The Oakland Raiders are a team on the rise, however, they must contend with the defending Super Bowl champs in their division. Already featuring an impressive passing attack, the Raiders bolstered their pass defense in the first round and added many interesting pieces during draft weekend. Ted Nguyen breaks down the Oakland Raiders draft fits to determine where the players selected will likely contribute.
Safety was the most glaring need for the Raiders going into the draft. Although Oakland signed Reggie Nelson – who had a career year last year – the second safety position was still in question, as Nate Allen has fallen out of favor with the front office. Joseph brings a ton of versatility to the position: He has the physicality to play in the box, while maintaining the range to play in a deep zone. While it is well known that Joseph has the desire to knock opponents’ heads off what makes him unique is his ability to play cover in man coverage.
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Joseph’s man-to-man and play recognition skills are on display here, as he reads the play action pass and covers the wheel route from the running back perfectly. Joseph doesn’t bite on the play action and establishes a dominant position on the running back by shielding him off with his front shoulder.
The first-round pick is a perfect scheme fit for the Raiders, but Joseph is the type of player who fits into any defensive scheme. Oakland plays a lot of single-high safety with one safety deep and one safety in the box. Expect the Raiders to keep Joseph in the box and keep Nelson deep. In the box, Joseph could cover a slot in man, play in a zone, or blitz. His versatility would truly be put on display in a similar fashion as Tyrann Mathieu.
This pick is very similar to last year’s second-round pick, Mario Edwards Jr., in a number of ways. Both picks were met with a lot of criticism, both selections are defensive end/tackle tweeners, and most importantly, both are developmental projections. Edwards did not impress in college, but Reggie Mckenzie liked his athleticism enough to select him with the belief that he would get his act together, work hard, and have a better pro career than he did in college. Mckenzie’s gamble has paid off so far, as Edwards flashed a ton of potential as a rookie before his injury. There are some questions about Edwards’ health going forward, which makes the Ward pick a need one, as the Raiders lack an athletic interior player to complement their two run stuffers, Dan Williams and Justin Ellis. Although a lot of fans and analysts are down on Ward, his play in 2015 and testing numbers from the Combine and his Pro Day might have been affected by an injury that he sustained before the 2015 season. The Raiders medical team believes Ward will not need surgery and will be able to fully participate in the 2016 season. Ward is not Edwards and it is unrealistic to believe he will live up to Edwards’s remarkable season, but Mckenzie has a good history drafting defensive linemen and Raider nation is going to have to trust that he sees something in Ward that could at least make him an effective run stopper and inside rusher. Ward would presumably take Edwards’s place playing a 3 technique or 5 technique in the Raiders base 3-4 front while getting some snaps in pass rushing situations as a 3 technique. If Edwards is healthy, Ward likely would still get into the rotation as a 5 technique opposite of him and Ward might play inside in a speed-rush lineup on obvious passing downs. It is also worth noting that Ward made the switch from wide receiver to defensive line in junior college and is relatively new to the position. With additional time in the weightroom and refining his technique, he could be a menacing interior player.
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The Raiders are one of few teams in the league that asks their defensive linemen to two gap. On this play, Ward does an effective job of shocking the blocker with his punch and reacts to the outside block by stringing out the play and making a tackle. If Ward can do this at the next level, he could make an instant impact as a run stuffer.
Although Calhoun lacks the strength and size to play on running downs, he could make an instant impact as a situational pass rusher. Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack are the Raiders premier pass rushers, and while Aldon Smith is out Calhoun will get in as a third rusher. He should provide depth behind Mack and Irvin or get in if one of them is forced to drop into coverage. He also could also provide some rush if the Raiders want to kick Mack inside to the rush in a speed lineup.
Washington gives the Raiders a complement to Latavius Murray, and the third down back they so desperately needed last season. If he has a good training camp, he could increase his role and start taking carries with Murray. Mckenzie said, “We think he is a complete back”. One of the most intriguing parts of Washington’s game is his ability to run routes and catch passes. He finished his career at Texas Tech with 1,091 yards receiving, including an 81-yard receiving game against LSU in the Texas Bowl. The Raiders face a lot of man coverage in the AFC West and having a back who can cause mismatches against slower linebackers will be a huge help for quarterback Derek Carr.
Alexander had excellent value in the 7th round, as he was expected by many to be drafted in the fourth or fifth round. The Raiders might have the best offensive guard combo in the league with Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson, so there’s little to no chance that Alexander cracks the starting lineup, but he provides excellent depth on an offensive line that has talented starters but is very thin. Many scouts are comparing Alexander’s skills set with Jackson’s; he is a mauler in the run game with average feet. Boosting left guard depth is vital because he can fill in if Osemele gets hurt or if left tackle – Donald Penn – is hurt. The Raiders can then kick Osemele out at LT and plug Alexander in at LG.
The Raiders had a lot of folks scratching their heads when they traded up in the fourth round to pick Cook, especially because they having a budding star in Carr and a decent backup in Matt McGloin on the roster already. But McGloin is on the final year of his contract and the upcoming quarterback classes seem pretty thin at the moment. Mckenzie probably had a high grade on Cook and thought he was too valuable to let him slip away. Cook comes with some character concerns that may or may not just be rumors, but he has good arm talent and has a high football IQ. He has a similar gunslinger mentality as Carr and like Carr will have to learn when to rein it in in certain situations. Regardless, Cook most likely won’t beat out McGloin for the second spot, but he could be a very solid third-string quarterback.
James made his move to linebacker in his final season at Colorado State and flashed enough potential to warrant a draft pick. He will most likely spend this year redshirting, learning more about the intricacies of the position, and possibly playing some special teams.
All in all the Raiders possibly filled three needs and addressed some depth issues. With Joseph, they have an immediate starter in the secondary. Ward will get into the rotation and will add some athleticism to an already stacked defensive line, while Calhoun gives the Raiders a third rusher during Smith’s suspension. Alexander, Cook and James will provide depth but could make an impact further down the line.