ALAMEDA, Calif. -- After finishing 6-10 last season and losing a coin flip with the San Francisco 49ers, the Oakland Raiders have the No. 10 pick in this week’s NFL draft.
But will they stay there?
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is not shy about trading down, as he did in 2013, when he set his sights on cornerback DJ Hayden at No. 3, traded down to No. 12, still got his man and picked up a second-round selection in the swap. Now, you can debate all you want about McKenzie missing on the Hayden pick (Star Lotulelei, Desmond Trufant, Xavier Rhodes, Darius Slay, anyone?), but McKenzie’s philosophy has always been to let the draft board talk to him.
There is another voice in the Raiders draft room now: Jon Gruden. So who will do the talking now?
“The board will still be doing the talking,” McKenzie said with a shrug. “It really will.”
So if the Raiders stay at No. 10, here are five players the Raiders could potentially tab, and why or why not they are a match. (On Tuesday, we’ll look at a few others who might be targets should Oakland trade back.)
Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith
Silver and Black: The answer to Raider Nation’s prayers as a ready-made NFL linebacker with his tackling ability, sideline-to-sideline coverage skills and purportedly voracious appetite for studying film. As ESPN’s Louis Riddick tweeted, Smith’s “tape is close to perfect. He can do it all.” As in be able to play either the Mike or the Will in a 4-3 scheme.
Silver and Blech: The last linebacker linked to the Raiders who was seen as such a surefire hit? Try Rolando McClain. True, it’s unfair to link Smith with McClain, but tape in college and reputation can carry you only so far. Besides, the Niners might take this decision off the Raiders’ hands at No. 8, if the Chicago Bears don’t beat them to it a pick earlier.
Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds
Silver and Black: Gruden himself said the Raiders would not “discriminate” against Edmunds because of his youth -- he is at the tender age of 19 but will be 20 by the time the season begins. And what a physical freak Edmunds is at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, with the ability to play stout against the run and carry good speed, thanks to his 4.58 40-yard dash time. He would provide immediate depth, on defense and special teams.
Silver and Blech: The Raiders already addressed the linebacker position with aplomb in free agency, inking Tahir Whitehead, Kyle Wilber and Emmanuel Lamur to join the likes of Bruce Irvin, Cory James, Shilique Calhoun and Nicholas Morrow. And then there's the anticipated re-signing of NaVorro Bowman. Edmunds has the feel of a project this high in the draft, which for Raiders fans brings to mind combine warrior Bruce Campbell.
Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea
Silver and Black: If the key to unlocking edge rusher Khalil Mack’s full potential is to provide him with help inside, look no further than the monstrous and athletic Vea, who can plug holes, push the pocket and chase down ball carriers with equal ease. Vea, at 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, is seen in many parts as the next Haloti Ngata; and that’s not a good thing, it’s a great thing for Oakland. Gruden wants a Warren Sapp-type defensive tackle to occupy blockers and free up Mack, à la Simeon Rice.
Silver and Blech: Sure, he can push the pocket, but Vea’s sack production went down from his sophomore to junior season, from 5.0 to 3.5. Plus, many see him as merely a two-down player, and the Raiders already have that at DT in Justin Ellis. Plus, the highest McKenzie has ever drafted a defensive tackle is in the third round, last year, with Eddie Vanderdoes -- who is coming off ACL surgery.
Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward
Silver and Black: McKenzie subscribes to that old Al Davis maxim that you build a team from the cornerbacks in, or have you missed the GM taking corners with his first-round pick in 2013 (Hayden) and 2017 (Gareon Conley)? This would allow for a Buckeye reunion between Ward and Conley, who played only two games last season due to injury. Plus, Ward thrives in man-to-man coverage. Sound familiar, Raider Nation?
Silver and Blech: Another Ohio State corner? Seriously? Until Conley shows up, it’s hard to defend McKenzie on evaluating cornerbacks, though TJ Carrie, a seventh-rounder in 2014, was serviceable. Then again, Ward might not be there at No. 10, as his stock is skyrocketing and nine other teams ahead might be in line ... so long as they don’t need a quarterback, right?
Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick
Silver and Black: Imagine the glee on the face new Raiders defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley (who was with the Crimson Tide the past two years) should Fitzpatrick be available at No. 10. Fitzpatrick’s allure is that he could be this draft's best overall playmaker in the secondary, as well as the best athlete. And at 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds, Fitzpatrick also could play cornerback. He had nine interceptions in three seasons at Alabama.
Silver and Blech: Let’s see, the Raiders used a first-rounder on strong safety Karl Joseph two years ago, re-signed free safety Reggie Nelson (purportedly because he is familiar with new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme) and signed Marcus Gilchrist in free agency. And last year’s second-rounder, Obi Melifonwu, is healthy. Do you really want your first-rounder to be for depth in a reloading season?