stefen Wisniewski C 2 Penn State Sr 6-3 313 5.29 30
114 Kristofer O'Dowd C 3 Southern California Sr 6-4 304 5.12 31
128 Tim Barnes C 4 Missouri rSr 6-4 298 5.17 --
175 Brandon Fusco C 5 Slippery Rock Sr 6-4 306 5.18 26
187 Jake Kirkpatrick C 6 TCU rSr 6-2 300 5.32 --
208 Jason Kelce C 7 Cincinnati rSr 6-3 280 4.89 --
228 Alex Linnenkohl C 8 Oregon State rSr 6-2 304 5.36 24
252 Zach Williams C 9 Washington State rSr 6-3 309 5.18 28
295 Zane Taylor C 10 Utah rSr 6-3 309 5.52

The free agents at wide receiver include some interesting prospects, most of which need no more exploration here. With the baggage that some bring, I'm inclined to narrow it down to V. Jack, Sydnee Rice, or T.J. Houshmandzadeh, for both financial reasons and so as not to disrupt what has been a great locker room of late. The many interesting draft prospects that have the height ,weight, speed combination that Al covets, especially projected in late rounds and even off the board, make it a hard to miss proposition, and I have zero doubt that Al has planted seeds for free agents already, but with them having to wait until after April 30th at the least, it looks hard to miss.

Will we have another Jacoby Ford like steal emerge this time around? We are almost all in agreement that the emergence of a dominant group of route running ball catchers make the playoffs for this squad almost inevitable. With the intriguing prospects that project so late, patience will be a virtue that suits us well in the 2011 draft, yet another aspect working in our favor with free agency still there to answer any questions that remain unanswered with draft picks.

This kid seems a can't miss prospect:

407 Andre Holmes WR 49 Hillsdale Sr 6-4 210 4.51 11

but here's the list of 25-40 overall; not a bad crop by any measure, and the demands around the league for 5 technique ends for their 3-4 defense, pass rushers, and your typical run on the most-hyped skills guys in the league, wide receivers could drop significantly. I could be wrong, but I think the organization doesn't view the position as in need of upgrade as most of us here, and that's why I have the list starting after the top couple dozen look to be selected:

209 Jeff Maehl WR 25 Oregon Sr 6-1 190 4.56 --
211 Darvin Adams WR 26 Auburn Jr 6-2 190 4.56 --
221 Stephen Burton WR 27 West Texas A&M Sr 6-1 221 4.50 19
227 Aldrick Robinson WR 28 Southern Methodist Sr 5-10 184 4.35 17
229 Ricardo Lockette WR 29 Fort Valley State rSr 6-2 211 4.34 --
247 Courtney Smith WR 30 South Alabama Sr 6-4 223 4.65 --
249 Chris Matthews WR 31 Kentucky Sr 6-5 218 4.57 --
266 Marshall Williams WR 32 Wake Forest rSr 6-1 188 4.56 09
280 Lester Jean WR 33 Florida Atlantic Sr 6-3 215 4.61 14
285 O.J. Murdock WR 34 Fort Hays State rSr 5-11 197 4.53 15
287 Jimmy Young WR 35 TCU rSr 6-0 204 4.50 19
288 Jock Sanders WR 36 West Virginia Sr 5-06 181 4.50 19
312 DeAndre Brown WR 37 Southern Mississippi Jr 6-6 233 4.59 20
328 Owen Spencer WR 38 North Carolina State Sr 6-2 195 4.51 06
332 Jeremy Ross WR 39 California rSr 6-0 209 4.45 --
336 Armon Binns WR 40 Cincinnati Sr 6-3 209 4.50 13

I think Ricardo Lockette and Greg Salas are two great YAC guys that promise to be a couple of the best selections and make the most impact on their teams by this time next year. Greg Little, a 6'3", 231 lb. kid with a 40" vertical is a mismatch nightmare that has Raider written all over him, but projects at 99 overall and like I said, would appear a reach for us, but should he fall... who knows? Also among Mayocks' potential sleeper gems of the draft, former basketball phenom Edmond Gates, who ran a 4.35 40 with a groin pull, who has Randy Moss like freak ability and ball skills, and is great finding space in zones and creating separation in man coverage. Randall Cobb out of Kentucky is a former qb, and could provide a starting guy simliar to Ronald Curry, Bronco killer. I can't wait for the late rounds to see what happens for the future of our offense. With the right guy, look out league. A dominant O line and solid starting possession receiver, and this bully becomes the big kid on the block. I hope we take a kid with the 6th round pick, and free agency will be but a luxury for competition.

As for qbs, a future post on late round prospects and free agents available will address possiblities, but don't expect any early rounders to be given much serious thought; Al and Hue were quite vocal about Jason being the guy going forward, like it or not. I'm all for Troy Weatherhead out of Hillsdale, and believe this school should continue to be tapped as a great resource until we are given reason to think otherwise.

So, Nation, what say you? Is the free agency and draft situation good for us, or bad? It is a golden opportunity; will we take advantage?

While it's not my only source for draft and projections, it remains a solid one, and is updated frequently for rising and falling based on multiple factors.