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A response to Matt Miller’s claim that Raiders ‘will go defense and wide receiver’ in first round of 2020 draft

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Miller says it is likely to be a linebacker and wide receiver

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Oklahoma vs Louisiana State Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

IT’S DRAFT TIME! For people like me, that means it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

I’m not big on reading major outlets for draft coverage until I’ve done my own research. But Matt Miller of Bleacher Report provides a solid balance of being plugged-in with league sources and teams, while being a scout himself. Miller penned his (mostly) post-Bowl game Scouting Notebook for the world to see on Friday. Here’s what he had to say about the Raiders’ potential first round haul.

Matt Miller—Bleacher Report

Needless to say, there’s a lot to dissect here.

First and foremost, as already implied, it’s so early that it’s hard to imagine teams know exactly what they’re going to do yet. Most likely, teams not in the playoffs are still working on their free agency and contingency plans. Once those are established they can really begin assessing the needs aspect of their draft boards.

Yet everything Miller stated about the Raiders is logical. If the Raiders did want to move on from Derek Carr this offseason, there’s only one quarterback in the first round who would make sense to fill his shoes. And even Lloyd Christmas isn’t dumb enough to believe there’s a chance he’s coming to Las Vegas with the Raiders.

I’ve written before that I believe the Raiders are infatuated with Tua Tagovailoa (not an idea original to me). I’ve also implied that I sense he will return to Alabama for his senior season (I have no inside sources, just a feeling based on the fact that many of Alabama’s other draft-eligible players are returning to school).

And if my prediction comes to fruition (that he stays in Tuscaloosa), things could get wild for the Raiders on draft weekend. It only makes sense for Mike Mayock and Co. to turn over every rock to put themselves in optimal position for the 2021 draft, when there will be as many as three No. 1 type quarterbacks—Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields figuring to be the others.

If it is a three-man race for No. 1 in 2021, Tua could be the third quarterback of the three drafted. That would favor the Raiders as it would require slightly less draft capital, and there would likely be fewer teams by that point looking for a quarterback (though we think that every year).

This makes the plot thicken even more. The Miami Dolphins are showing the NFL how to rebuild. You get a coach who clearly knows how to coach. You load up on draft picks. And you take a swing on as many quarterbacks as it takes until you find the guy.

Miller is likely right that Carr remains with the Raiders in 2020. And I absolutely believe they’ll trade at least one of their first round picks in this draft, hoping to acquire additional capital that they can then use in 2021 to move up to draft a quarterback.

But that shouldn’t preclude them from drafting a quarterback in the third round this year. Who? Some guy who had a quarterback competition with Tua at Alabama: Jalen Hurts.

Hear me out. I was never a big fan of Hurts at Alabama, strictly as a prospect. But in the final game he played in—the second half of the 2018 SEC Championship Game—he showed he possesses the kind of moxie and toughness you look for in a quarterback at the next level. He showed an ability to lead a team back from the depths of despair and bring triumph.

In his lone season at Oklahoma, he showed some of the same frustrating habits he displayed at Alabama. But he undoubtedly raised his stock, and nailed the door shut once and for all on Lincoln Riley’s claim to the title of “College Quarterback Whisperer”.

When you break down the film of Hurts at Oklahoma, you see a player who threw the ball with anticipation, touch, and accuracy, all while possessing more than enough arm for an NFL quarterback. And the thing any scout has to love about him, and the thing I could see Jon Gruden falling madly in love with, is his ability to make plays outside the design of the offense (the following clip is not the greatest example of this, but it does show his athleticism and playmaking ability).

If you think about most of today’s best quarterbacks in the league—Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, and dare I even say Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees—the thing above all else that takes them to another level is their ability to make something out of nothing when the play breaks down.

It’s why Joe Burrow is more than just a really nice quarterback prospect. And it’s why Hurts, I believe, has a chance to be more than just a well-known college “winner”. There are doubters, particularly about his ability to be a “win-with” quarterback at the next level.

But most great quarterbacks don’t enter the league and have immediate AND sustaining success unless they have a lot of help around them their first couple years. In the old collective bargaining agreement (CBA), teams serendipitously surrounded their young quarterbacks with great defenses and running games, rather than forcing the game into their hands. It wasn’t until a few years into their professional development that those teams began trusting guys, who would become Hall of Fame quarterbacks, to be the alpha dog who carried the team on his back. Historically, even the greatest quarterbacks take a few years to really develop.

In case you’re wondering, I’m thinking primarily of Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and in this new CBA where teams do this intentionally, Russell Wilson is the greatest and most successful long-term example to date. If the Raiders can nab one of the great young receivers in this draft and find a gem of a linebacker either in free agency or the draft, they could be the next team in line with this way of doing business. It wouldn’t matter if they found their quarterback in the third round this year, or first round next year.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

If my greatest point isn’t clear yet, I’ll state it plainly: Nothing else matters if you don’t have a franchise quarterback.

Maybe bringing in Hurts, or whoever else, lights a fire under Carr the way Phillip Rivers once lit a fire under Drew Brees. Maybe it doesn’t and Hurts shows enough promise—surrounded by one or two of the many wide receiver phenoms in this draft —to use the accrued draft capital for depth or that final missing piece at a non-quarterback position.

Miller seems to be correct, though, in his assertion the Raiders will take a wide receiver. That said, I’m cooling on anyone not named CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy in the first round—not because the others aren’t also good players, but because even among a potentially historic wide receiver class, those two stand out as special in a different way entirely.

If those two are unavailable, and that’s likely how it’ll go, I’d be surprised if the Raiders don’t either double up on defense in the first round as Miller says, and take a chance on a second round receiver after a trade back. Or as I mentioned before, trade one of their first round picks to start the 2021 “Capital Campaign” for their franchise quarterback.

Why have I spent nearly 1,500 words and mentioned zero defensive names yet? Two reasons: there aren’t that many defensive players in this draft I’m enthralled by. There are a lot of guys I like; guys who I would probably take in the third through seventh rounds, or would be ecstatic to sign as undrafted free agents.

And it is partially based on the analytical finding that defense is less important than offense. Or if not less important, it is absolutely more malleable. While the Raiders’ current defensive personnel (especially at linebacker) leaves much to be desired, there isn’t a lot of reason to assume this unit cannot improve drastically in 2020 as rookies become sophomores. Just a few smart pickups carry the unit to new heights.

The linebacker crop is weak in this draft, and the two guys at the position who figure to go in the first round are Isaiah Simmons and Kenneth Murray. Simmons will likely be gone around No. 12, but Murray could be available.

I’m also not as high on this corner class as many, though I suspect the success of the Ravens and Patriots’ (and to a lesser extent Steelers) defensive models of building from the back end will swell through the league, especially for teams who desire to mix their coverages, and not play zone exclusively.

But my opinions on prospects and team-building are not the end all be all. There will be plenty of defensive players drafted in the first round, especially at corner.

The Raiders have options, lots of them. They almost cannot go wrong.