2014 NFL Draft: 7 Hidden Gems the Oakland Raiders Would be Smart to Look At
Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders Need to Find the Diamonds in the Rough in the 2014 Draft
With so much on the line this season, and so many holes to fill, GM Reggie McKenzie and the Oakland Raiders are going to have to be smart and creative in how they go about constructing the team. With a lot of space under the salary cap, they figure to make a run at several high profile free agents who can step in and have an immediate impact. If they're smart about it, they can make a real splash, not to mention build a solid foundation for the team through free agency.
For the first time in a while, the Raiders also find themselves in the position of having an actual draft class. It seems like it's been forever since they've had a first-round pick, let alone a full slate of draft picks to fill. There is still a lot of speculation about what the Raiders plan to do with the fifth overall pick. Some think a quarterback is the most pressing need. Others say the holes on the offensive line need to be filled. Still others think the organization needs to draft a playmaking wide receiver. And still others think the gaping holes on defense need to be addressed. There is also a faction who believes that McKenzie should trade down in the draft to stockpile even more picks.
Obviously, there are no shortages of areas the Raiders need to address and all of those beliefs have some merit. The Raiders are the definition of a team rebuilding. So where do they start? Given that the highest profile playmakers are going to be gone in the first round, it is absolutely essential that McKenzie and his draft team look for the diamonds in the rough, for the hidden gems in the 2014 draft class. They need to identify players who, for whatever reason, don't garner the same sort of buzz or hype as the more celebrated players in college football, but at the same time can be just as solid and dynamic at the next level. It's not easy to do, but in 2014, just as in every draft class, there are players who don't generate a lot of media hype, but are solid, impact players.
Those are the types of players McKenzie desperately needs to find. Here are just a few of those diamonds in the rough that the Raiders would do very well to take a longer look at...
7. Dexter McDougle - Cornerback (University of Maryland)
Dexter McDougle had a strong junior season at the University of Maryland, and with three picks in the first three games of his senior season, seemed to be on pace for an even better year. But a shoulder injury cost McDougle most of the 2013 season, and as a result, he's slipped way down on a lot of team's draft boards. There are simply too many unknowns with McDougle at this point to justify using a high pick on him. His inability to work out at the combine certainly didn't help alleviate any of those fears either. But he's got plenty of speed and terrific instincts for the ball, as his interception totals indicate. He's likely only going to fall into the third round -- or beyond -- because of his injury, and the Raiders, needing an upgrade in the secondary, would do well to snap him up with a late pick.
6. Stanley Jean-Baptiste - Cornerback (University of Nebraska)
Stanley Jean-Baptiste from the University of Nebraska is a project player who has more potential than anything at this point. He has the raw skills to be a dominant corner in the league, but he needs time to develop, there is no question about it. Jean-Baptiste was a little inconsistent in coverage and was burned badly on several plays, but at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, he's got the ideal body type for an NFL cornerback and has plenty of quickness. He's got long limbs, excellent body control and can change direction on a dime. All valuable attributes of successful NFL corners. His inconsistency will likely knock his draft stock down to the later rounds, and if the Raiders can be patient with him and develop his raw skills, he could be a terrific corner for the Silver and Black.
5. Pierre Desir - Cornerback (Lindenwood University)
With tall cornerbacks being such a hot commodity thanks to the Seattle Seahawks' freakishly talented secondary, Pierre Desir, from very little known Lindenwood University, suddenly finds himself on the radars of some NFL teams. After beginning to play with Lindenwood in 2012, Desir quickly established himself as one of the best defensive backs in the country. And he did nothing to diminish that reputation with a very solid showing at the East-West Shrine Game. If he lasts to the later rounds -- and there is no guarantee that he will given the market for big cornerbacks these days -- the Raiders need to snap him up immediately. He has the skills to step in and be an impact player immediately and provide some solid defense in the secondary -- an area the Raiders need a vast upgrade in.
4. Brandin Cooks - Wide Receiver (Oregon State University)
He was perhaps once a relatively unknown commodity, but a strong showing at the NFL Combine has catapulted Oregon State wideout Brandin Cooks onto a lot of pro radars. He has an amazing ability to start, stop and change direction with lightning quickness which makes him difficult to contain in open space. He has breakaway speed and an ability to get behind defenses with ease, and he has excellent body control which allows him to adjust to poorly thrown balls.
He put up insane numbers at Oregon State, but is widely viewed as a product of a favorable system. He also lacks the size -- he's 5-foot-10 -- that NFL teams covet in their receivers. His height might be what keeps him from going in the first couple of rounds of the draft. But if the Raiders need a possession-type receiver who can make plays in open space -- and they desperately do -- they would be wise to snatch Cooks if he's available.
3. Chidera Uzo-Diribe - Defensive End (University of Colorado)
2. Allen Robinson - Wide Receiver (Penn State University)
Over his last two seasons at Penn State, wide receiver Allen Robinson has quietly put together an impressive body of work. He totaled 174 catches for more than 2,400 total yards and 17 touchdowns to go along with it. Despite that resume, though, Robinson hasn't generated a lot of pre-draft hype. The fact that he has dropped a few balls and isn't exceptionally skilled at blocking downfield will likely mean he falls into the later rounds of the draft. But those issues are ultimately minor and can be improved upon. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, and with plenty of speed, the ability to run crisp routes, terrific body control and being incredibly good in space, Robinson has the potential to be an explosive No. 1 receiver in any NFL system, and with the Raiders in dire need of some receiving talent, Robinson would be an absolute steal in the later rounds.
1. Shaquil Barrett - Linebacker (Colorado State University)
Coming out of Colorado State at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, Shaquil Barrett is a fireplug. He's got tremendous quickness and strength, but rather than try to bull rush his way past offensive linemen, he's intelligent about it, reads them and then employs a number of slick moves to get around the corner. And he's tremendously effective in getting to the opposing quarterbacks, racking up a dozen sacks in 2013. He's strong against the run and doesn't hesitate at the point of attack. He also possesses terrific instincts which he uses to penetrate the backfield, and unlike some linemen who run themselves out of a play with a wide, sweeping rush, Barrett always manages to stay in the lanes and close off lines of escape. He's incredibly intelligent and effective at wreaking havoc in an opponent's backfield. But his size may be of concern to some, with his shorter stature not making him a prototypical edge rusher. That perceived shortcoming may lead to Barrett falling down the draft board and if they're fortunate, into the hands of the Raiders who desperately need a dominant pass rusher.