Has the Raiders’ recent flurry of free-agent signings changed their approach in this year’s draft?
It certainly seems possible.
Early mock drafts had the Raiders targeting a few need positions: cornerback, the offensive line and defensive front seven. But in the first week of free agency, Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie brought in former Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith, former Ravens offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele and former Seahawks outside linebacker/pass rusher Bruce Irvin.
Some analysts still see those as prime needs, despite those additions. The offensive line is still in question, because Oakland has yet to re-sign starting left tackle Donald Penn, a free agent. So, Chad Reuter of NFL.com – after last week’s busy week of free agency – still sees Oakland using its top pick the 14th overall, on a big blocker up front. He predicts Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin will be McKenzie’s choice.
“Adding Kelechi Osemele at guard and Conklin at tackle strengthens the group in front of quarterback Derek Carr and running back Latavius Murray,” Reuter wrote.
And Don Kadar of SB Nation, in his mock draft posted Monday, believes Oakland will select Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple to pair with Smith – even though David Amerson (coming off a fine season) would seem to be a strong pairing with Smith.
“Apple and Smith would give the Raiders a pair of big and talented cornerbacks,” wrote Kadar. “It may not be Lester Hayes/Mike Haynes 2.0, but it would be the closest the Raiders have gotten since then.”
There’s another line of thinking, however, that McKenzie’s actions in free agency so far give Oakland more freedom to pick the best player available when their top pick comes around. If that’s the direction the Raiders go, McKenzie’s selection could be a wild card in the middle of the first round.
Gil Alcaraz of NFLspinzone.com is one who buys into that idea. In his mock draft posted late Sunday night, he has the Raiders selecting former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott – even though the team has a solid starter in Murray.
Alcaraz wrote that the Raiders getting Elliott at No. 14 “would be an absolute steal.”
Added Alcaraz: “Murray is a solid running back, but the Ohio State product (Elliott) has the tools to emerge as a true workhorse back and potential Pro Bowler if given the opportunity.”
McKenzie, meanwhile, isn’t done in free agency. He still has the Penn situation to address, and there are other free agents out there – such as former Chargers safety Eric Weddle – who are in play.
“You never know when guys are ready to sign,” McKenzie told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “There are still guys getting released. We’re always going to be attacking. If we see someone that can help, we’re going after him.”