Oakland Raiders Football 2017 Draft Picks, NFL News Preview. Have you read the press clippings? Did you hear what the analysts said on NFL Network? Maybe you’ve looked through countless mock simulations to grasp how the Oakland Raiders may approach the 2017 NFL draft.
Well, it’s all here with added detail.
On Thursday, the Raiders will attempt to keep pushing the franchise’s arrow upward for the 2017 season and beyond. General manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio held a pre-draft press conference on Friday, answering a variety of questions ranging from the imminent move to Las Vegas to the ongoing Marshawn Lynch story.
McKenzie tried his best to hold a poker face with a repeated prepared message that the team hopes to land quality players without tipping off his strategy. Still, the Raiders executive gave up some information worth analyzing during a critical week.
Ahead of the draft, we’ll go through all the tidbits, nooks and crannies to bring every Raiders fan up to speed.
What’s the best way to open the draft with the No. 24 overall pick? Ideally, how will Thursday, Friday and Saturday pan out? What should we expect from the Del Rio-McKenzie pact in their third year together?
Oakland Raiders Football 2017
For some reason, inside linebacker Perry Riley doesn’t have an NFL job. He adequately fufilled a starting role in 11 games for the team in the previous season. It’s possible the front office may re-sign him after the draft if he’s still available.
Ben Heeney and Cory James have a head start on the starting spot. McKenzie must address inside linebacker with a quality prospect. Unfortunately, it’s a thin position in 2017.
Top five targets: Reuben Foster, Jarrad Davis, Anthony Walker Jr., Raekwon McMillan and Kendell Beckwith.
Despite signing weak-side linebacker Jelani Jenkins during free agency, a training camp competition would bring out the best in the fifth-year pro or the incoming rookie.
Under Del Rio, the team has thrived on competition at contested spots. Linebacker Sio Moore learned the hard way during the 2015 offseason, when he returned from a hip injury. He lost his starting role and roster spot during Del Rio’s first year as the Raiders head coach. The coaching staff isn’t going to hand Malcolm Smith’s starting role to Jenkins this summer.
Top five targets: Zach Cunningham, Haason Reddick, Jayon Brown, Duke Riley and Elijah Lee.
Interior Defensive Lineman
Del Rio has previously mentioned adding another defensive lineman at the meetings in Phoenix, per Tafur. The team also worked out defensive tackle Ego Ferguson during the offseason, per Pro Football Talk.
The Raiders have talked about and shown interest in acquiring another defensive lineman. On Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs released Jaye Howard. He’s the type of player the Raiders could flip into a productive one-year rotational asset with something to prove before hitting the free-agent market in 2018.
If not Howard, the draft offers a deep class of interior linemen who can contribute right away. Rotational pass-rushers will be available in the third and fourth rounds.
Top five targets: Malik McDowell, Chris Wormley, Jaleel Johnson, Vincent Taylor and Montravius Adams.
If Lynch agrees to suit up for $3 million, the Raiders will likely bypass a strong running back class. However, a prospect like the Pittsburgh Panthers’ James Conner would be a great addition to the backfield. He bases his game on Lynch’s. More importantly, he’s 6’1″, 233 pounds and packing a lot of muscle behind his carries. He logged 52 touchdowns in 39 collegiate games.
The Raiders carried five running backs in the previous season. It’s not hard to believe they’d add Lynch and Conner, which puts Taiwan Jones’ roster spot in jeopardy. However, it’s not particularly hard to replace a special teams player.
Top five targets: Samaje Perine, D’Onta Foreman, James Conner, Brian Hill and Jamaal Williams.
All eyes will be on cornerback Sean Smith after a shaky first season with the Raiders. At another talent-rich position, McKenzie shouldn’t pass up a potential impact player, especially with the possibility of having to reshuffle the secondary.
Defensive back T.J. Carrie’s contract will expire after the 2017 season, per Spotrac. Oakland can release Smith without owing any dead cash for the final two years on his deal.
Top five targets: Chidobe Awuzie, Gareon Conley, Tre’Davious White, Quincy Wilson and Sidney Jones.
Free safety Reggie Nelson’s contract expires at the end of the season. Keith McGill, who’s also in a contract year, remains the only depth player at the position. An injury to Nelson or Joseph would place a huge target on McGill’s back.
The Raiders should add two safties to help the transition beyond the forthcoming season. The higher draft pick should be a complement to Joseph, though the lower selection would be a quality asset for depth.
Top five targets: Jabrill Peppers, Marcus Williams, Josh Jones, Desmond King and Obi Melifonwu.
1st Round: Zach Cunningham, OLB, Vanderbilt
Many wouldn’t consider Cunningham ideal because of his missed tackles and lanky frame. However, with a late first-round draft pick, prospects will come with warts. Barring a trade up, the Raiders don’t have a top-10 pick, players who tend to have few holes in their skill sets. If available, the Vanderbilt product would be a safe selection at No. 24.
Cunningham had to overcompensate for a defense lacking overall talent. Del Rio, who talks about tackling and leverage ad nauseam, would address any defects in the prospect’s tackling technique if necessary.
2nd Round: Marcus Williams, FS, Utah
Utah’s Marcus Williams possesses the ball skills, speed and athleticism needed to play free safety behind two slower cornerbacks who may trail speedy receivers in coverage. He grabbed 10 interceptions over the past two seasons.
Many like Budda Baker in this spot, but two 5’10” safeties could be susceptible to long passes to bigger receivers running down the middle. At 6’1″, 202 pounds, Williams offers a decent chance at coming down with 50-50 jump balls against pass-catchers looking to high-point the football.
3rd Round: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
McKenzie could cement his name as a draft-day genius by selecting cornerback Sidney Jones in the third round. The Washington prospect tore his Achilles at his pro day, per Yahoo Sports writer Eric Edholm, but CBSSports.com ranked him as a first-round pick before the injury.
Oakland could snag a first-round talent in the third round and shelve him for a year, which would put zero added pressure on Smith, Amerson or Carrie. For those who may think it’s a wasted pick for a player who needs a full year of recovery, last year’s third-round pick, Calhoun, only played 10 games before going on injured reserve. When active, he played just 16 percent of the defensive snaps.
4th Round: Anthony Walker Jr. ILB, Northwestern
At inside linebacker, it’s Alabama’s Reuben Foster and the rest. Davis’ injury history places him in the muddle with Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan and Northwestern product Anthony Walker Jr., who put together solid sophomore and junior seasons.
Similar to Davis, Walker’s teammates respect him as a leader in the locker room, per Zierlein. In the same report, an AFC scout discussed his inflated playing weight as a hindrance, but he weighed 238 pounds at the combine. The Northwestern product would be a solid downhill thumper with the ability to backpedal for short-area coverage duties.
5th Round: Vincent Taylor, DT, Oklahoma State
There’s enough talent at defensive tackle to wait until the fifth round for a rotational interior pass-rusher. The defense doesn’t necessarily need an immediate starter, but there’s a role open for an interior lineman with specific skills. The Raiders struggled to apply pressure in the A-gaps to flush stationary quarterbacks outside the pocket.
Vincent Taylor racked up 7.5 sacks during his final collegiate season at Oklahoma State. He doesn’t have the strength or technique to handle two-gap assignments, but he can make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket.
6th Round: James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
Within a deep running back class, Conner could slip into the sixth round. He doesn’t project as a lead ball-carrier, which pushes him down the pecking order at his position.
Nonetheless, he’s a perfect fit for the Raiders backfield. He’s a fearless pass-blocker, which bodes well for Carr when he’s trying to extend plays. At 6’1″ and 233 pounds, he’s going to move the chains and run over a few defenders near the goal line for touchdowns.
7th Round: Elijah Lee, OLB, Kansas State
Linebacker Elijah Lee’s purpose would be pushing Cunningham and Jenkins during training camp. Then he’d apply his speed and tackling ability on special teams for a couple of seasons.
If Cunningham’s tackling issues continue or Jenkins never pans out into a valuable role player, Lee’s quickness and ability to cover tight ends would benefit the defense. The Kansas State prospect logged five interceptions over the past two seasons.
7th Round: Damarius Travis, S, Minnesota
The Raiders lost safeties Brynden Trawick and Nate Allen via free agency, which opens reserves snaps on defense and opportunities on special teams. Safety Damarius Travis would bring toughness and grit to an overlooked unit, but he possesses the skill set to earn snaps in secondary.
The Minnesota prospect doesn’t have the flashy statistics. However, based on recent film, he makes his presence known with hard hits and physical plays in run support. During his senior season, he exhibited limited coverage capabilities with two interceptions and four passes defensed.