25 Mar 19
Red Bluff Daily News
Exactly one month stands between Monday and the 2019 NFL Draft, in which the Raiders hold four of the first 35 picks and a league-high three on opening night.
They were among the most active teams in the first two weeks of free agency, with the signings of Antonio Brown and Trent Brown highlighting a bevy of moves on both sides of the ball, yet plenty of work remains for Oakland to return to relevance in a division topped by two of the best teams in the NFL.
Assuming the Raiders don’t send more shockwaves through the league in the late stages of free agency, here are the three areas that need the most improvement during the draft.
The Raiders sacked opposing quarterbacks only 13 times last season, the fewest sacks for a team in a single season since the 2008 Chiefs had only 10.
And the only edge defender the Raiders added in free agency was Josh Mauro, who has three sacks in five years with the Cardinals and Giants. He and Arden Key are currently the only two defensive ends under contract, and Mauro is far more of a run-stopper than a pass rusher (we’ll see how long he’s even a Raider).
Oakland started last preseason with Key as the No. 3 edge rusher behind Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, but the Raiders dealt Mack to the Bears before the season and released Irvin during Week 10. Key was thrust to the top of the depth chart, and finished his rookie season with only one sack. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther thought he would’ve neared double digits if he could finish plays.
If the Raiders don’t select a quarterback with their first pick a month from Monday, their draft card will likely contain the name of a pass rusher. The two most likely options are Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen and Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who’s proven he can reach opposing quarterbacks even from the interior. If the Cardinals take Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Kyler Murray No. 1, which the Raiders would love assuming they don’t want him themselves, Williams or Allen will fall to No. 4 assuming the 49ers take Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa second.
If no quarterbacks go in the top three and instead Bosa, Allen and Williams are off the board when the Raiders pick at No. 4, Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary or Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat might be the selection. Or, in what might be a more likely scenario, the Raiders could trade back with a quarterback-needy team and stockpile even more picks in the early rounds.
Of course they wouldn’t snatch the caliber of pass rusher as they would at No. 4, whether he’s one of the big three or not, but then again the draft isn’t an exact science. Some options later in the first round, if the Raiders draft a quarterback at No. 4 or trade back, are Florida State defensive end Brian Burns, Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell, Florida defensive end Jachai Polite and Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson.
We still don’t know if Marshawn Lynch is returning or retiring. Even if he plays, he’ll be 33 before the draft and coming off a groin injury that sidelined him for the final 10 games of last season.
Doug Martin, who filled Lynch’s place as Oakland’s primary back, tied for the league lead among running backs in 2018 with three lost fumbles. He’s currently unemployed, too, as an unrestricted free agent yet to sign. Jalen Richard is used primarily in passing situations, which he’s very good at, but he’s not much use on the ground. Chris Warren, the 2018 preseason rushing yards leader, remains unproven after missing his entire rookie season due to injury.
The Raiders finished 25th in the NFL with 101.8 rushing yards per game, and tied for 21st with 4.2 yards per carry.
Marshawn Lynch has yet to publicly indicate his future plans. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
It’s a dangerous practice selecting a running back in the first round given today’s elites who’ve come off the board later, even if you have three first-round picks. Among the top 10 players in rushing yards last season, four came from Rounds 2-7. And one, Denver’s Phillip Lindsay, went undrafted in 2018.
Alabama running back Josh Jacobs seems to be the only first-rounder among this year’s crop, and the Raiders certainly might consider him with either pick No. 24 or 27. The likelihood they look Jacobs’ way late in the first round, or even early in the second with pick No. 35 if he’s still on the board, increases if the Raiders nab a pass rusher with their first pick since they won’t necessarily have to pick one in their next several selections.
If the Raiders don’t land Jacobs, other options in the first couple rounds include his Alabama teammate Damien Harris, Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary, Iowa State’s David Montgomery, Penn State’s Miles Sanders and Stanford’s Bryce Love.
The Raiders got their No. 1 and that’s a start. But Antonio Brown will look nothing like a No. 1 if teams can double him while only having to worry about one other guy.
The Raiders signed Tyrell Williams as a viable No. 2, a 6-foot-4 speedster who can take top off of defenses. They also signed J.J. Nelson, who owns the fifth-fastest 40 time in combine history at 4.28 seconds.
But they’re about to officially lose Jared Cook to the Saints, according to reports, and the tight end was Derek Carr’s top target last season. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the tight end position (do the Raiders stick with Darren Waller or draft someone like Iowa tight end Noah Fant late in the first?) and the release of Jordy Nelson, the Raiders might strongly consider drafting a wide receiver with one of their first four picks.
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag”]
While Brown and Tyrell Williams compose a nice 1-2 punch, the Raiders won’t come close to matching the Chiefs’ and Chargers’ offenses without a sturdy No. 3 target for Carr. Seth Roberts, Marcell Ateman and Saeed Blacknall won’t scare anybody.
Options include Ole Miss wideout D.K. Metcalf (if they trade back), Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry, Ole Miss’ A.J. Brown, Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown, Iowa’s Fant and N.C. State’s Kelvin Harmon, among others.