If Oakland Raiders fans had forgotten head coach Jon Gruden’s fondness for veteran players, they remember now after a free-agency period that saw the Raiders in theory get older, wiser and better.
A glaring problem at cornerback saw the Raiders cut both David Amerson and Sean Smith (the latter before he began to serve a potential one-year jail term) from a unit that desperately needed upgrading.
The Raiders will depend heavily on Gareon Conley, last year’s first-round draft pick, but found a starter to play opposite Conley in Rashaan Melvin of Indianapolis and also signed Shareece Wright (Chargers) and Leon Hall, who has played for the Bengals, Giants and 49ers.
Free agent Jordy Nelson replaced Michael Crabtree at wide receiver, and Breno Giacomini arrived as a competitor at right tackle — the lone vacant spot on the offensive line.
The arrivals of fullback Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber fortified special teams and linebacker Tahir Whitehead was an every-down player for Detroit and will play extensively at one of the three positions for the Raiders.
Here is a closer look at where the Raiders are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.
2017 finish: 3rd AFC West (6-10)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 324.1 (T17th)
RUSHING: 97.1 (25th)
PASSING: 226.9 (16th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 3501.1 (23rd)
RUSHING: 108.9 (12th)
PASSING: 241.1 (26th)
- Defensive tackle: With Khalil Mack coming off the edge and the Raiders committed to having Bruce Irvin play more as a pass rusher than a strong-side linebacker, head coach Jon Gruden is looking to find a presence to push the pocket from the inside. Justin Ellis re-signed with the Raiders, but is primarily a run-stopper. Mario Edwards Jr., a third-year player, has yet to show he can penetrate from the inside as a three-technique pass rusher. Second-year player Eddie Vanderdoes got starting experience, but wasn’t particularly effective and ended up with a torn ACL in the final game of the regular season.
- Cornerback: Yes, the Raiders were active in free agency, but there’s no guarantee Melvin, Wright and Hall can make a big difference and Conley has a lot to prove after seeing his rookie season essentially washed out because of a shin injury. General manager Reggie McKenzie has struggled identifying corners whether it be free agency or the draft, and now Gruden is on hand for the final say and his own spin. Don’t rule out another quality corner within the first two rounds to add to the mix.
- Tackle: Left tackle Donald Penn is coming off a Lisfranc fracture and is 34-years-old. The hope is he has one good year left, but there are no guarantees. He’s backed up by David Sharpe, a second-year player who fared well in his only start late in the season. Giacomini arrived to compete at right tackle along with Vadal Alexander and Denver Kirkland, but adding another quality rookie to compete on either side to either challenge on the right or eventually supplant Penn on the left is advisable.
KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 6)
–DT Justin Ellis: Potential UFA; $13.5M/3 yrs, $8.5M guaranteed ($2.25M injury only at signing, $1.5M RB/$2.25M RB 2019).
–QB EJ Manuel: UFA; terms unknown.
–S Reggie Nelson: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–TE Lee Smith: UFA; $9M/3 yrs, $4.1M guaranteed/$1M RB.
–DE Armonty Bryant: FA; terms unknown.
–DE Tank Carradine: UFA 49ers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–TE Derek Carrier: UFA Rams; $5.55M/3 yrs, $1.9M fully guaranteed/$750K RB.
–LS Andrew DePaola: UFA Bears; $4.27M/4 yrs, $875K guaranteed/$580K RB.
–T Breno Giacomini: UFA Texans; terms unknown.
–S Marcus Gilchrist: UFA Texans; $4M/1 yr, $3.85M guaranteed/$1.85M SB.
–CB Senquez Golson: FA; terms unknown.
–CB Leon Hall: UFA 49ers; $1.005M/1 yr, $45K SB.
–WR/KR Dwayne Harris: FA Giants; terms unknown.
–QB Josh Johnson: UFA Texans; $1.005M/1 yr, $90K RB.
–LB Emmanuel Lamur: UFA Vikings; terms unknown.
–RB Doug Martin: FA Buccaneers; $1.475M/1 yr, $525K RB.
–CB Rashaan Melvin: UFA Colts; $5.5M/1 yr, $4.85M fully guaranteed/$3M SB.
–WR Jordy Nelson: FA Packers; $15M/2 yrs, $13M guaranteed.
–FB Keith Smith: Not tendered as RFA by Cowboys; $4.2M/2 yrs.
–LB Tahir Whitehead: UFA Lions; $19M/3 yrs, $12.55M guaranteed ($6.275M injury only at signing, $3.175M RB.
–LB Kyle Wilber: UFA Cowboys; terms unknown.
–CB Shareece Wright: UFA Bills; $1.005M/1 yr, $90K RB.
–CB David Amerson (released).
–DE Denico Autry: UFA Colts; $17,.8M/3 yrs, $6.5M fully guaranteed.
–CB TJ Carrie: UFA Browns; $31M/4 yrs, $15.5M guaranteed ($5.5M injury only at signing, $3.6M SB).
–WR Michael Crabtree (released).
–P Marquette King (released).
–T Marshall Newhouse (released).
–FB Jamize Olawale (traded Cowboys).
–WR Cordarrelle Patterson (traded Patriots).
–CB Sean Smith (released).
–TE Clive Walford (released).
*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 10 overall)
Rob Rang (April 5 mock draft):
–Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. Despite boasting a terrific 1-2 set of edge rushers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, the Raiders featured one of the league’s leakiest secondaries in 2017 and finished with an NFL-low five interceptions. Ward is a true cover corner, blanketing receivers due to his exceptional quickness and speed.
Dane Brugler (April 6 mock draft):
–Vita Vea, DT, Washington. The Raiders have one of the weakest interior defensive line units in the AFC and need to upgrade from the inside out on defense. At 340 pounds, Vea is a rare player with his blend of power and athleticism.
Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team’s current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see full mocks and ratings at NFLDraftScout.com.