Lining Up The Raiders’ Needs With The 2014 Draft Class
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With another loss, Raiders’ fans can officially begin to look at next year, and the draft class in particular (although I still maintain that trying to lose is still not the right answer). The Raiders are in the midst of a major overhaul to their franchise, and the draft is going to have to be a success for the Raiders in order to make this transition a successful one. The Raiders have taken clear definite steps in the right direction this season so far, as their approach to signing cheap talented veterans has paid off in spades in the form of Kevin Burnett, Nick Roach, Charles Woodson, Pat Sims, and more. However, the transformation is far complete, and the Raiders currently look a bit like someone from Hogwarts in mid-transfiguration – you can see what the long-term goal is, but it’s certainly not pretty right now.
The last few games have shown the Raiders lack of depth, as the defense has looked particularly tired, and with good reason the way Tarver has had them blitzing all year. If Tarver’s scheme is going to work (and I think it most definitely can), the Raiders will need far more depth in the secondary. Injuries have hurt the club this year, but they lack depth regardless.
There’s also the matter of youth. Much of the Raiders’ return to relevance is banking on better draft picks than the previous era, which netted them Darren McFadden’s best Elijah Price imitation, Lamarr Houston, two solid offensive lineman…. And that’s pretty much it. In just last year’s draft the Raiders seem to possibly have hit it big with leaders on both sides having emerged this season. In Matt McGloin and Sio Moore, the Raiders have two young stalwarts that, if given time, could be the building blocks of a successful Raiders’ team once again.
So with those building blocks, along with some of the veteran bargains they found last offseason, where should the Raiders look in this year’s draft?
Well, let’s begin with where there are likely to pick, as that may determine a lot. As of right now, CBS sports has the Raiders listed as the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, the highest pick of all the 4-9 teams. The NFL is so hard to predict on a week-to-week basis that trying to play out every team’s remaining schedule is a waste of everybody’s time, so let’s proceed as if they stay at the fifth overall pick.
Right now Scout Inc. has wide receiver, Sammy Watkins out of Clemson as the fifth best prospect in next year’s class.
This is an unbelievably tempting fit for the Raiders. Here’s a list of wide receivers taken in the top 10 in the NFL draft in the last three years: Tavon Austin (shown potential, but hasn’t burst on scene as a rookie), Justin Blackmon (when he has his head on straight he’s unstoppable, even with Chad Henne throwing him the ball), A.J. Green (beast), and Julio Jones (absolute force until injury this season).
That’s an awesome group of talent that the Raiders would kill for Matt McGloin to be able to throw to. Who else can picture Matt McGloin as an Andy Daulton-type if he had A.J. Green to play catch with? The Bengals have built their team around a stout defense, a competent quarterback and running back, and A.J. Green. The Raiders could pretty easily follow this model, which currently has the Bengals 9-4, and looking like a lock for the playoffs.
However, here’s the catch (no pun intended), and it’s the reason I didn’t go back further than 2011 in looking at top ten receivers. The first top ten receiver taken before that aforementioned group – Darrius Heyward-Bey. Raiders’ fans need no reminder of how taking a top ten wide receiver can end poorly. Now Heyward-Bey was known to be a bad draft pick, even at the time the Raiders took him, and Watkins has a much better pedigree, but the risk is still there.
In the end, however, Watkins seems to be a great fit, a player who Raiders’ fans should be paying close attention to in the Orange Bowl come January. This is by no means the final article on the Raiders and the draft options, and a lot can change between now and next May, but it is certainly an interesting story for Raiders’ fans to keep their eyes on.