With the 10th selection in next week’s NFL draft, the Raiders should select a linebacker. Well, maybe.
Certainly, the Raiders have plenty of needs and they could go a number of ways when it’s their turn to pluck some first-round talent. But this week, ESPN.com acknowledged what most Raiders fans know, and that’s that the Oakland linebacking corps leaves a lot to be desired. ESPN ranked the Raiders’ core group of linebackers as tied for second worst in the NFL going into the draft that begins April 26.
With the team’s best linebacker of 2017, veteran NaVorro Bowman, still a free agent, the Raiders would go into the 2018 season with Cory James, Marquel Lee and Tahir Whitehead as its top trio, with Bruce Irvin ticketed for more play on the line of scrimmage.
ESPN notes that Whitehead, a starter for the Detroit Lions the past four seasons and has been just so-so. And Will Reeve Jr. of Raiders Wire this week added that Lee was disappointing as a rookie and James has struggled in pass coverage.
ESPN’s bottom line: “Finding a player who can play in coverage and stop the run would significantly elevate the group.”
Of course, there’s still plenty of time this offseason to go into Game 1 in September with a revamped cast. Bowman could re-sign with Oakland and the Raiders could heed the warning signs and take one of the top linebackers available, such as Roquan Smith of Georgia, Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech or Leighton Vander Esch of Boise State. Any of those three would give new head coach Jon Gruden an athletic, playmaking linebacker that could change the way Oakland performs under new coordinator Paul Guenther.
It seems, too, that Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie could bring Bowman back, too. His leadership and experience alongside a talented rookie would be a nice pairing.
Recently, McKenzie said of Bowman: “We haven’t been able to work out a deal, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want him. We really do.”