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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