We haven’t put out a top five need positions piece since before the start of free agency in which the Raiders went about adding a few starters at key positions. Most notably, they helped out the wide receiver position, offensive tackle spot, and cornerback.
With the draft a little over two weeks away, it’s time to put together the updated top five team needs. Actually, better make that six, because it’s just not possible to narrow it down to five.
1. Edge rusher
The need here has remained unchanged which is easily the most stunning non-development of this offseason. It’s getting tiresome repeating the same stats the Raiders had at the position, but being that they have not added any help here, it bears repeating. They had a league-low 13 sacks last season. That’s 17.0 sacks fewer than the next fewest. Only ONE of their 13 sacks belongs to an edge rusher currently on the team (Arden Key). To the draft they go needing to probably make a desperation move in order to ensure they get one or more edge rushers. Luckily the class is deep, but that doesn’t mean they’re all surefire winners.
2. Tight end
With Jared Cook in Oakland, the Raiders were set at the tight end spot. They could’ve drafted someone complement him as well as eventually replace him, but it was dire. But they didn’t re-sign Cook. He was allowed to leave and signed with the Saints. So, now they desperately need a replacement. Readers made this position the narrow favorite as the biggest need on offense. Can’t argue that. Jon Gruden has said Darren Waller will have a great opportunity, but that’s just talk. There’s no way they let this team go into next season hoping Waller is the answer. He showed some skill late last season, but not enough to putting the receiving tight end job squarely in his hands.
Outside of the obvious need at edge rusher, the readers deemed this the team’s largest need on defense. And I agree. They signed Vontaze Burfict who was cut by the Bengals and Brandon Marshall who was let go by the Broncos. Both were signed to 1-year deals. They don’t solve the need at the position, they merely put the team in a better position in terms of need in the draft. They are insurance in case they aren’t able to get the linebacker they want or need to give that player time to develop.
Two seasons removed from being named an All Pro, the Raiders deemed Kelechi Osemele no longer worth his contract and traded him to the Jets to move up from the 6th to the 5th round. They re-signed Denzelle Good, who played well in a couple games late last season, but that — like the linebacker additions — merely assures they have an insurance plan in place in case they can’t get the guy they want in the draft or that player needs time to develop.
5. Running back
This is an interesting position need. None of the top backs joined the Raiders this offseason, leaving them without a starter for months. Then the Jets signed LeVeon Bell and let go of Isaiah Crowell and the Raiders scooped him up. Crowell is a proven starter, albeit perhaps not a proven workhorse. Though he signed a 1-year deal, he could be the guy if necessary. Also the team has left the door open for Marshawn Lynch to return, saying that it depends on what they do in the draft. Many mock drafts have them picking a running back in the first round. I’m of two minds about that. Not at the expense of greater needs and often times good backs can be found later.
On paper it looks like the Raiders have a greater need at cornerback than safety. In reality, that’s not the case. The reason for the confusion is the addition of Lamarcus Joyner and his role. Though listed as a safety, he will be primarily lining up at nickel corner covering the slot. That was a major need the Raiders had and the addition of Joyner fills it. They also added Nevin Lawson to the cornerback rotation. Where there is a need is at strong safety. Currently they have Karl Joseph and Erik Harris as the penciled in starters. Both showed well late last season but it’s Joseph who was a former top pick and therefore still carries a potentially high ceiling. Joyner (5-8) and Joseph (5-10) are both small stature guys so what they need is a larger, big hitting strong safety who can cover tight ends.