With free agency right around the corner, some of the Raiders’ needs are sure to be filled. But others require depth or immediate answers, and at the Combine this weekend the potential draftees showed what they can do. Some might be just what the doctor ordered in the eyes of Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie and new head coach Jon Gruden.
The Raiders will have top-ten picks in every round and several sixth-round selections. They have an opportunity to restock the cupboard with some quality players at several different positions. So who should the Raiders be looking at in each round? I won’t be including players who I don’t believe will be available, like Minkah Fitzpatrick or Saquon Barkley.
The Raiders’ primary needs are on defense, and they don’t need a quarterback, which gives them an ideal spot in this draft, which is heavy on quarterbacks and quality defensive players. But whose name will be on that card in April?
Vita Vea, DT, Washington
It seems as though the Raiders haven’t had a dominant defensive tackle in ages. Richard Seymour played well for the Raiders, but that was years ago and Oakland has never adequately replaced him. Justin Ellis has underachieved, while Eddie Vanderdoes showed tremendous potential but will need to refine his technique to be a force in the NFL. And neither are the prospect that the 6’4”, 347-pound Vea is.
Vea ran a 5.10 forty and did a whopping 41 reps on the bench press, so it’s clear he’s one of the most freakish athletes in this or any class. He has short-ish arms at 32 5/8”, but his job would be to command a double or triple team at the line of scrimmage and free up the Raiders’ pass-rushers.
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
The Ohio State corner solidified his standing as the top CB in the draft with a 4.32 forty to go with a 11-4 broad jump. He is hyper-athletic despite being on the smaller side at 5’11” and only 183 pounds. Ward is excellent in press coverage and has good instincts when off the ball, but can struggle against larger receivers. Ward’s size might make him an ideal fit at slot corner, which would make him even more appealing to the Raiders should they sign a free agent corner and lose TJ Carrie.
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Anyone who watched the College Football Playoff knows who Smith is. He was instrumental in Georgia’s semifinal win over Oklahoma, going side-to-side against the Sooner’s powerful offensive attack with a quickness seldom seen from a middle linebacker. Smith measured out at 6’1” and 236 pounds, which is just right for an inside backer. Smith’s forty time of 4.51 is exceptional, but a hamstring injury kept him out of further drills. Smith absolutely leaps off the screen on game film and will add a dynamic dimension to any team- especially the linebacker-hungry Raiders.
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
A guy many feel is the top linebacker in the draft even over Roquan Smith, Edmunds ran a 4.55 at 6’4” and 253, which is downright freakish. Edmunds is a solid tackler and is above average in coverage. He is already massive but has potential to get even more muscular. He compares favorably to all-time greats like Brian Urlacher and Lawrence Taylor from a physical and talent standpoint.
Edmunds will need to work on his mental game. He isn’t quick to diagnose plays and can be tricked by misdirection. He will need to be more technically sound in sealing an edge, but a good coaching staff could turn him into an All-Pro. Edmunds might have the highest potential of any player in this draft regardless of position.
The Raiders own Pick 41 in the second round, and Reggie McKenzie has had an abysmal record with his second round selections. Menelik Watson, Jihad Ward and Obi Melifonwu have been underwhelming or hurt, which is disastrous since the second round is where the best value selections can be found. This is a round where the Raiders might look for offensive help. The best player who might be available at this juncture is UTEP guard Will Hernandez, but that’s the last place Oakland needs help.
Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Michel ran for 1,227 yards as a backup in 2017 for the Bulldogs, making him an ideal part of the running back by committee approach employed by the Raiders. He is a home-run hitter who ran a 4.54 at 5’11” and 214. Michel is excellent against the blitz and has enough power to bowl defenders over and finish runs.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
Freeman has roughly the same measurements as Michel, at 5’11” and running a 4.55, but Freeman is a monster at 229 pounds. He is the all-time leading rushing touchdown scorer in Pac-12 history. He is suited to a zone rushing scheme, but his power, instincts and nose for the end zone will lead him to success in any offense. He compares favorably to Arian Foster,
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Kirk is an ideal slot receiver at 5’10” and 201 pounds, running a 4.47 forty. The Raiders have two third receivers in Cordarrelle Patterson and Seth Roberts, but Patterson is tall for the slot and Roberts is wildly inconsistent. Kirk is the type of explosive, dynamic player who can really elevate the Raider offense, and can also return kicks and punts.
Equinameous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
Remember when the Raiders had a tall receiver in Andre Holmes? Well, St. Brown is 6’5” and 214 pounds and runs a 4.48 forty, which makes him the sort of freakish talent the Raiders haven’t had at receiver since the days of Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. St. Brown’s father is a former Mr. Universe and Equinameous is fluent in English, German and Dutch. He has the size and skillset of such luminaries as AJ Green and Julio Jones. If the Raiders miss out on Equinameous, they might be able to draft his two younger brothers, Osiris and Amon-Ra in future seasons.
Da’Shawn Hand, DL, Alabama
Hand is the former #1 high school recruit in the country, and ran a 4.93 at 6’4” and 297 pounds. He’s basically a millionaire’s Denico Autry, and would be quality depth at any spot along the Raiders defensive line. The reason Hand is so under the radar is that Alabama’s defensive line has had numerous first-round studs over the last few years and Hand isn’t quite on the level as a prospect as someone like Jonathan Allen was. He can start right away and make an impact.
Tyrell Crosby, OT, Oregon
One of the long-term weak spots for the Raiders is at tackle, and one of the top tackle prospects in this draft is Crosby. Although he played in a zone scheme for the Ducks, Crosby is a bulldozer at 6’5”, 309 pounds with 35 1⁄4 inch arms. He is the best run blocking tackle in this draft bar none. He also excels in pass protection and finishes blocks with violence. He’s a little light for the left tackle spot, but would be an ideal right tackle.
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Jefferson is built like a prototypical linebacker at 6’2”, 236 pounds and ran a 4.55 forty. His production didn’t match his hype at Texas until his final year, when he played with a more attacking style. He can absolutely take over games at times, although he can be overpowered by blockers and needs to work on shedding them and getting to the ball. He has starter potential and could be a steal if his team plays to his strengths.
Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF
The star of the Combine was Griffin, who posted a 4.38 forty time, the fastest ever run by a linebacker at the combine. On one hand, Griffin was a leader of the undefeated Knights and is a physical freak. On the other hand... well, he doesn’t have one. Griffin plays with only one hand, and if the Raiders took him here, perhaps they could install a hook.
Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
Callaway was one of the Gators who was busted by the University for that whole “credit card fraud” business, but when he was on the field he was one of the few Gators who could make an offensive impact. He is a dynamic receiver and return man, and he has decent size at 5’11” and 200 pounds although he is skinny and certainly could stand to bulk up. His 4.41 forty was amongst the top times for a wideout at this Combine.
Fifth Round and Beyond
The Raiders have six sixth rounders, and there is no chance in hell they are going to actually use all six. The later rounds are where Reggie likes to unearth small-school gems, and here are some guys the Raiders might take a look at here.
Alex Cappa, OL, Humboldt State
Cappa is a physical marvel at 6’7”, 305 pounds. The blond-maned tackle turned scouts’ heads at the Senior Bowl and performed well in Combine drills, showing off his athleticism and strength with a 5.39 forty and 24 reps on the bench press. Cappa will have to adjust to drastically superior competition, but his Senior Bowl practices suggest he can handle it.
Quin Blanding, S, Virginia
Blanding is a gamer, having been a four-year starter for the Cavaliers with over 100 tackles in each of his seasons. Blanding is excellent in deep coverage and is a solid tackler, although he won’t bury anyone into the turf with a bone-jarring hit like Karl Joseph will. He’s a rangy ballhawk at 6’2”, 207 pounds but doesn’t possess elite speed with a 4.64 forty.
Darren Carrington II, WR, Utah
Carrington is a transfer from the Oregon Ducks who exhibited big-play ability in college. He didn’t run at the Combine, but measured out at 6’2” and 199 pounds with a 10-0 broad jump. His father Darren played eight years in the NFL, mainly for San Diego, and Darren has the talent to be a late-round steal.