Consecutive 4-12 seasons have left the Oakland Raiders with a lot of questions and not a lot of definitive answers. Holding the fifth pick in the upcoming draft, however, the Raiders are hoping that they can start answering some of those questions. Judging by what some pundits and the Raider faithful are saying, the biggest question facing Oakland is at the quarterback position. With flashy names like Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles expected to be first-round picks, the Raider brass is feeling the pressure to snag one of those celebrated quarterbacks. Assuming that any of the three of them fall as far as the pick at five, selecting one of them would certainly make a big splash and infuse a healthy dose of optimism across the Raider Nation. It would also be a tremendous mistake.
Back for a third season at the helm and with a little flexibility under the salary cap, Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie can finally begin guiding their Raiders squad back to respectability and back to the playoffs. But it is imperative that they are smart about it. While nabbing a big name quarterback in the draft will make some headlines and restore some good feelings, it might not necessarily benefit the club in the long run. While there are certainly some questions at the quarterback position, the bigger questions and the ones that need to be addressed immediately are in the offensive line and on the defensive side of the ball. Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin showed flashes of excellence last season but they were both wildly inconsistent. Part of the problem was the constant pressure both quarterbacks found themselves facing play after play. As a unit, the offensive line gave up 44 sacks, which helped put the team in quite a few untenable situations. Only nine teams gave up more sacks than the Raiders in 2013 and perhaps not so coincidentally, those teams finished with a combined record of 66-95-1.
Poor pass protection that crippled the offense coupled with a defensive unit that gave up the fourth most points in the league (453), was ranked 20th against the run, and gave up the fifth most third-down conversions to their opponents begins to explain the 4-12 record. Solidifying a sometimes porous offensive line as well as a defense that was unable to make the big stops when necessary has to be the priority for Allen and, McKenzie. To that end, with the fifth pick in the draft, the Raiders should be looking at either Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews or Auburn tackle Greg Robinson. Either could step in immediately and help plug a leaky offensive line. Giving the quarterback — be it Pryor, McGloin, or somebody else entirely — the time to operate in a pocket that doesn’t immediately crumble around them can only benefit a club that had the 24th ranked passing attack in the league. If neither of those two are available, the Raiders need proven run stoppers and players who can get to the opposing quarterback. In that case, (and assuming that Jadeveon Clowney is already gone) drafting Kony Ealy out of Missouri or Scott Crichton out of Oregon State couldn’t hurt.
More times than not, games are won in the trenches by the team that wins the smaller individual battles and can control the line of scrimmage. While there is no doubt that drafting a Manziel or a Bridgewater would infuse some energy into the club, it would be a short lived energy if the team can’t win. And the team won’t win if they can’t solidify their offensive line and put some teeth into a defense that couldn’t stop anybody when it counted. Is taking an offensive tackle a sexy pick? No, of course not. Despite the fact that it lacks style and flash, taking Matthews or Robinson would be the smart pick. In this time of rebuilding, Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie need to be incredibly smart and judicious with their draft picks.
The teams that can control the lines of scrimmage and impose their will on their opponents are the ones you see holding the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. If that’s the vision Allen and McKenzie have for the Raiders, they’ll forget the flash and pizzazz of a possibly over-hyped quarterback and build a rock solid foundation for the club’s future.