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Raiders Draft 2023: Early Grades

Las Vegas scores solid value in secondary in 4th and 5th rounds; 1st two picks earn A’s

Purdue v Maryland
Maryland cornerback Jakorian Bennett (2) fits the Las Vegas Raiders’ definition of “explosive” defender to perfectly. He gets his hands on the ball a lot and brings 4.30 speed to the table, too.
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Las Vegas Raiders top two decision makers made it known the roster needed more explosive players. That meant adding defenders who could get hands on the ball or the opposing quarterback or offensive weapons who had speed and big-play ability.

Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels methodically went through the 2023 NFL Draft to find those types with the nine prospects they picked over the course of the three-day event.

Here are the early instant grades:

Round 1

No. 7: Tyree Wilson, Edge, Texas Tech
Grade: A

In a division where having as many quarterback hunters is a necessity and not a luxury, Wilson brings much needed power and violence off the edges. If Maxx Crosby is dubbed “The Condor” then Wilson has to be “The Albatross” with his wider wing span. Expect Wilson to rotate in Year 1 and get more snaps as the season wears on. The Raiders get high value by Wilson being available at seven and if his foot injury is all good, the Texas Tech product is going to be a terrorizing and relentless presence rushing opposite of Crosby.

Round 2

No. 35: Michael Mayer, Tight End, Notre Dame
Grade: A+

A readymade NFL pass catcher and blocker, Mayer was a first-round talent that fell out of the initial stanza and the Raiders pounced by trading up to snag him. Superb value in the second round with good size, soft hands, and the ability to high point the ball for catches, Mayer is going to be a smooth operator in the middle of the field — an area where Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo likes to operate. Mayer’s blocking ability lends itself to sneak out after showing initial block and he has sneaky route running skills to create separation.

Round 3

No. 70: Byron Young, Defensive Tackle, Alabama
Grade: B-

Intelligent and can read the play and flow to it in a hurry, Young has a non-stop motor. he has the makeup of a one-dimensional backfield disruptor who engulfs the run game, which leads to the grade above. Las Vegas does need a run-stuffing tackle and Young offers the versatility to play across the defensive front. If he can bring the same read and react skills to hunting down quarterbacks, the Raiders may get an all-around-type defensive lineman. The knock: Young must improve his footwork to increase lateral movement and change-of-direction ability.

Syndication: The Enquirer
Tre Tucker has the speed (4.37 40-yard dash at the Cincinnati pro day) to scorch pro defenders. He should make an immediate impact on special teams both as a return man and gunner.
Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

No. 100: Tre Tucker, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati
Grade: C-

As a special teamer alone, this grade would’ve been a B+, but considering Tucker’s trade is a receiver and the Raiders get a mid grade for the pure gadget prospect he is (right now). More attune to be a slot receiver than boundary type, Tucker has speed to burn (4.37 40-yard dash at the Cincy pro day) and should be a Year 1 impact special teams ace (returner and gunner). Tucker is a threat to house the ball when he gets it his hands, though. The knock: If he doesn’t develop into anything more than special teams ace, was he taken too high?

Round 4

No. 104: Jakorian Bennett, Cornerback, Maryland
Grade: A-

Fast and aggressive, Bennett is a corner who gets his hands on the ball often (29 passes defensed the past two season, five interceptions to boot). A man press corner who has the speed (4.30 40-yard dash at NFL Combine) to make up for mistakes and instincts to play outside, he can compete for snaps as a rookie. He’s also an accomplished special teams gunner, as well. The knock here: The higher-rated Georgia’s Kelee Ringo was available too, and went at pick No. 105 to the Philadelphia Eagles.

No. 135: Aidan O’Connell, Quarterback, Purdue
Grade: C-

In an evolving NFL where pure pocket passers are lessening by the year, Las Vegas takes an immobile gunslinger in O’Connell. The grade reflects that, however, as a developmental-type, the Boilermakers signal caller is accurate, cerebral, and puts great touch on his throws. He’s a system fit and one of the high marks on O’Connell’s scouting report is he’s highly coachable, which McDaniels will love. He’s a backup type who can be a spot starter in case of emergency now — that could develop into something more. The knock: O’Connell is often stubborn and stares down his first read.

Syndication: Online Athens
Georgia safety Christopher Smith (29) returns a blocked field goal for a touchdown against LSU back in December. Smith is a fast, instinctive, and violent prospect that the Las Vegas Raiders took in the fifth round (170th overall).

Round 5

No. 170: Christopher Smith, Safety, Georgia
Grade: A

How this Bulldog didn’t join his collegiate teammates with the Philadelphia Eagles is baffling at this point. Much faster than his timed speed (4.62 40 at combine), Smith is a rangy, highly intelligent read and react safety that is violent and opportunistic. Even as a fifth rounder, Smith can compete for snaps in Year 1 due to his ability to disrupt passes (15 passes defensed and six interceptions the past two seasons) and become the new “closer” in the secondary. The knock: He’s built more like a cornerback at 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds.

Round 6

No. 203: Amari Burney, Linebacker, Florida
Grade: C-

An off-ball linebacker — finally! The safety-turned-linebacker started at weakside for the Gators and led the team with two interceptions to go along with 79 total tackles (nine stops for loss), four sacks, two forced fumbles and six passes defensed. He fits the profile of a defender who got his hands on the ball a lot and has the athleticism and speed (4.50 40 at his pro day) to be a cover option in the pros. The knock: Burney is a bit of a tweener in terms of size (6-2, 230) and only has one season at linebacker, hence the grade.

Round 7

Pick 231: Nesta Jade Silvera, Defensive Tackle, Arizona State
Grade: B-

Like Young, who was taken 70th overall, Silvera is a run-stopping linemen who projects as a classic nose tackle that eats space, occupies blocks, and shoots gaps for stops for loss. He’s a value pick at the tail end of the draft and has high pursuit, close, and effort talent. Yet effort can only take you so far and Silvera can get washed out or walled off. But for a Raiders team needing quality depth up front, this nose tackle is a welcome addition. The knock: His hand usage is suspect. But if Silvera gets that refined, he can be consistently disruptive.