HENDERSON, Nev. -- For just the third time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, the Las Vegas Raiders hold the No. 7 overall pick ... providing they stay put and don't trade out of the slot. The two players the Raiders have selected at that spot -- defensive back Michael Huff in 2006 and receiver Darius Heyward-Bey in 2008.
And only three times since the merger have the Raiders drafted a quarterback in the first round -- Marc Wilson at No. 15 overall in 1980, Todd Marinovich at No. 24 in 1991 and JaMarcus Russell with the top pick in 2007.
Sensing a trend yet?
The Raiders, having cut Derek Carr, are in need of a quarterback for the first time since 2014. And with the NFL scouting combine starting this week in Indianapolis and Las Vegas' relatively high draft standing -- and accompanying draft capital to move up should the Raiders feel the need to select a specific someone -- it warrants checking in on prospects who might garner their attention.
But with 29 unrestricted free agents, as well as a bottom-5 defense, QB is not the Raiders' only major target. Far from it.
As such, here's a look at the position groups and specific players the Raiders, who currently have nine draft picks and are projected to get at least two more compensatory selections, could focus on as potential first-round targets at the combine.
True, what the Raiders do in free agency at the most important position in team sports -- trade for Aaron Rodgers or Mac Jones? Sign Jimmy Garoppolo? Re-sign Jarrett Stidham? -- will determine what they do in the draft, though McDaniels indicated Tuesday the Raiders were looking for a long-term solution at quarterback.
But they need to do their due diligence with the top prospects at the position: Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, Alabama's Bryce Young, Kentucky's Will Levis and Florida's Anthony Richardson, though Young will not throw at the combine.
Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, perhaps having learned from the Tim Tebow debacle in Denver more than a decade ago, may not want to cast his entire lot with a rookie. Which would open the door for more than a look-see at the likes of Tennessee's Hendon Hooker and Fresno State's Jake Haener later in the draft after securing a veteran beforehand.
Of course, going after Stroud, whose skill set seemingly fits into McDaniels' system best, or Young would probably mean trading up to get them, while trading back may allow them to still select Richardson. Levis may be too enticing to pass up if he is still there at 7, while Richardson's ceiling is as enticing as his inaccuracy is concerning.
Keeping tabs on which quarterbacks the Raiders keep tabs on at the combine is key, then.
Whichever quarterback is under center for the Raiders will need protection, and while last year's rebuilt offensive line was a pleasant surprise -- Josh Jacobs led the NFL in rushing and Carr was sacked 13 times fewer in 2022 than in 2021, albeit in two fewer games -- five of their O-linemen are free agents, including the starting right side of the line in guard Alex Bars and tackle Jermaine Eluemunor.
Ohio State's Paris Johnson Jr. played left tackle in college, but the 6-foot-7, 308-pound Johnson projects well as a Day 1 starter at right tackle in the NFL, and McDaniels' system likes taller right tackles. Northwestern's Peter Skoronski perhaps translates better as a road-grading, run-blocking guard while Georgia's Broderick Jones did not allow a sack at left tackle last season.
The Raiders seem set at edge rushers with Pro Bowler Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones, who is entering the second year of his three-year $51 million free-agent deal. But what if Georgia's Jalen Carter, who can disrupt the passer from anywhere along the defensive line, is sitting there at No. 7? Same with Alabama's Will Anderson Jr., Clemson's Myles Murphy or Texas Tech's Tyree Wilson?
The Raiders would probably have to trade up to get the 6-foot-3, 310-pound Carter, who had six sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss the last two seasons combined, or the 6-4, 243-pound Anderson (27.5 sacks, 54 tackles for loss, 130 pressures over the last two years). But going heavy on defense and taking a flier on a quarterback in the middle rounds would be a plan should they address QB in free agency, especially if they re-sign Stidham. Which is why keeping an eye on a defensive difference-maker early at the combine makes so much sense.
A franchise that has featured the likes of Willie Brown, Lester Hayes, Mike Haynes, Charles Woodson and Nnamdi Asomugha has struggled mightily to fill those big shoes over the past couple decades. Of course, every team would like a big, physical shutdown cornerback, or three, but the Raiders' already more-than-decent pass rush would benefit greatly from upgrading the position, even if they re-sign Rock Ya-Sin, who missed six games with injury last season.
Three cornerbacks to keep an eye on, then, are Illinois' Devon Witherspoon, Penn State's Joey Porter Jr., and Oregon's Christian Gonzalez, though all three could potentially be available later than No. 7 should the Raiders consider trading back for more picks. Gonzalez, at 6-2, 201 pounds, is the biggest of the group and had four interceptions with seven pass breakups last season while the 6-1, 180-pound Witherspoon, a former college teammate of Raiders DB Nate Hobbs, allowed just 3.3 yards per attempt thrown in his direction, picked off three passes and had 14 breakups. Porter, at 6-2, 198 pounds, did not have an INT as offenses shied away from him, though he did have 11 breakups.