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The 2 prospects worth trading up for in the top 10 of the draft

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NFL Combine - Day 6 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Hey Raider Nation, I’m Kenneth and I’m going to be contributing to Silver and Black Pride as SB Nation goes through a California transition at the same time that the Raiders are doing the same. Though the team is moving to Las Vegas, we’re going to be keeping them in the California family and I’ll be around to help cover the team during a vital offseason.

Who am I?

I started writing for SB Nation in 2011 at the fantasy site FakeTeams and then soon fell into a nine-year role with the Seahawks blog Field Gulls. In spite of the old AFC West rivalry, I have no ill will towards the Raiders — or really any other team. I simply love writing about football and like you, it’s been my obsession for a long time. There will be no false pageantry of me growing up, as many of you did, as a Raiders fan, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t be fairly and objectively be covering the team as they go through free agency, the draft, and a potential change at quarterback under Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock that could alter the 2020 season monumentally.

You think it was cool that Bo Jackson ran over Brian Bosworth? So do I! What a great and historic moment for football! But my focus right now in regards to the Raiders would be on how Vegas approaches free agency, the trade market, and the 2020 NFL Draft. I’m excited, because Gruden is one of my absolute favorite coaches of all-time and I was always a Mayock guy come draft time.

Speaking of which ...

The day of the first round of the NFL draft has long been my favorite day of the year. I’ve never had a birthday party, but I did once tell my first girlfriend that I’d be “unavailable all day” back when the draft started on Saturday mornings. The Raiders have had some of the most memorable narratives and notable picks over the last 20 years, and that tradition has continued by Gruden having five first round picks over the 2019-2020 period.

Last year with Mayock in at GM, Oakland (I’m just going to refer to this team as “Oakland” for stories that happened when they were in Oakland and “Las Vegas” or “Vegas” in the now) selected a pass rusher, a running back, and a safety in the first round. They found a potential superstar pass rusher in the fourth. To build onto that, Las Vegas has two picks in the top 19 and though they lack a second, hold three picks in the third.

Gruden and Mayock get to stay busy again.

In the year 2019, Mayock made 11 trades. (That’s a lot.) This included five trades on the last two days of the draft. Mike Mayock is literally living his dream life. He’s living a lot of our dream lives. He could have easily been “just a guy who really loves football and works in real estate” but he followed his passion for the game so vehemently that it drove him to become the general manager of an NFL team. In my estimation, I think this means we can continue to see a lot of exciting draft day action from Mayock.

He did not finally get into the game just to play it safe.

Taking Clelin Ferrell was not considered safe. Drafting a running back was not considered safe. Taking a safety ... well, that has the word “safe” right in the middle of it, so I’ll give him that one.

At that point, Mayock got to start moving his chess pieces around and probably feeling pretty great about the fact that he’s finally getting to do the things that he always kept believing would be smart that teams weren’t doing. His trades were creative (moving down three spots in round two so that he could move up 31 spots on day three, adding a fifth by sliding down only two more spots in round two, using fairly useless seventh round picks and eventually adding the pick for Hunter Renfrow) and I think he’d get a solid grade from me ...

If I ever come to believe that draft grades matter at all.

What matters is that overall the Raiders seem to have come away with a few talented foundational pieces that could help them get to the playoffs next season and I happen to agree with the types of draft trades that Mayock favored in his first year as GM. But one year is not a big enough sample size to really know what his tendencies will be — you need multiple instances of something for their to be “tendencies” at all.

Mayock has picks 12 and 19 and this seems to be a really talented first round at multiple positions. The Raiders also have picks 78, 79, and 89.

Does Mayock want to stay right where he is and add two more players to the pool? Does he want to use two of his three day two picks to try and get back into the second? Can he use 12, 78, and 79 to get up a little bit higher? And is there a player in this draft who you think would be worth getting into the top five for?

Let me quickly address some candidates.

Not One of the Linemen

This is great because I can quickly eliminate four potential top 11 picks who the Raiders would not trade up for: Tristan Wirfs, Mekhi Becton, Andrew Thomas, and Jedrick Wills. Vegas has their tackles and their guards and their center. Even if they were like “Hey screw it, let’s get crazy” they wouldn’t trade up for one. This narrows my board immensely.

Getting Chase Young Out of the Way

In his last mock draft for NFL.com in 2018, Mayock had this to say about the Cleveland Browns using the fourth overall pick on Bradley Chubb:

You pair him with Myles Garrett and suddenly you’ve got the most dynamic edge rushing duo in all of football. He’s gonna impact the game on all three downs, and if you look at the Browns, you’ve got your quarterback of the future and this young defense is better than most think.

The Browns had just drafted Garrett one year earlier with the first overall pick but that didn’t deter Mayock, as it did some, from projecting Cleveland to have two franchise bookends on defense. A year ago, Mayock took pass rusher Clelin Ferrell with the fourth overall pick, Maxx Crosby with a fourth round pick, and had inherited third round pick Arden Key from the 2018 draft.

Crosby was fantastic and Ferrell’s got all the potential they were looking for, but were they in position to draft him do we think there’s any chance that Mayock would pass on Chase Young? No. He’s say, “We have three of the most dynamic young pass rushers in the NFL and plenty of depth” and combinations of words like that have indeed taken teams to Super Bowls.

We don’t have to look further back than the San Francisco 49ers.

I don’t think that the Raiders are a threat to trade up for Young. They don’t have a second round pick and they’ve got plenty of needs before using another top-5 pick on an edge player. But they do happen to be one of the teams with the ammunition to make a swap with Washington.

At the moment, Vegas is one of three teams to hold multiple first round picks and it seems unlikely to me that the Miami Dolphins or Jacksonville Jaguars are talking about moving up for Young either. The Dolphins probably only trade up for a quarterback (though I think moving up for Young could be better for them) and the Jaguars similarly took an edge rusher early last year. The Indianapolis Colts have an additional early second round pick but like Miami, probably only move up for a QB.

But I’m just getting this out of the way, as the sub-title suggested. The Raiders are one of a handful of teams who may possess the value to move up and in fact, could potentially make the third-best offer after Jacksonville and Miami, so under the question of “Is there anyone worth trading up for?” Young is a valid answer.

I do not however think that it is probable enough to consider for long. Vegas too could be looking at quarterbacks. They too have plenty of reasons to not make a big, crazy move for Young. But he is a great prospect.

One of the Quarterbacks

So I’m not really coming at any of this from a scouting perspective and I readily admit that. I approach the draft purely from a historical draft perspective. I weigh out the different things that make up a successful football team based on the past and the present. I look at prospects through statistics more so than tape. You can call me out for it but this is me Eminem-in-8-Miling it by dissing myself first.

Me before every SB Nation article I write, trying to rhyme “DVOA” with “Any Given Sunday”:

That being said, I think the Cincinnati Bengals doing anything other than drafting Joe Burrow with the number one pick would be the worst move of the year. The season he just had is too good to pass on and the position is too valuable and the Bengals can actually give him some decent support early on. Once you eliminate Burrow, I don’t think there’s a quarterback to trade up for here.

Vegas wants to win the Super Bowl now. They want to go into that new stadium, that new city, and establish themselves as a new brand in the same way that the LA Rams turned a corner in 2017. Now, this doesn’t entirely preclude them from drafting a quarterback early — the Kansas City Chiefs traded up from 27 to 10 for Patrick Mahomes even when they had Alex Smith, the Baltimore Ravens traded up from 52 to 32 for Lamar Jackson even when they were paying a lot to Joe Flacco, those Rams traded up for Jared Goff in the same year the Philadelphia Eagles traded up for Carson Wentz. That’s two MVPs, two Super Bowl champions, and the other guy was in the Super Bowl a year earlier.

However, I don’t think that Jon Gruden thinks that he can win a Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback. And frankly, I don’t even know if he wants to develop one.

Gruden didn’t draft a QB until his fourth year in his first stint with the Raiders (Marques Tuiasosopo in the second round in 2001) and over seven years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he only drafted Chris Simms in 2003, Bruce Gradkowski in 2006, and Josh Johnson in 2008. The last time that a Gruden team drafted any quarterback higher than round five was Simms and he’s never taken a QB in the first round.

Cut to today and out of 27 draft picks, Gruden has selected zero quarterbacks while in stint two with the Raiders. In that time, the Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, and Seattle Seahawks have all drafted QBs despite seemingly having safe long-term options. The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers drafted two each. The Ravens even drafted Trace McSorley last year after Lamar was already looking great. Not even a single developmental day three QB. It’s as if Gruden only hosted QB Camp as a front for the mafia.

Remember, he did this with the oldest version of Rich Gannon ever recorded by science and a QB carousel in Tampa Bay that could be the set for Final Destination 6, so why should people be expecting him to change course with a pretty good Derek Carr? That method of trading up for a QB, developing him for a year or half-a-year, may work for some teams. It does not seem to be the Gruden method. Vic Tafur of The Athletic also says the team is not high on Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert.

Going off of nothing other than my gut, I think the player who could go lower than everyone is saying is Tua. I realize I’m making a bold prediction there, so if nine out of 10 people disagree with me, then that means that I know I am taking a 10 percent shot here. I’ll look the fool. Oh well. I don’t really predict stuff, nobody can do that well. I see Tua potentially “falling” and I’m mentioning it now. I don’t really expect the Raiders to take a quarterback in the first round, but if they do, maybe it’s at 19 if one of those names “falls” that far.

(I put fall in quotes because falling implies that the teams are doing something wrong rather than the truth: that the media got it wrong. It shouldn’t be called “falling,” it should be called “oops, we blew this one”....”ing.”)

Do I see the Raiders trading up for a QB? No.

Isaiah Simmons is the prospect who best represents 2020 football

Back in 2017, I did correctly predict one thing for sure: that there would be three quarterbacks in the first round and that all three would be traded up for. (Please ignore all other predictions I made that year.) Sure enough, Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson all got traded up for. In the case of Mahomes, that also worked out with another prediction I made: a team trading up from the 20s to the top-10.

I think a team could very well make a big move up for Simmons.

Last year, Mayock and Gruden drafted two players from the Clemson defense: Clelin Ferrell and Trayvon Mullen. (As well as Hunter Renfrow on the other side of the ball.) In monitoring those two players who they clearly loved a lot, the Raiders must have also been quite enamored with the best player on that field: Isaiah Simmons.

On a defense with three of the top 17 and four of the top 40 picks in the 2019 draft, Simmons was king. He moved around the field from linebacker to safety to slot corner to pass rusher, remained king. He went to the combine, he was king again. Tyrann Mathieu is 5’9, 190. Simmons is 6’4, 230. And I think Simmons can play everywhere that Mathieu plays. He’s going to have teams wondering if he’s the Khalil Mack to this draft’s Jadeveon Clowney. (Young.)

He is the most 2020 prospect in this draft that I could think of. Specifically on defense, but really anywhere on the field. Not only in that he is an athlete of a different caliber on the same level of Vernon Davis or Calvin Johnson, but he’s the guy you’d want stopping Travis Kelce, Hunter Henry, and Noah Fant. He’s the one you’d want trailing Austin Ekeler or Royce Freeman or 2020 opponent Christian McCaffrey. And because of his versatility, there isn’t a team in the league that couldn’t find a first-string place tomorrow for Isaiah Simmons.

That’s why I think a team will trade up for him.

Because the top of the draft is so strong, it would not be a huge surprise for Simmons to be drafted outside the top five. Tackles are so hard to find. Jeff Okudah could be the rare CB1. Derrick Brown is an exceptional defensive tackle. There’s two quarterbacks after Burrow. And that’s only after the top two picks are practically spoken for by anyone speaking.

I suspect that the Arizona Cardinals at eight is as low as Simmons should go, which is why a team might call the Carolina Panthers at seven and say, “What would you like?” And then maybe the Panthers even go “We’d like Simmons.”

I think the Cleveland Browns at 10 are willing to get aggressive with trades. I think that the New York Jets at 11 are always in for a news story. At 11. I could see the Jaguars sliding up two spots from nine for Simmons because they’re clearly expecting a quick turnaround by not firing Doug Marrone.

Now you’re asking me if that means I think the Raiders would make a bold move for Simmons and I can’t rule it out. (Listen, if I was doing a pun about trading up with the Panthers, maybe I would have written “rhule it out” but I haven’t done that yet. However, I can’t rhule it out.) Mayock was certainly impressed by the 4.39 40-yard dash and his historic day at the combine.

I don’t see many feasible paths for Simmons to Vegas at pick 12.

Looking at the board today, I project Simmons to go in the top-eight and I see reasonable arguments for him going in the top-five. If the New York Giants decided they’d take Simmons at four, then I don’t see the Raiders making that big of a move. If he was on the board at eight, maybe Vegas and Arizona can make a Southwest Swap, which is what they’re going to start calling deals between Vegas and Arizona after NFL trades announce official sponsors for trades.

You don’t have to spend any time wondering where he fits either.

He fits at outside linebacker. Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow were PFF Twins in that they both ranked near the bottom in coverage grades among linebackers. He fits in at slot corner, where Lamarcus Joyner struggled in the first year of a four-year, $42 million deal. As Gruden put it to The Athletic during the season, the team and Joyner had issues in part because of a lack of depth at linebacker and safety.

Adding Simmons literally means depth at both of those positions. They could have a secondary with Johnathan Abram and Simmons at safety, or a cornerbacks group that includes the former teammates Mullen and Simmons, or a front seven that includes former teammates Ferrell and Simmons, plus Crosby. Short of hiring Dabo Swinney to be the defensive coordinator, it certainly seems like Gruden and Mayock want to build a Tigers defense and they could do that around Simmons.

Mayock even said it himself:

“You start looking at guys on offense who can play in the slot, running back, be H-backs, there’s really not a label for them,” Mayock said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “They are just either dynamic players or they are not. And then you start looking about trying to match up with those guys on defense and when you start looking in any division, particularly ours, and the tight ends that we have to play in our divisions. You kind of go, ‘Who matches up? If we want to play man coverage who can match up with those type of guys? The big guys that run fast, who do we have?’

”I think more and more defenses around the league are saying who are the guys you don’t have to put a label on, but they are dynamic football players? Isaiah Simmons, he’s played in the back end, he’s played at linebacker, he’s come off the edge and really the only limitations on him are whatever the defensive coordinator puts on him.”

Asking “Why Simmons?” provides a very easy answer. Asking “Why would the Raiders show trade-up worthy interest?” does the same. The question we need an answer to that nobody can answer except Mayock is “How much of a gambler are you?” His first draft was rather conservative in one way, that he stood pat with all three first round picks. He can move up in the first round and not give up pick 19. That would be relatively easy. Does he want two really good prospects or does he want to secure one of the elite ones? Simmons qualifies as the latter and if there is any team that has interest — it’s every team.

Is Vegas willing to be the most eager team? I can’t rhule it out.

Let me run through the rest.

Makes No Sense to Trade Up for a WR

It’s easy to look at the Raiders depth chart at wide receiver and connect them to one with pick 12. In fact, it is so easy that literally:

Every

Mock

Draft

Is

Doing

It

Specifically, nearly everyone is saying that Vegas is taking Jerry Jeudy out of Alabama. And that’s no fun. Why show up to the potluck if everyone’s bringing ham? You can’t just eat ham. This isn’t a hamluck, Greg.

In a draft like this one, I don’t think the Raiders should be picking a receiver with their first pick. Most don’t think the gap between Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs and Laviska Shenault is very big, if it exists at all. In fact, there might not even be much of a gap between your top-rated receiver and your 10th-rated receiver in this draft. Mayock is one of a few guys in this draft who has the luxury to not take a receiver first because he has another pick coming right after it. I do think that waiting all the way until round three would cost them WR prospect value, but even getting a WR in round three is going to be pretty, pretty good.

I think the best play if they stood where they are is to take the best available player at 12 (Javon Kinlaw, K’Lavon Chaisson, Grant Delpit, Kenneth Murray, C.J. Henderson may qualify, or potentially, yes, a quarterback) and examine your receiver options at 19. In fact, Mayock could trade back once or twice at 19, attempt to add back a second round pick, and still land a very good receiving prospect.

It doesn’t make a ton of sense to move up for one of the receivers and at this time — though things could and will change — none of the receivers are being regular projected for the top-10 anyway.

“And the Rest...”

I could call this “The Professor and Mary Ann” section because there’s two more who apparently didn’t make the cut on the first draft. Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown and Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah.

Believe it or not, the list of pure defensive tackles to be drafted in the top 10 over the last decade is a short one: after seeing three off the board in 2010 (Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Tyson Alualu), we’ve seen only three more since (Marcell Dareus in 2011, Quinnen Williams and Ed Oliver in 2019). Brown is expected to become the fourth.

Per NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein:

Defensive tackle with rare combination of size and disruptive traits who frequently bludgeoned inferior competition across from him. Brown’s snap quickness allows him to take muddy running lanes by re-setting the line of scrimmage. He has the ability to power into gaps, but he really shines when he drops his anchor to stall double-teams or punch, press and prey on runners as a two-gapper. Brown’s upright rush style means he might be more of a pressure rusher than a sack-man, but he should keep improving as a rusher with more dedication to the craft. He could become a high-impact starter early in his career with an All-Pro ceiling and good starter floor.

He draws a comparison to former Panthers All-Pro Kris Jenkins, whose most dominating seasons came early in his career as a complement to Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker. Now imagine that as Brown-Crosby-Ferrell.

But the reason I don’t see Brown as the best trade-up option is that the defensive tackle market is about to be a loaded one. There are a relatively high number of quality free agent defensive tackles and I think that will cause there to be a relatively high number of quality defensive tackles who become cap casualties. I would think the Raiders could be satisfied plenty with P.J. Hall, Johnathan Hankins, and Maurice Hurst, and they’ll still be able to add great depth in free agency.

If Brown was available at 12, maybe then you lock it in and don’t second guess yourself. You may have made the steal of the first round. But to move up for him and give up something of value later on, that doesn’t make as much sense.

Okudah, similarly, has rare prospect status for his position group. No cornerback has been drafted in the top 3 since Shawn Springs in 1997 but that’s where Okudah has been on many mock drafts thus far. As other players also fight and claw their way into the top-five conversation — as an unusually high number of prospects have seemed to do — Okudah continues to shine anyway. He had a great combine and drew a Zierlein comp to Patrick Peterson:

Head coach and general manager’s dream prospect with blue-chip physical traits, mental makeup and personal character. He has size, length and foot quickness to road-block press release and elite closing burst to close catch windows or eliminate yards after catch. He has room for improvement with his recognition and balance at the top of the route, but quarterbacks rarely target and beat him over the top. He has a rigid adherence to technique, but squeezing coverage even tighter and trusting his traits, talent and recovery speed could make him one of the top shutdown corners in the game.

Okudah maybe is a prospect that a team trades up for. Cornerback is a much harder position to fill with quality than defensive tackle is and pass defense is more important than run defense. Pretty much every team in the league would have a place for Okudah to start next season because so many defenses lack three cornerbacks who they’re super comfortable with every week. Certainly the Raiders could see how their defense changes instantly if they added a CB1 like Okudah could be.

Byron Jones and James Bradberry qualify as the only corners on the free agent market who may have every team with the cap space to add a $14+ million corner to go after them. The last two corners to go in the top five are Denzel Ward and Jalen Ramsey, both having instant success. The most recent one prior to them was Peterson. Do the Raiders think he’s of that ilk?

Okudah probably assumes so:

“I’m talking football with Jon Gruden, and he says ‘Hey man, are you from planet Earth?’ “ said Okudah, who is expected to be the first cornerback selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. “It’s crazy to think about that because he’s someone who’s been around some great football minds. For him to say that, I was like (to myself) ‘You’re here, man.’ “

(Note that Okudah not only doesn’t deny being from another planet, he flat out says, “You’re here, man,” as in “You’re here ... on Earth. And Gruden knows the truth ...”)

I think to trade up for Okudah, it does require both first round picks. Is it better to sit back, draft Henderson and Ruggs, or to maybe lock down the next Ramsey? That’s a debate we could have forever, but it would be shocking and telling if Mayock and Gruden were willing to go all-in on one prospect.

But if they were, I think Okudah translates as the most viable option for a trade up into the top-five and Simmons hits the mark as the best choice to go into the top-eight. Not a quarterback, not a receiver, not an offensive lineman, not Brown, and not Young just based on the trade compensation price tag and their relatively healthy situation with young pass rushers.

Is the Vegas GM a gambler though? I can’t mayock it out.

Poll

Should the Raiders trade up for Isaiah Simmons?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Yes
    (145 votes)
  • 66%
    Yes (But Don’t Give Up 2 Firsts)
    (564 votes)
  • 16%
    No
    (137 votes)
846 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Should the Raiders trade up for Jeff Okudah?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Yes
    (24 votes)
  • 24%
    Yes (But Don’t Give Up 2 Firsts)
    (185 votes)
  • 72%
    No
    (547 votes)
756 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is there ANY scenario where the Raiders should use both firsts to trade up?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Yes
    (139 votes)
  • 81%
    No
    (631 votes)
770 votes total Vote Now