Three years ago Raiders general manager took a gamble, drafting Houston cornerback DJ Hayden in the first round.
The Raiders desperately needed a top corner, and McKenzie believed Hayden’s cover skills were special. He went No. 12 overall in the first round.
Hayden, however, has been inconsistent. He’s battled injuries and still not proven to be a high-caliber defensive back. Now as McKenzie and his staff and coaches scout the NFL Combine this week their attention again will be directed toward cornerbacks, one of the Raiders’ biggest needs this offseason (thanks in large part to the failure of Hayden).
So who will the Raiders focus on this time around?
Mel Kiper Jr., the longtime NFL draft analyst for ESPN, believes McKenzie might zero in on Ohio State corner Eli Apple with their top pick, the 14th overall. In his latest mock draft, released this week, Kiper has the Raiders taking Apple.
Apple, a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder, didn’t have great stats for the Buckeyes in 2015, but Kiper likes his potential. He also believes Vernon Hargreaves of Florida and Kendall Fuller of Virginia Tech might be Raiders targets. But Apple is his prime candidate for McKenzie.
“He’s got great length and height and overall potential to be a heck of a player,” Kiper told reporters this week.
Hargreaves is ranked as the top prospect at corner on most draft boards, so if he fell to the 14th pick, Kiper expects the Raiders to take him instead. Kiper also believes it’s possible the Raiders could trade down in the first round to collect more picks and take Apple or Fuller deeper in the first round.
The NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, meanwhile, believes the Raiders will use their top pick on either an offensive tackle or corner. He mentions Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander and Apple as likely targets. There are questions about Alexander, he said, because Alexander “had zero interceptions in two years” but is talented. And he wonders if Apple is worth a 14th-overall pick – despite the Raiders’ needs.
If the Raiders decide the same thing, Mayock believes Oakland would select one of two offensive tackles instead, Jack Conklin from Michigan State or Tyler Decker of Ohio State.
Whomever McKenzie selects, Raiders fans hope he has more impact than Hayden has had.