Football

Raiders mock drafts: Analysts focus on defense, and most of them like the same player

Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, left, is a solid fit for the Raiders in the eyes of several NFL draft analysts.
Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, left, is a solid fit for the Raiders in the eyes of several NFL draft analysts. AP

The 2017-18 season was a letdown for the Raiders.

After going 12-4 the previous season and reaching the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, Oakland had Super Bowl aspirations. Instead, what the Raiders produced was a 6-10 record that tied them with their Bay Area neighbors.

Now that the Raiders have brought Jon Gruden back as coach, how will they complement a roster that boasts a handful of All-Pro players, including quarterback Derek Carr and defensive end Khalil Mack? That will be seen during the NFL draft, which kicks off April 26 at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.

With plenty of time to pass now that the season is over, here’s a look at what some analysts are saying about the team’s draft prospects.

Note: Oakland will either select ninth or 10th, depending on a coin flip scheduled to take place during the scouting combine. The Raiders and 49ers will then alternate between the ninth and 10th spots for each of the other six rounds.

ESPN (Insider)

Updated Jan. 18 (Kiper) and Feb. 6 (McShay)

ESPN’s top NFL draft analysts, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, both have the Raiders focusing on defense.

Kiper has Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith as the pick. NFL.com says he has “elite athletic ability” while playing with discipline, but “will need more schooling on hand work when taking on blocks.”

“Smith is the type of player new coach Jon Gruden loves,” Kiper writes. “He’s physical. He can get sideline to sideline in a hurry. He’s a force in the middle. Smith was one of the best players on the field in the College Football Playoff National Championship, and he could slot into the middle of the Raiders’ defense in place of NaVorro Bowman, who’s a free agent.”

McShay has Oakland taking Tremaine Edmunds, a linebacker from Virginia Tech. NFL.com’s report says he “combines length with rare reactive athleticism and agility to access and tackle opportunities from unconventional angles” but adds that his “instincts are average” and “can be a step slow to diagnose.”

“The Oakland defense gave up 5.6 yards per play last season (27th), so help is needed,” McShay writes. “... They can choose between (Edmunds) and Roquan Smith. Edmunds is a better fit for Oakland, as he can play off the line and rush off the edge. He’s an athletic freak who will turn some heads at the combine.”

NFL.com

Updated Feb. 6

NFL draft analyst Chad Reuter, like ESPN’s Kiper, has Smith going to the Raiders.

“Smith has ‘bench to bench’ range, tracking down ball carriers all over the field,” Reuter writes.

CBS Sports

Updated Feb. 5

Smith is proving to be a popular pick among analysts. Add Chris Trapasso to the list.

“Whether it’s Smith or Tremaine Edmunds, the Raiders almost have to go off-ball linebacker here,” he writes. “That’s the clear-cut need on defense. Smith is an instant-impact player.”

Bleacher Report

Updated Feb. 5

Matt Miller’s pick? Take a guess.

“The hire of Jon Gruden might have fans thinking Oakland will go offense early in the draft, but the Raiders have massive holes on defense that must be addressed,” he writes. “One glaring hole is at linebacker – which is why Georgia’s Roquan Smith makes a ton of sense at No. 10 overall. ...

“What should excite Raiders fans is that Smith and the development of the young secondary will hopefully mean a team that’s struggled with pass defense in the past will take a big step forward in 2018.”

USA Today

Updated Feb. 6

What do you know? Someone didn’t pick Smith.

Still, analyst Nate Davis’ selection is Edmunds, the other player already mentioned so far in this roundup.

“Edmunds might just project as a younger – and possibly better – version of (NaVorro) Bowman as an every-down backer who can swallow running backs in the run and pass games, has the range to cover downfield and can also boost the pass rush if asked,” Davis writes.

U-T San Diego

Updated Feb. 8

Draft analyst Eddie Brown doesn’t have Edmunds or Smith going to the Raiders, but does stay with defense. Da’Ron Payne, a defensive tackle from Alabama, is the pick. NFL.com praises Payne’s size, strength and athleticism but also says he “doesn’t come off the snap with much juice.”

“The defensive MVP of the national title game is a dominant force in the middle who will draw blocks away from Khalil Mack, enhancing the Raiders’ pass rush,” Brown writes.

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