5 Potential First-Round Scenarios for the Oakland Raiders in 2014 NFL Draft
Reggie McKenzie Has a Lot of Work to Do
The Oakland Raiders find themselves heading into somewhat uncertain territory. They have the No. 5 overall pick and a pile of spending money for the first time in a long time. We can hope that history does not dictate the way forward for the Raiders who have a long track record of shelling out huge contracts to players who are well past their prime, vastly underperform or were never worth the kind of money the organization threw at them in the first place -- several players like Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly come to mind.
However, the Raiders also have another poor track record to deal with: Making the wrong choices in the draft. With a recent first-round history filled with names like Jamarcus Russell, Darius Heyward-Bey, Rolando McClain, Darren McFadden and Robert Gallery among others, the Raiders have shown an absolute ineptitude to make the right pick. That ineptitude is only made worse when you consider who the Raiders could have taken, players like Jason Pierre-Paul, Knowshon Moreno, Clay Matthews or Joe Flacco. For whatever reason, over the last decade plus the Raiders have swung for the fences and whiffed more times than not.
Now in what is arguably one of the more important seasons in franchise history as Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie try to erase the mistakes of Al Davis' last years with the organization, they need to chart the way forward. To do that they will need to make the smart moves in free agency, but perhaps more importantly they need a strong draft class. They need low risk/high reward impact players who can immediately step into one of the gaping voids on the team and make a difference. In this, Allen and McKenzie's third season at the helm, the time for excuses is over. And if the team doesn't show a marked improvement neither of them will likely be back for a fourth.
With that in mind, here are five possible ways the Raiders can use that No. 5 overall pick to chart the way forward.
5. Trade Up to Take a QB Not Named Manziel
This is probably the least desirable option for the Raiders with their first-round pick. They will be sacrificing more picks to draft a QB who may or may not be ready to lead an NFL franchise. But if the team is bound and determined to take a QB, they have to trade up to take Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater or UCF's Blake Bortles. There's no question that Johnny Manziel is a talented athlete, but he's not the right choice for the Raiders as they try to rebuild. They need a steady presence under center and one with the ability to lead an NFL offense. Manziel is a gunslinging, sandlot football sort of player, and he will lead the Raiders nowhere. If they feel they must take a QB with their first pick it should be either Bridgewater, Bortles or bust.
4. Trade Up to Take a Defensive Beast
This option isn't quite as undesirable as the previous option, but the Raiders would again be giving up draft picks they could use to shore up other areas of the team that desperately need an upgrade. But South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney could be worth the gamble. After a standout 2012 season, Clowney seemed to regress a little bit, dropping from 13 sacks to just three. There was also a lot of talk about his effort and unwillingness to play through injury. But there is no question that Clowney is a rare talent, an absolute beast on defense and will be an immediate impact player. The Raiders absolutely need to put some teeth into what was one of the worst defenses in the league in 2013, and if they can re-sign Lamarr Houston and add Clowney to the mix it could be a solid start to doing just that.
3. Trade Down to Stockpile Some Picks
Raider fans are probably moaning and groaning about this option, but it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Making a splash with a flashy first-round draft pick is all well and good, but when you have as many areas of need as the Raiders do and there are many different holes to plug you need all the help you can get. Trading down and stockpiling even more picks in the draft to address those many and varied areas of need wouldn't be the end of the world. In fact, it might be the smartest move they can make. No, it's not the sexy thing to do, but when you're rebuilding a franchise brick by brick, the last thing you should be worrying about is the sexy thing to do.
2. Use the Pick to Upgrade the Offensive Line
Again, not the sexiest, flashiest thing and many of the Raider faithful hate the idea of burning a high pick on an offensive lineman -- especially after living through the Robert Gallery experience -- but the team and the fans need to face the facts. The Raiders offensive line was pretty awful last season, and that's something that needs to be corrected if they want to see the team have any sort of success. Being able to open running lanes as well as keeping your quarterback upright is essential. Re-signing Jared Veldheer is a priority and adding either Texas A&M's Jake Matthews or Auburn Greg Robinson's would go a long way toward solidifying the offensive line situation. It's a pick that may lack glitz and flash, but it is a smart, solid move.
1. Use the Pick to Upgrade the Receiving Corps
There is no question that the Raiders receiving corps needs an upgrade in a big way. Rod Streater, Denarius Moore and Andre Holmes are all good, solid receivers, but the team lacks a true No. 1. Either Clemson's Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M's Mike Evans could be the shot in the arm the Raiders' passing attack so desperately needs. Watkins is fast, can stretch the field or catch passes underneath. He won't break a lot of tackles, but he's great in space and can make plays. While not nearly as quick as Watkins, Evans is big (6-foot-5), strong and physical. He's possibly a less refined version of Vincent Jackson but has a lot of upside. Either receiver would vastly improve the Raiders' passing attack and could make a difference immediately.