There was a time where Silver & Black was synonymous with speed, thanks to legendary Raiders owner Al Davis’ affinity for the trait. A ardent believer in “you can’t teach speed, but you can teach everything else” mantra, Davis’ marauders struck fear in the opposition on pure speed.
Big Al’s Raiders attacked opposing defenses with speed from not only the wide receiver position, but running back and tight end. The need for speed wasn’t relegated to just the offense, however. Fleet-footed defenders were a must, too. The bump-and-run technique was born out of elite-speed cornerbacks jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage and then using their wheels to run stride-for-stride with pass catchers.
Speed was a Silver & Black tradition. Perhaps, it can be once again in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. Because there’s no shortage of athletes that would have most-definitely caught Davis’ eyes with straight-line speed. And, instead of gambling a high-round pick in a fleet-footed prospect, the Mark Davis-incarnation of the Raiders don’t have a selection in the first two rounds, with the first pick coming at No. 86 overall in the third round.
The draft-eligible collegiate landscape is chock-full of players who blazed through the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month. Timed speed and play speed are often two different things, but more often than not, it was the prospect’s 40 time that deemed if they were Raiders or not.
Picking halfway through the third round, however, gives Las Vegas ample room to invest in athleticism and upside. While it would be grand to have a Year 1 starter or two from the 2022 draft class, selecting a backup or depth piece (that can grow into a starter down the road), isn’t going to scuttle the franchise. Again, McDaniels coaching staff can’t teach speed, but they can teach everything else in terms of technique and the cerebral side of the game.
While the team did well to add considerable talent in free agency to bolster the roster, the Raiders lack depth. And general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels are keen to build a roster where competition forges the entire group and makes the eventual starters better.
Which brings us to the group of athletes below. Each would add a missing element of explosiveness and speed at their receptive positions. I tried to steer away from Day 1 prospects and look at Day 2 and beyond. But not knowing exactly how the 32 teams draft boards are laid out, it’s difficult to project. But the group below shouldn’t be Day 1 picks. Let’s get to it (players are listed by name, position, school and 40-yard dash time):
Kalon Barnes, CB, Baylor, 4.23: Running the fastest “official” time at the combine in Indy, Barnes would be a throwback Raiders cornerback. A prep track star and state champion in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, his speed is unquestioned. But he relies too much on that aspect of his game. Barnes’ technique needs serious refinement and that’ll likely result in him being a late-round pick. He’s also built like a slot defender at 6-foot, 186 pounds. But he can run and chase any pass catcher presented to him at the next level.
Tariq Woolen, CB, UTSA, 4.26: Standing at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds to go along with elite speed, Woolen profiles as the ideal Raiders cornerback as a big and imposing corner that can also turn and run — fast. But like Barnes, his technique will need to be smoothed over and for his size, he doesn’t deliver as a striker or tackler. His willingness in run support makes it appear Woolen is allergic to contact. Yet, the blend of size and speed will make teams salivate and Woolen could go in the mid-rounds based on that alone.
Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor, 4.28: The second — but not the last — Baylor Bear to appear on the 40-yard dash buster list, Thornton has the height at 6-foot-3 to provide a bigger catch radius to go along with his separation speed. The definition of a vertical threat who takes the lid off the top of a defense and the concentration to track the ball in flight, Thornton is only 182 pounds and isn’t likely to get thicker. He can get easily jammed and re-directed due to lack of bulk making him a late-round prospect.
Danny Gray, WR, SMU, 4.33: A prep state champion in the 100-meter dash and 4x100-meter relay, Gray brings the track-speed Davis coveted. A long strider who looks like he’s merely gliding as he runs, Gray can attack the short, intermediate and deep parts of the field and has the ability to take a short slant to the house. He’s got good size at 6-foot-2 and 199 pounds but will need to show he can withstand the physical and bullying nature of NFL cornerbacks.
JT Woods, S, Baylor, 4.36: Baylor sure loves prep track stars and Woods is one of many. His top-end speed makes him an upside rangy playmaker deep in the secondary and he comes with requisite size at 6-foot-2, 193 pounds. Where he’ll need attention to detail is discipline, both in coverage and tackling/run support. He isn’t the type to be trusted in the single-high safety alignment, but he can thump in the box. And Woods has the jets to recover when beat, that’s a hard thing to teach.
Amaré Barno, Edge, Virginia Tech, 4.36: Like his former college teammate (and current Raider) Divine Deablo, Barno offers freakish athleticism at premium size at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds. The straight-line speed is off the charts and the 20-yard shuffle of 4.45 was equally as impressive. But Barno is a high-ceiling, low-floor type prospect prime for a late-round upside pick. If the Raiders can refine his rush and run defense skills, they get a pure-speed edge rusher.
Troy Anderson, LB, Montana State, 4.42: The Raiders new coaching staff and general manage are keen on versatility and Anderson fits that bill perfectly. The 6-foot-4, 235 pounder took well to the move to full-time linebacker showing chase-and-run tackling traits and coverage ability. He profiles similar to Deablo when the Raiders took him out of Virginia Tech in the third round of last year’s draft. Surprisingly, Anderson can play offense, too.
Sam Williams, Edge, Mississippi, 4.46: If asked to just rush the passer, Williams gets it done and then some. He has the short-area explosiveness and burst to take advantage of any mistakes made by offensive linemen, and his acceleration is top notch. But he’ll be asked to stymie the run at the next level, too, and Williams struggles mightily despite good size at 6-foot-4, 265 pounds. Make him more well rounded and the Raiders could have a late-round gem.