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2017 NFL Draft: Raiders five biggest needs, potential targets

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders have started out the 2016 season with a 5-2 record and are looking to make their first appearance in the playoffs in 14 years. But as is the case with every team, there is always room for improvement. Here are the five positions the Raiders need the most help, and some players that can solve the problem.

Middle Linebacker

When a free agent just signed by the team instantly becomes the starting middle linebacker, there is a problem. Perry Riley has proven to be a nice signing, but he is also 28 years old and does not provide a long-term solution to the Raiders hole at the position. Malcom Smith's struggles have continued in 2016 and he is playing in the final year of his contract. Cory James and Ben Heeney haven't shown enough for the coaches to confidently play them in the starting rotation.

Middle linebacker is one of, if not the most important position on the defense and the Raiders haven't had a quality one since Kirk Morrison. Adding an impact player that can quarterback the defense would substantially improve the communication issues the Silver and Black have faced.

Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster is the unquestioned leader at the position in the 2017 NFL Draft but it is highly unlikely he will be available when the Raiders are projected to pick at the end of the first round. Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt is an extremely instinctive play that could be an option. The two other players that should be in consideration are Florida's Jarrad Davis and Ohio State's Raekwon McMillan as both resemble the playing style of Patriot's linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

Offensive Tackle

If middle linebacker is the Raiders most prominent need, offensive tackle isn't far behind. Neither Menelik Watson nor Austin Howard have shown the capability of staying healthy, and veteran Donald Penn is 33-years old. Watson will be a free agent at the end of the season and Penn has one more year on his contract.

The only offensive tackle that merits a first round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft is Alabama's Cam Robinson. The 6'6", 327 lb behemoth fits the breed of offensive lineman that Jack Del Rio and Mike Tice love. Like the Raiders offensive line, Robinson also plays with a nasty edge and buries defensive lineman on run plays. His biggest issue comes in pass blocking as he needs to improve his technique.


The Raiders used their 14th overall pick last season on Karl Joseph in hopes he would improve their depth at the safety position. Joseph has played fairly well in 2016 and should continue to develop into one of the better safeties in the NFL. Meanwhile, Reggie Nelson who was also brought in to upgrade the position hasn't been able to cover air.

Safeties are extremely important to the success of a defense, especially in Ken Norton's scheme as both Sean Smith and David Amerson are slower cornerbacks that often need help over the top. Pairing another talented player with Joseph would sure up the position for years to come.

The Silver and Black's best bet would be Ohio State's Malik Hooker who is a big play waiting to happen. The ball-hawking safety already has four interceptions through seven games to start the year. Hooker also boasts the size (6'2", 205 lbs) that the Raiders coaches love.

Defensive Tackle

The Raiders run defense has been atrocious thus far, and one of the main reasons is because the play of the defensive tackles is severely lacking. Dan Williams and Justin Ellis were both brought in to stop the run, yet the Raiders best player at the position this season has been Stacy McGee. It is pathetic when both Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin draw extra attention, and yet the interior defensive line still cannot make plays.

Yes, Jihad Ward is improving and Mario Edwards returns week 9, but this team could really benefit from a true playmaking defensive tackle.

Remember when Raider fans were praying for the team to draft Star Lotulelei? The team now has a chance to pick his younger brother Lowell who is widely considered the best defensive tackle that would be available when the Raiders select. Lotulei is both incredibly strong yet surprisingly fast which helps him impact both the run and pass game.

Running Back

Latavius Murray is in the final year of his contract and the Raiders would be wise to move on at the end of the season. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard have proven to be great complementary running backs, but neither is a bell-cow. The Raiders aren't desperate at the position, but the 2017 class is stacked at the position and the Silver and Black could look to upgrade the position in a big way.

With five possible first round talents (Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Royce Freeman, Nick Chubb), there is plenty of top talent available in the upcoming draft. But due to the devaluation of the position, only two or three of those names will likely be picked day one. That means one of them could be available when the Raiders select at the end of the second round, or even possibly the third.

Freeman and Chubb are both extremely talented and fit the mold of a bell-cow running back, while McCaffrey is a touchdown waiting to happen and would fit nicely into the Raiders spread scheme. If the Raiders can get their hands on any of these players after the first round, it would be a huge win and add a whole different dimension to the offense.