NFL Draft: Players to Watch at the Combine

After various trades for quarterbacks, picks, and Aaron Curry, the Raiders currently have only two picks to work with, a fifth and a sixth rounder. Fortunately, the NFL has yet to give out compensatory picks for free agency losses. While the system is complicated, the Raiders expect to get around 3 more mid-round picks for the losses of Nnamdi Asomugha, Zach Miller, Robert Gallery, and Thomas Howard (99 tackles with the Bengals this past year). Signing Kevin Boss will most likely cost us one of the late compensatory picks. I’ve seen various projections, both optimistic and otherwise, but I will use a projection somewhere in the middle (in bold is the projected compensatory pick, followed by the player we lost to earn it). Here are some prospects to keep an eye on entering the NFL Combine.

3rd round, 96th overall (Nnamdi Asomugha)

Alameda Ta’amu, NT Washington, 6’2″, 341 lbs

This pick would make all too much sense should the Raiders move to at least a varied 3-4 defense. With no true nose tackles on the roster, Oakland will look for a run stuffer early. Ta’amu is a guy who was once projected as a first round talent, but inconsistency down the stretch really hurt his stock. Let’s make no mistake; he won’t get too many sacks. He is, however, a forceful run defender who can consistently eat up two blocks, something vital to a successful 3-4 defense.

Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt, 5’11”, 185 lbs

A fast, physical, instinctive corner, Hayward faced some of the most explosive receivers in the country during his time the SEC. The Raiders have more questions than answers at corner as of now, and a play maker like Hayward would at least add to the talent pool. He projects well to Dennis Allen’s likely zone-oriented scheme, as he has long arms and makes plays on the ball.

4th round, 130th overall (Zach Miller) & 5th round, 140th overall (Raiders original pick)

Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma, 6’1″, 233 lbs

While slightly undersized for the NFL level, Lewis was a tackling machine at Oklahoma in a true 3-4 system. Such experience would allow for him to be plugged in across from Wimbley almost immediately if need be. He has great burst and quickness, and diagnoses plays well. Linebacker will be addressed early and often this off-season, with questions looming (of current Raiders LBs) both in regards to system fit  and coverage/play diagnosis abilities.

Joe Looney, OG, Wake Forest, 6’3″, 309 lbs

With potentially two new starters at guard (one if Wisniewski does not move to center) and a shift to a zone blocking system, the Raiders will need to add multiple interior offensive linemen this off-season. Looney is a technically sound, strong, athletic guard who excels at getting to the next level in run blocking.  He is a high floor, average ceiling type guy who could start right away.

Brandon Washington, OG/RT, Miami, 6’3″, 320 lbs

Washington is an intriguing prospect. Though a true guard, Washington was asked to play LT for Miami much of last year due to injury. Though he struggle at times in pass protection, such an experience no doubt improved his ability and hand placement in pass protection. What I like most about him is his combination of size and athleticism, coupled with a knowledge of the zone blocking system. He could push the current young guys (Campbell, Barksdale) on the roster at either RG or RT.

5th round, 170th overall (Robert Gallery) & 6th round, 178th overall (Raiders original pick)

David Molk, C, Michigan, 6’1″, 298 lbs

Molk is a hard-nosed, agile center who started four years for the Wolverines and was awarded the 2011 Rimington Award Trophy (best collegiate center). While slightly undersized, Molk is strong and athletic enough to project well into a zone blocking system.

Audie Cole, ILB, NC State, 6’4″, 243 lbs

Cole was a tackling force at NC State. I emphasis force. He uses brute strength to make up for limited speed, but man-oh-man does he hit the offensive line hard. While most of his tackles will come from plays right at him, it’d be nice to have a linebacker who consistently makes such tackles.

Johnny Thomas, FS, Okalhoma St., 5’11”, 202 lbs

Thomas would have been a mid to high pick had he not sat out all of last season due to disciplinary issues. A true zone cover safety, Thomas uses excellent athletic ability with good field awareness to make plays. He would be well worth a late round flier in the event Michael Huff is cut or moved to corner. Matt Giordano cannot be relied upon in coverage, despite his interception numbers.

There you have it. A list of guys that could help the Raiders in key areas of need. Keep a look out for these names over the weekend to see how they perform at the combine. GM Reggie McKenzie may even look to trade for more picks, so these are by no means the only selections we may be making.

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Offseason Needs

Greetings Raiders fans,

In this inaugural post, I decided to outline what I think are the Raiders’ biggest needs. After an 8-8 season, there are many, and it’s vital we fill these needs to get back atop the AFC West.

1. CB: In a move to correct what new GM Reggie McKenzie called “out of whack” contracts, the Raiders released veteran CB Stanford Routt. Though effective in prior years as a number 2 corner, Routt struggled as a number 1 for much of the 2011-12 campaign, surrendering 8 touchdowns and committing a whopping 17 penalties. On the other side, Lito Sheppard was called off the couch and started much of the year. That gives you a good idea of why the Raiders struggled so much defensively. Michael Huff may be moved to corner, but that leaves a hole at free safety (please, no more Matt Giordano). Young prospects Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa have speed, but cannot yet be relied upon as full time starters (Chekwa may move to safety). Chris Johnson will be back from injury, but will likely have to re-structure his deal ($3.6 million against the cap) in order to stay with the team. The Raiders will likely add 2-3 players, either via free agency or the draft, to push the current corner platoon. Dennis Allen will bring more zone looks to Oakland, and will need corners who have the discipline and aggressiveness to be successful.

2. LB: I will talk about this unit as a whole because it is not yet clear who will play where. All indications are the Raiders will be using, at least in some form or another, a multiple 3-4 defense. This should play more towards the strengths of Kamerion Wimbley & Rolando McClain, but it leaves Aaron Curry’s role in limbo. Can he get after the Quarterback effectively across from Wimbley? Does he have the recognition and coverage skills to play inside, next to McClain (in a word, no)? Those are big questions for a guy set to make $5.7 million in 2012. Whichever position Curry doesn’t play will need to be filled by someone not currently on the roster. Travis Goethel has shown toughness, but simply can’t stay on the field. All other linebackers on the Raiders roster are Special Teams bodies at best. Look for McKenzie to sign/draft multiple outside and inside linebackers for depth and competition.

3. NT: If the Raiders do indeed show more 3-4 looks, they need that classic run stuffing Nose Tackle. A quick look at the roster and only John Henderson ($4.75 million against the cap) resembles a true nose. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly both translate well into 3-4 DEs, but lack the strength and size of an every down 0-technique. Lamar Houston will be an interesting piece in the new Dennis Allen defense, but is simply too small to be “that guy” either. Look for Oakland to draft one of these big uglies with one of their compensatory picks or sign a veteran who can fill in for a year or two (or both).

4. OG/C: It’s been well-publicized, but the Raiders are moving back to a zone blocking scheme. Last year’s 2nd round pick Stefen Wisniewski is a stud, but the other two interior lineman positions could be upgraded. Samson Satele is a free agent, and has always been just average. Cooper Carlisle is the Raiders longest-tenured offensive lineman, but is set to make $3 million as his skills continue to diminish (age: 34). Young prospects Bruce Campbell and Joseph Barksdale could play right guard, but both are green, and will more likely battle it out for the starting RT spot. Wisniewski makes for a better left guard in the zone blocking system, but showed ability when playing center last year. Stephon Heyer is a backup at best, and is more suited towards the former power blocking scheme. Oakland will bring in both veterans and rookies who fit the new system, and I expect 3-5 new interior offensive linemen on the roster come July.

5. RT: As mentioned above, Bruce Campbell and Joseph Barksdale are the two likeliest in-house candidates for this spot, but I wouldn’t mind another body for competition. Khalif Barnes was never the answer, and there are no other tackles currently under contract. The Raiders’ front office will need to bring in 1-2 tackles (preferably veterans in the ZBS) to push the young guys.