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Grading Raiders 2015 draft class

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I don't do "re-grades". It's important that I get that out of the way right off the top. An initial draft grade should be based on how a team worked the draft and filled needs based on the talent on the board and such. Now that we have had a chance to see these players the Raiders selected take the field over a 16-game season, we can make our first talent judgment.

This too won't be the final judgment of a player as rookie seasons are not always an indication of what we will see from a player a few years down the road. But it's important to check in on the class and how they are looking so far.

Round 1

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

With the fourth overall pick, the Raiders had a lot of fantastic talent available to them and a lot of needs to fill. But no need greater than at wide receiver and no better player than Amari Cooper. His 1070 receiving yards weren't a great surprise to many who saw Cooper as the most pro ready receiver in this draft. It was his 18 drops that were a shocker. Uncharacteristic for the technically sound receiver, so the inclination is to chalk it up as rookie jitters and expect he will shake it off heading into his second season.

Grade: A-

Round 2

Mario Edwards Jr, DE, Florida State

When the Raiders selected him, people were initially comparing their draft to that of the Jets. In opting to draft Cooper, the Raiders passed on selecting Leonard Williams at fourth overall and he ‘fell' to 6th overall where the Jets took him. Then in the second round, the Raiders got their defensive end in Edwards and the Jets got their receiver in Devin Smith two picks later. That's when everyone wondered which duo of DE and WR would have the better season. We have our answer: Raiders.

Williams may be the top rookie defensive end but Edwards not far behind. Meanwhile Cooper blew away the field as the top rookie receiver. Devin Smith, on the other hand, posting just 9 catches on 28 targets for 115 yards on the season despite appearing in 10 games with 3 starts. Leaving little doubt the Raiders made the right choice in their WR/DE top two pick combo.

As for how Edwards earned a spot on the All Rookie team, he started 10 games this season first alongside Justin Tuck and then replacing him. When he replaced Tuck, Edwards came on strong very quickly. He had lost some 20 pounds from his Florida State days and suddenly a over 300-pound man who could do a backflip was now a 285-pound force to be reckoned with. He suffered a neck injury late in the season which of some concern, but should he recover from it fully, he could be something special.

Grade: A

Round 3

Clive Walford, TE, Miami

An injury is pre-camp warm-ups caused Walford to miss most of camp and set him back some. By midseason he was catching his stride and making catches reserved for rarified air among tight ends.

He was billed as the complete package, though his blocking was not celebrated. Some of the top tight ends are such because of their receiving skills alone, but Walford proved what he had said and what his coaches believed; that he was a proficient blocker as well.

He didn't burst out the gates and light the world on fire like the two gentlemen chosen ahead of him in this draft by the Raiders, but he showed immense potential. With six catches for 88 yards over the first eight games, he then put up 22 catches for 241 yards over the final eight games for a total of 28 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns on the season,

Grade: A-

Round 4

Jon Feliciano, OG, Miami

This pick was considered a bit of a reach from the start. With a desperate need at right guard, they may have reached a bit by grabbing Feliciano. With that guard spot wide open, it was up to Feliciano to take it. Not once in OTA's, minicamp, or training camp did he crack the first team. At times it was Khalif Barnes ahead of him or Matt McCants, and ultimately it was J'Marcus Webb who was the starter.

Late in the season, with the injury to Austin Howard, Webb was shifted to right tackle and Feliciano was put into the starting lineup where he spent the final three games of the season. It was not a great success. The Raiders still have a question mark at right guard.

Grade: D+

Round 5

Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas

When the Raiders selected Miles Burris in the fourth round three years ago, what they hoped to get out of him was what Ben Heeney gave the team as a rookie - an instinctive, versatile linebacker who can line up inside or outside, take good angles and close on a ball carrier quickly.

That's what Heeney was known for coming out of Kansas. Unfortunately he had this whole ‘missed tackles' thing hanging over him. Last season he showed little sign that reputation would follow him into the pros. What struck me was his infectious enthusiasm.

As the season went on, he received more and more playing time and made the most of it. It remains to be seen if he can be an every down linebacker at this level. But as a fill in and special teamer last season, he got off to a very promising start.

Grade: B
Neiron Ball, LB, Florida

Injuries at the college level are a major reason why Ball was never able to make a name for himself at the college level. And it caused him to tumble in the draft. Scouts who had watched him had good things to say about his talent. Not to mention his character and incredible story.

By week four, the team had begun to lose its faith in middle linebacker, Curtis Lofton. They also had a major issue with covering the tight end (Lofton was a major liability there). So, they moved Malcolm Smith inside and brought in Neiron Ball to start at the outside linebacker spot. Tight end coverage improved immensely. But just as the team thought they had something in Ball, he injured his knee and didn't return. Perhaps a sign of the injury issues that had him fall in the draft and therefore a sign of things to come. If he can stay healthy, there is clearly talent there.

Grade: B

Round 6

Max Valles, DE, Virginia

Valles came out of college too early. He put up 8 sacks as a junior, got bad advice, and decided to make the jump to the pros. He needed another year to develop his talent and I lauded the pick for his potential down the road. Clearly the Bills thought so too because while the Raiders set about giving him that year to develop on the practice squad, the Bills swooped in and signed him late in the season. Thus the Raiders watched their 6th round pick shuffle off to Buffalo.

Grade: C-

Round 7

Anthony Morris, OT, Tennessee State

With the first pick of the 7th round, the Raiders went with a real unknown. It would appear Reggie McKenzie, being a Tennessee native, thought he would uncover a local gem in Morris. It wasn't to be as Morris didn't make the team out of camp. As far as the draft, they had yet to address the glaring need at cornerback.

Grade: D-
Andre Debose, WR/KR, Florida

Three picks later, the Raiders went about filling their need at returner which is a pretty good time to do that. Debose was looking pretty impressive in OTA's as a return man and had the edge for the job come the season. But before he could even set foot in training camp, he tore his Achilles and landed on injured reserve. He will give it another go next season and we'll get a better idea of what kind of talent he can be.

Grade: C
Dexter McDonald, CB, Kansas

Waiting until the final pick in the draft to address the Raiders glaring issues at cornerback was not a good idea. Then there is the weird situation where the Raiders doubled up on players from Miami, Florida, and Kansas. McDonald at least made the team, which I suppose is as much as can be expected right away from a late seventh round pick.

Grade: C

Overall draft

It's easy to criticize a draft that didn't see a cornerback taken until the final pick. Especially on a team that had an extremely weak secondary. You can also criticize the team not taking a running back or not addressing the right guard spot until the fourth round.

The counter argument would be, who of the top three picks would you have not drafted in favor of going for a cornerback or guard? The answer is none. Those top three picks were superb. Though they say you win the draft in the later rounds. The fifth round linebackers both showed great potential, but after that, it didn't work out so well, with just one player in the last four picks even on the active roster at any point last season.

Grade: B-