After a free agency period in which the Raiders signed four of NFL Network's top available free agents, the Raiders enter the 2016 NFL Draft with no major needs. While the Raiders will have the flexibility to draft the top player on their board, there are some positions the Raiders could look to improve depth. So without further ado, I am going to put on my general manager hat and mock the Raiders 2016 NFL Draft.
First Round (14th overall)
Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
With the assumption that both Ezekiel Elliott and Ronnie Stanley have already been drafted, the next player on the Raiders Big Board is Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander. While the Raiders prefer larger cornerbacks, they already have three starters over 6'0" and can afford to draft a smaller cornerback with elite man coverage skills.
Throughout the 2015 season, Alexander allowed just 19 receptions on 58 targets for 258 yards, 95 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, and a passer rating of 48.7 according to Pro Football Focus. After holding Notre Dame's Will Fuller to one catch and shutting down Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard back to back years, Alexander has established himself as arguably the best cornerback in the 2016 NFL Draft. Playing against top receivers doesn't faze him as he practiced against Clemson's talented receivers (Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Mike Thomas) for three years.
Alexander is a competitor and he demonstrated his football savvy and confidence in his impressive combine press conference and in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar.
The Clemson defensive back is the closest thing to a "shut-down" cornerback in this draft as his man coverage skills are second to none. Often asked to play on an island, Alexander is no stranger to shadowing the opponent's top receiver. In addition to his coverage skills, Alexander is also highly physical for the position in run support.
While the 5'10", 190 lb cornerback may struggle against tall receivers in the NFL, the Raiders have the flexibility to assign Sean Smith (6'3") or David Amerson (6'3") to those players similar to how the Broncos use Aqib Talib to cover larger receivers. Overall, Mackensie Alexander reminds me a lot of Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. who is considered one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL despite his small stature.
Second Round (44th overall)
Darian Thompson, S, Boise State
The signing of Reggie Nelson in Oakland helped alleviate the loss of Charles Woodson, but the Raiders badly need depth at the safety position. With West Virginia safety Karl Joseph likely already picked, the Raiders turn their attention to the next best safety in the draft. At 6'1", 208 lbs, Darian Thompson fits the mold the Silver and Black prefer in their defensive backs. His staggering 19 career interceptions are tied for the most of any player in the country and makes him the all-time leader in Boise State history.
Thompson is an aggressive safety that plays with a physical mind-set. He loves contact and plays at a very fast speed. Thompson is arguably the best cover safety in his class and has excellent ball skills as his 19 interceptions can attest. The three-year starter is also a leader on the field and is, "a guy you want to be around all the time," according to a teammate.
Thompson has the anticipation and experience to read quarterbacks and make plays on the ball, but his biggest knock is that he takes too many chances and has allowed big gains as a result. With a little coaching, Thompson has the instincts, aggressiveness, and ball skills to become a quality starter in the NFL.
Third Round (75th overall)
Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame
The 2016 defensive tackle class is the deepest position in the draft. As a result, there will be several quality players available on day 2 that might be taken later than their talent merits. One of these prospects is Notre Dame defensive tackle Sheldon Day. The 6'1", 293 lb defensive tackle may fall because of his size, but don't be fooled because whichever team takes him is getting a stud.
A three-year starter at Notre Dame, Day may have the best hands in the entire class. Despite being a focus on the defense, Day regularly made plays in the backfield last season racking up 15.5 tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hurries, and four sacks. What he lacks for in size, Day makes up with quick reflexes and an explosive first step. The two-year captain was highly respected at Notre Dame for his leadership and toughness.
Day may not be on the same level as Aaron Donald, but he is a tough football player that plays with tremendous effort and a high motor. On a defensive line that features two run stuffing defensive tackles, Day would give the Raiders an interior pass rusher and also offer the versatility to play defensive end.
Fourth Round (114th overall)
Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona
It was tempting to pick UCLA running back Paul Perkins here. But after much debate (with myself), the Raiders are passing on Perkins for Wright who falls in this draft because of a knee injury that caused him to miss 10 games in 2015.
The 6'0", 242-pound inside linebacker transformed himself from a two-star recruit with only one FBS offer to one of the best linebackers in the country. His 2014 season in which he finished top -five among FBS players in tackles (163), tackles for loss (29), sacks (14), and forced fumbles (6) was one of the best ever for a college football linebacker.
Wright's assessment of why teams should pick him in the Players Tribune is a testament to his leadership and confidence, two traits vital to the success of a middle linebacker. He may lack the athleticism and size of his peers, but he makes up for it with his elite instincts, effort, and aggressiveness.
Malcom Smith performed admirably as the Raiders starting middle linebacker in 2015, and the coaching staff likes what Ben Heeney brings to the table. But the Raiders could still use another inside linebacker and Wright could become an instant starter next to Smith. He has the mentality and work ethic it takes to lead a defense and gain respect in the locker room. It should also be noted that Reggie McKenzie has taken chances on players with injury history in the past as he drafted both Neiron Ball and T.J. Carrie in the later rounds.
Fifth Round (143rd overall)
Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama
One of the reasons Oakland passes on Paul Perkins in the fourth round is because Alabama running back Kenyan Drake might still be there in the fifth. While Drake has been labeled a first round talent by an NFL evaluator, the majority of analysts project him to come off the board in the fifth round. One of the reasons behind that is because his collegiate career has been plagued with injuries including a broken left leg in 2014. But the Raiders don't need a workhorse running back, they need a player that can complement Latavius Murray to create a dangerous duo in the backfield.
With his combination of speed, agility, quickness, and consistent hands, Drake is the perfect weapon to complement Latavius Murray. Running backs that are threats in the passing game are more valuable than ever and Drake is a great receiver, especially as a mismatch out of the backfield. Drake doesn't have the durability or size to be an every-down running back in the NFL. But just as he was with Heisman running back Derrick Henry, he can be a lethal complementary back that is a threat to score on any given play. Drake is a gadget player on offense who also adds value on special teams as a returner.
Fifth Round (154th overall)
Daniel Braverman, WR, Western Michigan
The two most important traits for a receiver are being able to catch, and getting open. Per Pro Football Focus, Braverman recorded just 11 drops in 198 catchable passes thrown his way between 2014 and 2015. His 3.27 yards per route from the slot was the best mark of any receiver in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The primary criticism of Braverman is that he doesn't have elite speed (even though he ran a 4.47 40-yard dash) and is limited to playing the slot because of his small frame (5'10", 177 lbs). That doesn't matter because playing the slot is why the Raiders would be drafting him. His soft hands and hand-eye coordination helped him accumulate the second-most catches the past two seasons combined at the FBS level. The shifty receiver also provides special teams value as he is a dangerous kickoff and punt returner.
If you think Braverman was only successful because of the lower level competition and can't compete against top talent, think again. He tore up an Ohio State defense that could see as many as eight players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft. If you can burn the Ohio State defense for 10 receptions, 123 yards and a touchdown, you can get open in the NFL. He also had a great 50-yard reception in the game that was called back for holding.
Sixth Round (194th overall)
Devin Lucien, WR, Arizona State
Even though the Raiders just took a wide receiver in the fifth round, they're selecting another receiver because there is too much value here to pass up. Lucien may have the best hands in the entire draft as he had just three dropped passes on 98 targets in 2015 and two drops in 2014 per Pro Football Focus. He is so under the radar, that he doesn't even have a highlight tape and the only draft website with any information on him is Pro Football Focus with a detailed scouting report.
After totaling 1,074 receiving yards in the PAC 12 in 2015, the only reason I think Lucien is still under the radar is because aside from his hands, he does not have any special traits. Instead, he is an all-around receiver that is good at everything and has no major weaknesses. The 6'2", 195 lb Lucien eliminated any questions of his speed after he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at Arizona State's pro day. The product of poor quarterback play, Lucien's only productive season at Arizona State was his senior year. The Raiders are in a great position to draft for pure value, and Lucien provides tons of it in the sixth round. His excellent hands and lack of any major weakness should make him a productive receiver in the NFL.
Seventh Round (234th overall)
Joe Thuney, OT, NC State
Joe Thuney posted the second fastest 40-yard dash (4.95) at the NFL scouting combine. But his most impressive time may be that he can solve a rubix cube in 58 seconds. Those smarts are one of the many reasons why he can play any position on the offensive line.
Per Pro Football Focus, Thuney graded as a top-20 guard in 2014 and a top-five offensive tackle in 2015. Thuney allowed just seven total pressures on 507 pass-blocking attempts throughout the 2015 season. His lack of arm length (32 14"), small stature (6'5" but only 304 lbs), and lack of foot quickness will push his stock down possibly to the seventh round. But despite the imperfections, Thuney's hard work developed him into one of the better offensive tackles statistically in the nation. His position flexibility and work ethic could lead to a future potential starting role or a rotational piece on the offensive line. As Khalif Barnes has showed, offensive lineman that can play multiple positions are valuable pieces and the Raiders add another one in Thuney.