When attempting to predict the 2016 NFL Draft, the majority of draft analysts have the Oakland Raiders addressing a primary need (cornerback, middle linebacker, offensive tackle) in the first round. But recently, a new player has been thrown into the mix.
Some recent mock drafts have had the Raiders selecting Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, most notably those by NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, SB Nation's Dan Kadar, and USA Today.
Elliot is the highest rated running back in the 2016 NFL Draft and is arguably the top offensive player as well. But would it be worth passing up a glaring need to select the talented running back?
Lost among the primary needs of bolstering the secondary, offensive line, and linebacking corps is that the Raiders have no reliable running backs outside of Latavius Murray. While Murray finished second in the AFC with 1,066 yards rushing, the Raiders as a whole ended the 2015 season ranked 28th in total rushing yards (1,457) and 22nd in yards per attempt (3.9). The result was that the offense relied on Derek Carr and the passing game much more than they should have.
One of the crucial ways to help in the development of a young quarterback is to surround him with talent and take pressure off him. Carr improved drastically last season as Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Clive Walford, and Rodney Hudson were all added to the offense. But a successful rushing attack is vital to take pressure off the quarterback. If the Raiders invested their first round pick in a top-notch running back, this problem would be solved quickly.
Despite being the focus of opposing defenses, Ezekiel Elliott generated monster stats the past two seasons as Ohio State's starting running back. His three consecutive 200-yard rushing performances against Wisconsin, Oregon, and Alabama were a huge reason the Buckeyes won the BCS National Championship in 2015.
One of the most impressive elements that Elliott brings to the table is that he has no weaknesses. Even as a blocker, Ohio State Head Coach told NFL Network that, "He (Elliott) is the best player I've ever coached without the ball in his hands. He's the best as far as blocking, pass protection, and effort down the field."
Pairing the talented running back with Derek Carr and Amari Cooper would give the Raiders a young nucleus and one of the most lethal offenses in the NFL for years to come. In addition, Latavius Murray would give the Raiders depth and versatility as the position.
There is a realistic possibility Ezekiel Elliott will be available when the Raiders select in the first round, and there is an even better chance he would be the highest graded player on their board.
As the 2015 season progressed, it became quickly evident that the Silver & Black needed upgrades across the secondary. Positions of need include middle linebacker, left tackle, and right guard.
If the Raiders spend their first round pick on a running back, they would miss the opportunity to fill one of the gaping holes across their roster. Players such as Mackensie Alexander, Eli Apple, or Taylor Decker may not be as skilled as Elliott, but they would fill bigger needs than a running back could.
Of course, there is the argument that the Raiders will address these holes in free agency and they may. But that could also be said about the running back position too as there are some talented options the Raiders have to choose from. And with approximately $66 million in cap space after the Marquette King extension, Jack Del Rio and his staff could have the pick of the litter.
Then, the Raiders could turn around in the draft and address another position of need with their first round pick instead of using it on a player that fills a lesser hole.