The best player regardless of position. That’s what Las Vegas Raiders key decision makers said leading up the 2020 NFL Draft. And, after the three-day event, that mantra was legit. It wasn’t lip service.
“We want the best available players regardless of position,” Raiders general manger Dave Ziegler said during his media sessions. “That’s how we want to continue to build the team. I think if you’re drafting good football players, you’re making good choices. When you overextend just to draft a need, you can often pass over good football players that can help your team. That can be a slippery slope if that’s the way you approach it.”
“We’re going to try to draft the best players (available),” Las Vegas head coach Josh McDaniels similarly noted during his media engagements. “I mean, if we draft three in the same position in a row, because they’re clearly the three best players when it’s our turn to draft, I mean, you make a strength stronger. To me, the best way to improve your team is to continue to take the right guy. Not, ‘Oh, man, we’ve got a hole on the roster, let’s take this guy just because his name says whatever position beside him.”
One thing is clear after the Raiders made their six selections during the draft: The offensive and defensive lines and running backs will have plenty of names behind them. By doubling up in the trenches and at tailback, Vegas wisely engaged in a depth charge. And, it proved the team was dead serious about best player available (BPA).
Ziegler and Co. took two versatile offensive linemen in Memphis’ Dylan Parham (third round, 86th overall) and Ohio State’s Thayer Munford (seventh round, 238th overall). They took a pair of defensive linemen in back-to-back picks in the fourth and fifth rounds in LSU’s Neil Farrell Jr. (126th overall) and Tennessee’s Matthew Butler (175th overall). The game of football begins and ends in the trenches and the Raiders adding four prospects up front is a sound investment.
Then there was the case of perceived luxury picks at running back. Vegas made Georgia’s Zamir White the 122nd overall pick (fourth round) and made UCLA’s Brittain Brown the team’s final selection in the draft (250th overall in the seventh round). McDaniels did spend a bevy of time under the New England Patriots learning tree where running back by committee was the way, and perhaps drafting two tailbacks to join a stacked running back room lends itself to that.
Considering McDaniels’ belief that none of the Raiders offensive linemen should be one-trick ponies or single-position types, the additions of Parham and Munford stresses that point. Both offer position versatility and impressive experience with numerous starts and snaps under their belt at their respective programs.
Parham can slide across in the interior of the offensive line offering capability to line up at either guard spots and at center. He’s also lined up as the right tackle for Memphis. Munford, meanwhile, was a blindside protector at left tackle for Ohio State but he spent time at left guard and right tackle, too.
Of the two, Parham seems to have the strongest chances of either starting or playing his rookie season. He has the technique and movement skills that make him an option at the guard spots or at the pivot. Parham’s downside is being taken out of his anchor by power bull rushers but that can be remedied in the Raiders weight room and conditioning program.
While Munford was drafted lower than his grade indicated (from the fourth to fifth based on which draft pundit you subscribe to), he can provide a swing tackle or guard. With his experience at left tackle, he could provide an option behind stalwart Kolton Miller.
New offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo has to be ecstatic about adding more youth to the room, however. Position versatility helps his group tremendously not only find the best starting five but provides much-needed depth. If a rookie pushes a veteran out of the starting lineup, there’s quality depth behind them. While there will always be a drop off in effectiveness when a starter goes down, backups would be more asset than liability if given ample time to learn and develop.
Similar case for the defensive line and group coach Frank Okam. The Raiders did well to re-up veteran nose tackle Johnathan Hankins in free agency and in Farrell Jr., they get a similar prospect to develop. The LSU product is a mammoth presence in the middle at 6-foot-4, 330 pounds and is a run stuffer who muddles the interior by drawing double teams. That’s something Hankins is adept at doing and Farrell has a lead-by-example type to follow.
If Farrell is the two-down mountain in the middle, fellow defensive tackle prospect Butler is the quarterback hunter. As the three technique in Tennessee defense, Butler is a strong leader who provided steady play. He’s a 6-foot-4, 297-pound prospect that moves well laterally and maintains his rush. If the Raiders can cover and force the quarterback to hold the ball longer, Butler will be a diamond-type player due to his relentless nature. He doesn’t win quick often, but he will find the quarterback if he’s still got the ball in his hands.
The arrival of the two rookies provides much-needed depth at the nose and three tech spots that has potentially one clear-cut starter in Hankins (nose) and Bilal Nichols (at three; signed in free agency from the Chicago Bears).
The duo’s presence in Las Vegas will help Okam and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to formulate alignments and rotations that maximize the defense’s effectiveness. Graham has a history of using linemen that are big, physical and can move. Farrell Jr. and Butler add to that.
If declining Josh Jacobs’ fifth-year option wasn’t a strong enough message from Ziegler and McDaniels for the running back to prove he belongs, Vegas added White and Brown to the tailback room.
There’s going to be a fight for roster spots when the Raiders convene for team activities and camps and that’s a good thing. Scratch that. It’s a damn good thing. Both Ziegler and McDaniels are strong proponents for competition makes the entire roster better and there’s going to be plenty of that — especially at the halfback position group.
At 6-feet and 214 pounds, White profiles similarly to Jacobs. He’s a power back that is hard to bring down and can either run through initial contact or bounce with a jump cut to leave defenders grasping for air. What White brings that Jacobs’ doesn’t is long speed having run a 4.4-flat 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. At least in 2022, Vegas may deploy a “Thunder & Thunder” style backfield if White joins Jacobs with carries.
Brown, on the other hand, stands at 6-feet and 205 pounds and didn’t test well athletically. That said, his game film shows a vastly different player to timed attributes. He has good vision and burst, making him a developmental type.
The rookie duo join a crowded backfield that’s headlined by Jacobs, scatback Kenyan Drake, receiving back Brandon Bolden, special teamer Ameer Abdullah and power back Trey Ragas.
Where both White and Brown are unproven is the pass-catching department. Neither was used extensively in the passing game, something Bolden excelled at with McDaniels in New England and something Drake can do too — when given opportunities.
Another aspect that both White and Brown must prove this offseason is protecting quarterback Derek Carr. To have a presence on third down, tailbacks must be solid pass protectors.