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Raiders draft: Need or Best Player Available?

A No. 1 wide receiver, more trench warriors, another outside cornerback. Vegas roster has fair share of holes

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave is a popular mock draft pick for the Las Vegas Raiders. The Silver & Black are missing a dynamic No. 1 wideout.
Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The cupboard isn’t bare in Henderson, Nevada. Let’s get that out of the way. There’s quality talent at key positions and that’ll help make Dave Ziegler’s transition to full-fledged personnel man and general manager for the Las Vegas Raiders a smoother one.

“It’s not a rebuild, it’s not a reload. It’s taking it to the next level,” Raiders owner Mark Davis confidently said at Ziegler’s and new head coach Josh McDaniels’ introductory press conferences.

Not being devoid of talent is definitely a boon for Zielger as he refines and retools the Raiders roster. But just because the team boasts the likes of quarterback Derek Carr, wide reciever Hunter Renfrow, tight end Darren Waller, defensive end Maxx Crosby and a slew of younger players, doesn’t preclude Vegas from having a laundry list of needs. Currently there isn’t a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver (although Renfrow may be the de facto top wideout) on the roster. Neither is an impact interior defensive lineman, nor a stout presence at guard on the offensive line. Then there’s what to do at right tackle, the lack of quality perimeter cornerback, and lack of depth pretty much everywhere.

Dive into the various mock drafts available and you’re likely going to find wide receiver as the most popular prognostication no matter the source. That’s followed by a defensive linemen or a cornerback. Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave is a popular choice due to his route-running, speed, explosiveness and sure hands. Then there’s Georgia defensive linemen Jordan Davis a mammoth defensive tackle who is built like space-eater and run-stuffer Ted Washington. Lastly, Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. is another frequent mock draft pick for Vegas due to his size, speed, instincts and ballhawk skills.

A wide receiver of Olave’s talent, an imposing linement like Davis and a stingy outside corner like Booth Jr. would surely help Vegas in 2022 if any of the one were there and selected at No. 22 overall in the first round.

Clemson v South Carolina
Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (23) is another popular name in mock drafts for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Ziegler’s draft acumen is going to be not only tested, but McDaniels and his coaching staff’s ability to develop the upcoming draftees will be put under the microscope, too. Just like Davis, a prideful and eager Raider Nation expects the new Raiders brain trust to not only hit the ground running but expand upon a 10-7 campaign that resulted in a wild card berth in the NFL Playoffs. April’s three-day draft (28th through the 30th) will give fans a good window into the new regime’s plans. There’s the added bonus of the draft festivities happening in the Raiders backyard in Vegas, too. (I’d be remiss to not mention free agency as month before the draft will give folk plenty of insight, too.)

Which brings us to the ultimate question: Draft for need? Or draft the best player available BPA)?

Ziegler played the role of Bill Belichick’s right-hand personnel man last offseason for the New England Patriots. Their 2021 draft took a different approach than what preceded it, reportedly. Instead of being a pure Belichick affair where the head coach followed his instinct and gut in making draft selections, last year’s outing was more collaborative with Zielger, consultant Eliot Wolf and Matt Groh. Instead of the Belichick-patented approach of taking players very few knew of, New England went with a more conventional route of selecting productive and established prospects.

But why bring up Belichick? The Patriots head honcho is notorious for denouncing “need” drafting.

“Well, again, the whole draft need thing is – I don’t really understand that,” he told reporters days before the draft. “You put a card up on the board. That doesn’t mean the guy is a good player. I think it’s important to acquire good players wherever they are. If you take a player at a position that you might so-called ‘need’ but he’s not good enough to fill that need, then it’s a wasted pick. So, I don’t understand the whole need thing. I understand player value, and that’s what we try to go by.”

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots
Quarterback Mac Jones, right, filled a position of need for New England in the 2021 NFL Draft. Fellow draft pick Rhamondre Stevenson, left, also filled the need for a power running back.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

That’s not to say New England didn’t pick for need. Sometimes, the best player on the Patriots board were in a position of need. Without the draft board, there isn’t a definitive answer, however, that seems to be the case for the 2021 excursion under Belichick, Ziegler, Wolf and Groh. Just take a look at the selections:

  • Round 1 (pick 15): Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
  • Round 2 (pick 38): Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
  • Round 3 (pick 96): Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma
  • Round 4 (pick 120): Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Oklahoma
  • Round 5 (pick 177): Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan
  • Round 6 (picks 188 and 197): Joshua Bledsoe, S, Missouri; William Sherman, OL, Colorado
  • Round 7 (pick 242): Tre Nixon, WR, Central Florida

Jones filled a mighty need at quarterback and is progressing to be a franchise-type signal caller New England sorely needed post-Tom Brady. Barmore is a BPA pick as he tumbled down the draft board and was projected as a first-round talent. Stevenson was a great value pick in the fourth round that can be filed under both need and BPA. A bruising power back that fits well into the Patriots ground-and-pound attack, his presence in the tailback stable bolstered not only the run game but helped keep Jones and the New England offense balanced.

Which makes Zielger’s — and by extension, McDaniels’ — initial draft for the Raiders an intriguing one. Will it be need, BPA, or a mix of both? Free agency will likely help answer that and then we’ll see for sure in late April.

Oh, and check out this intriguing coincidence between the Silver & Black and the Pats below: