The 2015 NFL draft is behind us, so it's time to dole out some grades. To be honest, I am not a big fan of post-draft grades. Most of those grades are done by draft gurus who judge picks by their preconceived idea of how much success they think the player will have and where they personally had them ranked in the draft.
That kind of grading is useless because as we all know the most ‘can't miss' picks often DO miss, sometimes epically. And it ends up bringing on the inevitable ‘re-grades' down the road.
In my humble opinion, the only way to properly grade a draft is based upon strategy. Sure, a grade can't be completely free of your opinion of a player's talent level, but more important is how a team goes about getting the best players at the best draft position to fill their needs and improve the squad. With those criteria in mind, I present my 2015 Raiders draft grades.
Round 1 (4 overall) - Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Arguably the biggest need the Raiders had was at wide receiver. They were desperate for a number one receiver and to give Derek Carr a weapon in the receiving game. They got that in Cooper. He was the best, most polished receiver in this draft. The only other position the Raiders had a need as great at receiver was defensive end and there were no defensive ends worthy of a top five pick.
Round 2 -- Mario Edwards Jr, DE, Florida State
The talent is there for Edwards. His main criticism has been inconsistent effort which is one of the reasons why he was not a first round pick. While he received a vote of confidence from Raiders linebackers coach Sal Sunseri who was his defensive line coach the past two seasons, Sunseri also said he had spoken with Edwards at length about his effort. As the number one college recruit out of high school, big things were expected of him. The results were somewhat mediocre, with just 8.0 career sacks over three seasons and just 3.0 sacks last season. Edwards will play the LEO defensive end spot and has been getting his weight down this offseason. Reggie McKenzie said he will be a pass rusher, but not a speed rusher. His size and skills fit that of a 3-4 defensive end and the Raiders use a base 4-3. He is much better as a run stopper than a pass rusher and the Raiders needed the latter. All of this raise questions about his selection by the Raiders. Especially with scheme fit and more productive pass rushers like Nate Orchard, Preston Smith, and Owamagbe Odighizuwa all still on the board.
Round 3 -- Clive Walford, TE, Miami
Considered by some to the best tight end in this draft. This was a good combination of best player available and need for the Raiders. You could argue that guard is a bigger need, but the only guards who could be easily placed above Walford on a draft board were already gone - Laken Tomlinson went in the first round and A.J. Cann was taken by the Jaguars with the pick just before the Raiders. Reggie McKenzie and Jack Del Rio have described Walford as a complete package as a tight end. I agree with that assessment. He is a proficient blocker and an outstanding receiver which is just what the Raiders needed. They missed out on trying to sign Jemaine Gresham in the offseason due to Gresham having a back injury. Walford makes up for that as well as being younger, healthy, and cheaper.
Round 4 - Jon Feliciano, OG, Miami
The Raiders double dip on Miami players in consecutive rounds. And they fill one of their top three needs in the process. They traded down twice before taking Feliciano. They certainly sound like he was the guy they had pegged in the round all along, though teams often say that. Between the original 102nd pick and the eventual 128th pick, there was a run on offensive guards, including Tre Jackson and Arie Kouandjio both coming off the board. While the Raiders did pick up an extra 5th round pick and two seventh round picks, if they actually missed out on a better guard option in the process, it wouldn't be worth it. Other teams certainly thought four other guards were better. On the flip side, Feliciano fits the power running the Raiders want to run and the difference in talent between him and those chosen ahead of him is marginal. Where Feliciano checks out for the Raiders and Mike Tice is in his character, which often makes all the difference. They may have gotten an immediate starter in the fourth round due to the need at the position.
Round 5a - Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas
Speaking of character making all the difference, that is a major plus with Heeney. You won't find a player more genuinely excited and passionate than Heeney was following being drafted by the Raiders. He also fills a potential need position. The Raiders signed recently released Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton in the offseason to play middle linebacker but they needed depth as well as a potential long term solution in case Lofton doesn't work out. Heeney was a very productive linebacker over his three seasons as the starting middle linebacker for the Jayhawks and had 127 tackles (88 solo) last season and 14 tackles for loss. His one knock was missed tackles as he led the Power 5 with 21 of them. Basically, he has the instincts to always be around the ball, but his tackling needs some work. This has led some to compare him to Miles Burris who was just released by the Raiders. I would say that's not a fair comparison because Burris was never a true middle linebacker, Heeney is. If he can fix his tackling issues, a better comparison could be Chris Borland (minus the retiring after one season thing). Heeney was a running back in high school and switched to linebacker during his freshman year, which is a tribute to his abilities considering he had 112 tackles in his first full season at middle linebacker. At 6-0, 230-pounds, he is a bit undersized.
Round 5b - Neiron Ball, LB, Florida
The talent is there for Ball. It's the injuries that are a concern. He had a brain condition following his freshman year that cost him the 2011 season, and more importantly, nearly cost him his life. It's reminiscent of D.J. Hayden's heart injury that nearly killed him. Also like Hayden, he could miss significant time as a rookie, but that is due to a microfracture surgery he had on his knee last November. This selection is an investment in the hopes it could pay off down the road. He grades out highly as a pass rusher and run stopper for his limited college starts. For these reasons, he wasn't considered a draftable player by most accounts. He may be worth taking a chance on, but those chances make more sense with one of the team's three 7th round picks. Especially considering the team had yet to address the secondary in this draft.
Round 6 - Max Valles, DE, Virginia
A team with the major need at defensive end the Raiders have, getting a pass rusher with 9.0 sacks and 14 tackles for loss last season is a great pick up. He played outside linebacker in college but his 6-5, 240-pound frame makes him a better fit at defensive end in the pros. He opted to leave school with two years left of eligibility. Having just one productive season hurt his stock, but it also could prove to be very beneficial for the Raiders should he continue his development at the next level. A great value pick here at a need position.
Round 7a - Anthony Morris, OT, Tennessee State
This was one of those "who?" type picks. With just 10 starts for FCS school Tennessee State, he hasn't shown a lot. The massive 6-6, 317-pound tackle stands out with the way he finishes his assignments, driving them downfield. On the other hand, he never faced an FBS opponent in his college career. Round seven is the time you take a chance on small school potential, but usually you would like to see more tape from them, perhaps against a higher level of competition. He and Reggie McKenzie hit it off as fellow Tennessee natives, with McKenzie giving him the nickname "Big Mo".
Round 7b - Andre Debose, WR/KR, Florida
Continuing with the Florida theme, the Raiders again dip into the state to find a kick returner. Debose's main criticisms are being a bit overaged after spending six years in college and having left the team prior to their bowl game last year. He won't say the exact reasoning for opting out of the bowl game, saying it was a mutual parting and nothing disciplinary. Word is he didn't want to risk injury. The speedy return man ran an unofficial 4.35 40-yard-dash at his pro day. He showed off that speed with 4 return touchdowns over his time with the Gators, but never developed into the receiver he was supposed to be. Hard to say he would offer any more upside after 6 years in college, leading this selection to be purely as a return man. That is a need the Raiders have, although you would like that player to offer something at another position as last year's round 7 pick T.J. Carrie did at corner and returner as a rookie.
Round 7c - Dexter McDonald, CB, Kansas
Just as the Raiders double dipped from Miami and Florida in this draft, they choose their second player out of Kansas as well. McDonald was actually projected as a possible 7th round pick, although according to McDonald himself on his Twitter bio, he is "UNDER RATED" (two words). He has decent size at 6-1, 203 pounds which could see him translate to safety. He has all the athleticism you need with a 4.38 40-yard-dash and a 40-inch vertical leap. He had 2 interceptions and 13 passes defended last season after 2 picks and 12 passed defended as a junior.
Days one and two saw the team go after filling three of the team's top needs at wide receiver, defensive end, and tight end. In the process they got Derek Carr two fantastic weapons in Amari Cooper and Clive Walford. To begin day 3, they went after filling another top need at guard with the selection of Jon Feliciano. They also made a couple trades back to add an extra round 5 pick and two extra round 7 selections.
The main criticism I have is not addressing the secondary until the final pick. They had several good safety options available as well as at corner. Most notably being Ifo Ekpre-Olomu who was on the board well into the seventh round, coming off the board with the pick just prior to the Raiders' final pick of the draft. Ekpre-Olomu tore his ACL in practice prior to the Rose Bowl last January and would have been an ideal late round pick with his elite potential if/when he can fully recover from his injury. Another good option available late was Fresno State safety Derron Smith who lasted into the sixth round.
They get some kudos for passing on wide receiver Josh Harper in the draft and signing him to an undrafted free agent contract to reunite with Derek Carr. Former UCLA and Eastern Washington free safety Tevin McDonald also appears to be a good find following the draft.