Saturday marks the start of the College Football Playoff. The semi-finals will feature No. 4 Oklahoma against No. 1 LSU in the Peach Bowl at 4 PM ET/1 PM PT, followed by the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl pitting No. 3 Clemson versus No. 2 Ohio State at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT.
All four teams have future first round picks on on the roster, and loads of Day 2 and 3 draft picks. In fact, it is conceivable that each of the four teams could have multiple first round picks in April’s NFL Draft.
As well coached as all four teams are — from recruiting to development to smart schemes — it is blue chip talent almost across the board that has these four teams vying for a national championship.
After taking three players who played in last year’s CFP National Championship Game, Raiders general manager Mike Mayock received an immediate reputation for taking players from championship-level programs — and some chided him for it.
Whether you agree with the philosophy or not, it is pretty clear Mayock and his staff, as aided by Jon Gruden and the coaching staff, will be spending a ton of time devouring the tape of these two games, and the subsequent championship game, set for Monday Jan. 13 in New Orleans.
We won’t know what they’ll see, or what conclusions they come to, ultimately till April. But it is possible to name at least one player from each school who would look good in silver and black in 2020 and beyond.
Here is my attempt to do so.
No. 4 Oklahoma: WR CeeDee Lamb
While defensive tackle Neville Gallimore, and possibly even quarterback Jalen Hurts, would make sense for the Raiders, it is CeeDee Lamb who makes the most sense of anyone on the Oklahoma roster to potentially wear the silver and black next season.
The case for him is simple. He’s the best wide receiver, in my opinion, in a wide receiver class that might go down as one of the greatest of all-time. He has tremendous size (6-foot-2, 189 pounds with room to grow), speed (projected 4.45 40-yard dash), and hands. He is great with the ball in his hands and projects as a No. 1 receiver in any offense by day one of his second season (receivers generally make the greatest leap from year one to year two anyway).
With the Raiders slated to be drafting north of 16 with their own selection if they beat the Broncos on Sunday, and the Chicago Bears’ pick in the same vicinity, they may simply be praying he falls into their lap.
Then again, if they fall in love with Lamb, and he drops past No. 8 or 9, a trade up into the draft could make sense. with the variety and depth of this year’s class, teams may decide they can wait till the second round to broach the position, which could work in the Raiders’ favor, but still remains unlikely.
Don’t fall in love with this Lamb, because the likelihood he ends up wearing Silver and Black is slim. But if he were to make it to them, they’d have to pull the trigger. Adding him to the Raiders’ offense would take them from above average at times to downright scary.
Others to watch: DT Neville Gallimore, QB Jalen Hurts, LB Kenneth Murray
No. 3 Clemson, LB/S Isaiah Simmons
It’s difficult to avoid with Clemson. Though there is NFL talent all over the field, Isaiah Simmons stands out as a freak amongst them. Much like Myles Jack or Shaq Thompson, Simmons will enter the NFL “position-less”. That’s because, like them, he is a safety in a linebacker’s body.
Those two were primarily coverage linebackers. Simmons really does it all. He is a really good player in coverage, but also excels playing along the line of scrimmage defending the run and rushing the passer.
He is a hybrid in the truest sense of the term. For a Raiders defense devoid of playmaking talent, outside of Maxx Crosby, Simmons would be a breath of fresh air and a shot in the arm for whoever takes the reins of the Raiders’ defensive unit in 2020.
At 6-foot-3, 230 lbs. he is the ideal size for today’s linebacker who is expected to go sideline-to-sideline, cover backs and tight ends, and still be able to rush the passer.
Like Lamb, he has one year of college eligibility remaining, but it’s almost impossible to see him using that. He’s a “lottery pick”, if such a thing existed in the NFL Draft.
Others to watch: WR Tee Higgins, OG Tremayne Achrum, OG Gage Cervenka
No. 2 Ohio State, LB Tuf Borland
Names mean something. Tuf Borland is not the star of the Ohio State defense. He’s probably their third or fourth best player on that side of the ball. But that name. He just sounds like a linebacker, and certainly like a linebacker Jon Gruden would want.
Coming into the 2019 season, the redshirt junior had displayed unreal toughness, but was not seen as a three-down linebacker. To some extent, that verdict remains. But there is no question, Tuf is tough.
He’s a likely day-three pick who could become an exemplary special teams player, and with a little development, a quality starting outside linebacker.
So he’s not Chase Young. The Raiders are not getting Young, unless they give up all of the draft capital they stored up over the past couple seasons. And then they would have to either move Clelin Ferrell inside permanently or ship him out. That’s not going to happen.
Others to watch: CB Jeff Okudah, CB Damon Arnette, WR Chris Olave
No. 1 LSU, CB Kristian Fulton
I’ll get it out of the way now. There’s a 0.0 percent chance Joe Burrow ends up in silver and black, even though his skillset, leadership, and moxie seem to be precisely what Jon Gruden looks for in a quarterback. He really would look great in Gruden’s offense. But moving up to No. 1, or even No. 2, would require way too much draft capital, and require a blockbuster trade of Carr, two things that together are difficult to get done prior to the draft.
Back to reality, though, the Raiders should be eyeing a number of players not named Burrow who happen to be his college teammate. Safety Grant Delpit doesn’t really fit though, as he’s basically a clone of Jonathan Abram. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson is currently being touted as a potential first-round pick, and could likely be had with the team’s second pick of the round. There are almost too many others to name, those are just the other likely first rounders.
But the obvious choice is Kristian Fulton. Fulton infamously got in trouble and did not play his first two seasons at LSU due to an incident where he was deemed to have tampered with a PED test.
By all accounts, since being reinstated to the LSU Football team he has been a model citizen and has nothing else NFL teams would concern themselves with character-wise. And he’s been an exceptional player.
He’s been overshadowed in his two-year playing career by the aforementioned Delpit, Greedy Williams (a second round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2019), and this year by freshman sensation Derek Stingley Jr., who starts at the opposite corner. Stingley, without question, has the talent to be a top-five pick and follow in the tradition of former Raider great Charles Woodson as a two-way star in college and dynamic defensive playmaker.
You may already know about Stingley and Delpit. You need to know about Fulton. Out of respect from opponents, Fulton sees about half as many throws in his direction as Stingley. That’s part of the reason Fulton doesn’t put up all-world numbers.
It’s also a big part of why he’s close to a lock as a first-round pick. He doesn’t have the potentially dynamic playmaking ability of Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah, or the coverage versatility of Florida’s C.J. Henderson. What he does possess is the ability to lock receivers up one-on-one.
Having Fulton join Trayvon Mullen and Daryl Worley would make the defensive line’s job easier. It would also give the Raiders more opportunities to create turnovers, especially if they went with a playmaker such as Simmons the pick prior.
Others to watch: WR Justin Jefferson, DT Rashard Lawrence, OG Damien Lewis, OG Adrian Magee, EDGE/OLB K’Lavon Chaisson