After hitting big on recent high draft picks in Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, Reggie McKenzie is building a roster ready to challenge. Of all the teams who missed out on the playoffs in 2015, the Raiders are perhaps the team who could enter the off-season with the most optimism going into the following year. They built on that with a strong-looking free agency, bringing in quality difference makers in Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith and Kelechi Osemele. Another good draft could be the final push into the post-season in 2016.
Day 1 – Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia (Rd 1, #14)
With the retirement of future Hall of Fame safety Charles Woodson, this was a big need. Now that Joseph and Nelson have been added, that issue looks resolved. This is early to some people to take Joseph, but he was our #12 overall prospect and one of the best pure football players in this class. The question is whether he’s able to fully recover from his early season ACL injury and that he’ll be able to play as well as he did beforehand. If the medical outlook is good, then this should turn out to be a very good selection. Joseph is short, another reason some teams wouldn’t consider him at this point, but he is not small, with a sturdy build and a very physical game to deliver thumping hits. He has unbelievable closing speed and read/react skills that sees him fly to the ball, but is equally adept at anticipating in the pass game to make plays in coverage. Not saying he’ll be as good, as that would be a big projection, but he is in the Earl Thomas mould. I would not have traded back either in the hopes of still landing Joseph later. Though it’s uncertain what the Falcons draft board looked like, Joseph is a much better looking prospect than Keanu Neal who Atlanta took just a few picks later at #17, and may have been their choice instead had the Raiders not taken Joseph where they did.
Day 2 – Jihad Ward, DL, Illinois (Rd 2, #44). Shilique Calhoun, EDGE, Michigan State (Rd 3, #75)
Ward really made a name for himself at the Senior Bowl, standing out in a deep D-line group. That said, it’s just not reflected in his tape, struggling to make an impact much more often than not. There’s upside with his length and overall size, but he’s yet to show that he can put it to use on the field. Given the loss of Justin Tuck, he’s a useful addition to the front line in terms of positional need. There’s a lot to potentially like about the addition of Calhoun. The negatives are his inconsistent motor and poor play versus the run, but as a situational pass rusher he has speed off the edge and delivers results in the backfield. The prospect of he, Mack and Irvin has the potential to be tough to handle. Everyone will be trying to some degree to replicate the manner in which division rivals the Broncos won themselves a Super Bowl, and the Raiders are building a dangerous looking pass rush of their own. In the build up to the draft, I noted the comparisons in terms of style between Calhoun and Irvin – whether actually having them both on the same team works out well will be interesting to see. The league values the ability to get to the quarterback though, and Calhoun has done that well over his college career. Calhoun has holes in his game while Ward is an under-achiever, so the Raiders’ day two choices could go either way.
Day 3 – Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State (Rd 4, #100). DeAndre Washington, RB, Texas Tech (Rd 5, #143). Cory James, EDGE, Colorado State (Rd 6, #194). Vadal Alexander, OG, LSU (Rd 7, #234)
The late third round to early fourth round was the range expected for Cook. The concerns were legit, and he’s a career 58% thrower whose numbers actually decreased each of his three seasons. The infuriatingly inconsistent footwork, mechanics, accuracy and decision-making were more factors in where he was selected than the leadership questions. Where he’s ended up though caught many by surprise, in addition to the decision to pay the price of trading up to get him. Given the desire to improve their backup QB situation, taking him if he was there on the board makes some sense, but to actively and aggressively move up to get him raises a few eyebrows for sure. DeAndre Washington was an under-rated back, as a compact and shifty runner who could become a solid contributor. That said, given that the Arkansas pair of Collins and Williams were both available, and the fact that Washington does struggle in terms of pass protection and ball security, this one might not be looked back on favourably. Alexander fell quite a bit as he moves like he’s running through mud and struggles with his footwork. His massive frame gives him a chance, but he may not end up making the roster. Great to see James getting a shot; he’s been fun to watch in college over the years. His lack of length and size led to only a priority free agent grade from us, so we’ll see if he can overcome the odds.
Even though some weren’t keen on it, Joseph was the most likeable pick at first look from this year’s Raiders class. If he’s over that injury, he’ll be a fantastic playmaker and game changer on this defense. Outside of that there’s risk in the day two choices, and day three features a questionable trade up along with some under-whelming later selections. It’s very much a wait-and-see collection of prospects all round (but then hey, every draft class is, right?).