In Part Two, Cover 32 Raiders writer Maliik Obee delves into the myriad of defensive talent available.
Cornerback – This position has been on Raiders mock drafts since Nnamdi Asomugha departed for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011. The Raiders 2017 first round pick Gareon Conley beat an alleged rape case only to miss the season due to a shin injury clouded by mystery. This injury held Conley to just two games played, killing the Raiders hopes of solving their woes. Reformed cornerback T.J. Carrie is a free agent, and despite providing Oakland with their best corner play this season, he may not be worth resigning. The two corners that have gotten the biggest payday, Sean Smith and David Amerson, have underwhelmed and been injured for most of the season. The Raiders will likely cut their losses with the three, forcing them to rebuild. Next to linebacker, this is the key position that needs fixing immediately.
Denzel Ward (Ohio State) – It’s not certain exactly where the Raiders will land at this point in the season, but if it’s in the top ten, they should consider taking a cornerback. The best corner for Oakland would be Denzel Ward. Pairing Ward with his old Buckeyes’ friend Gareon Conley would be a dream come true for a defense desperate for anything resembling a shutdown corner. With Conley on the outside, Ward could operate the slot, using his speed, awareness, and instincts to help a defense in dire need.
Isaiah Oliver (Colorado) – Isaiah Oliver passes the Reggie McKenzie test with excellence. Oliver is a combination of good size (6’1), length, and awareness. Oliver can press up and has the recovery speed to make a play on the long ball. Paired with Conley, this could be the 1-2 the Raiders could employ long-term.
Danny Johnson (Southern) – Danny Johnson has made quite the splash for a player coming out of a historically black college. In fact, he garnered the most attention for a Southern University player since hall of fame safety Aeneas Williams. In addition, it remains warranted, as the 5’9 corner is the goods. Johnson is a big-play corner that could come in for the Raiders in the nickel and produce from day one. The lack of competition faced will surely cause him to be a day two or three sleeper, giving the Raiders the opportunity to scoop him with one of their compensatory picks. General Manager Reggie McKenzie has showed that he is not afraid to go after small school players in the past.
Josh Jackson (Iowa) – Josh Jackson is a flat-out ballhawk, a Jim Thorpe award finalist. He is the prototype corner, following the footsteps of former Hawkeye Desmond King, drafted by the San Diego Chargers in April. Nevertheless, like King, Jackson’s speed raises questions. A good 40 time at the combine will solidify Jackson as a first rounder; a bad time will have team’s questioning if he is a corner. The coverage skills are not a question, but the Raiders cannot afford to have another slowpoke on the outside (Sean Smith). Put an asterisk next to this name until combine time.
Mazzi Wilkins (USF) – USF corner Mazzi Wilkins is flying under the radar, likely because of his tiny frame. Alternatively, it could be the fact that this is his first year as a starter. Either way, Wilkins has made a name for himself. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilkins’ 26.9 passer rating when targeted is the sixth lowest of all FBS cornerbacks. At 176 pounds, Wilkins will have to bulk up this offseason to prove he can bang with the big boys, but the instincts and awareness is already there.
EDGE (3-4 OLB) – Khalil Mack is arguably the best defensive player in the league, and his 2016 Defensive MVP was no fluke. However, plain and simple, he has gotten no help on the defensive line. After a great season in 2016, Bruce Irvin has fallen off the face of the earth, absent in the Raiders pass rush. The Raiders are on pace to record the league’s lowest sack totals for the second consecutive season. While the Raiders will attempt to extend Mack’s contract long term, they must get him some help on the opposite edge.
Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) – Tigers’ edge rusher Clelin Ferrell is climbing up mocks with his speed with a quick first step to bend around some of the SEC’s premiere tackles. Ferrell shows great ability to create pressure, as well as set the edge and make plays against the run.
Dorance Armstrong (Kansas) – Dorance Armstrong has made a name nationally as the best player on a terribly awful Jayhawks team. Armstrong is fast off the ball, and plays with a fire that the Raiders desperately lack. At around 240 pounds, Armstrong will have to bulk up a bit to compete at the next level, but he finds a way to get to the ball nevertheless.
3-TECH – The Raiders need that guy in the trenches that can stop the runs up the gut that consistently seem to gash this team. Oakland is currently one of the worst teams against the run, and the inconsistency up front is a big reason why.
Maurice Hurst (Michigan) – Some players just jump off the screen, and Mo Hurst is one of those guys. Whether against the run or in pass rush, Hurst requires plenty of attention. Hurst is a run-stuffer, currently tied for second in the Big Ten in tackles for loss with 11.5. His speed off the ball causes teams to double team, which would work wonders for Khalil Mack.
Da’Ron Payne (Alabama) – Like Hurst, Da’Ron Payne is equally talented at rushing the passer and stuffing the run. Nevertheless, Payne possesses the speed to move around on the line, going from a 1-tech to the edge for Bama this season. Payne’s versatility and ability to burst into the backfield might be too good for Oakland to pass up given the opportunity.
INSIDE LINEBACKER – The Raiders could have been trying to resolve this issue since Greg Biekert. They could have resolved it in the offseason by not lowballing Zach Brown. Instead, they waited until the fifth round in this year’s draft to take Marquel Lee, who has been hurt for majority of the year. Then they signed NaVorro Bowman, who despite the effort is a shell of himself, for the money that they could have given Brown. Besides Bowman, Oakland’s linebacker core has one year of experience in total.
RoQuan Smith (Georgia) – Georgia linebacker RoQuan Smith is the total package. Sure, Oakland would not ideally want another unproven backer, but if the Raiders got it right the first time, they would not be in this position. Smith is a supreme run stuffer and he is not too shabby in coverage. The Raiders are one of the league’s worst teams in both regards, so this pick may be an excuse to take a linebacker in round one.
Rashaan Evans (Alabama) – Bama linebacker Rashaan Evans is arguably the best pure Mike in this draft. Evans just plays with tenacity unseen by many players of recent memory. Evans has amazing speed coming downhill, and can disrupt the run game. The Raiders desperately need playmakers, and Evans has the IT factor.
Josey Jewell (Iowa) – Hawkeyes linebacker Josey Jewell is one of the most productive players in college football on the defensive end. While his combine performance will determine his draft stock (speed), he has all the tools to translate on the next level. Jewell excels against the run, and displays improvement in coverage. Overall, Jewell is just a monster that makes it his business to find the ball.