The Oakland Raiders appear to be on the verge of contending, so what do they do in the 2017 NFL Draft in this final seven-round mock draft to make the leap?
It’s been a while since they could say it, but the Oakland Raiders have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations looking ahead to the 2017 season. They were rolling a year ago, but were bounced in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs thanks to Derek Carr’s season being ended by a broken fibula late in the year. Carr’s almost already fully recovered and now Oakland will look to get over the hump with key additions in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Raiders own all seven of their picks with no additional capital coming in. They’ll pick 24th in the first round, which still sets them up nicely considering the quality depth of the 2017 NFL Draft class. And it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see this team target defense in the first and in the rest of the early rounds given that was their Achilles’ heel a year ago, with or without Carr.
General manager Reggie McKenzie has been batting close to 1.000 his moves in recent years to build the current iteration of the Raiders. Their success last year is a good enough indication of that. With that said, this may be his most important draft yet. So what can he bring in to help this team grow?
With the draft almost here, let’s dive into the final seven-round mock draft for the Oakland Raiders.
Round 1, Pick 24: Zach Cunningham, LB – Vanderbilt
The not so secret shortcoming of the Raiders was their defense a season ago. Yes, Khalil Mack is a deserving Defensive Player of the Year and there’s talent around him with the likes of Bruce Irvin off the opposite edge, in addition to safeties Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph. While Sean Smith and David Amerson had their share of bad moments last season, there’s still hope that they’ll be effective after getting better acclimated to the defense in Oakland.
Where the Raiders truly struggled, however, was against the run. Part of that was because of Dan Williams not living up to his hype when they signed him at defensive tackle, but much of it was due to sub-par linebacker play. That had to have been circled as a need early on and the departure of Malcolm Smith — who frankly wasn’t all that good in Oakland — makes the need more dire. Zach Cunningham is the man that can help their problems.
The Raiders would love to see Reuben Foster drop to No. 24 after all his off-field concerns coming up just before the draft. However, him falling that far seems highly unlikely. Cunningham is a hell of a consolation prize if that’s the case, though. Though the Vanderbilt product needs to get strong and bulk up, he’s an athletic specimen with a fantastic frame for linebacker. He wasn’t always dominant for the Commodores, but he did put that ability to be that type of player at times.
Cunningham is the athletic player that can both recognize plays, drop back into coverage and come up and help to stuff the run — even being able to close in if the ball’s kicked outside. He’d be a sight for sore eyes in Oakland as he should improve their run defense to at least some degree upon arrival.
Round 2, Pick 24: Fabian Moreau, CB – UCLA
Fabian Moreau was a player who was on the rise up draft boards after his showing at the NFL Scouting Combine. The UCLA product was phenomenal across the board as he highlighted his athletic ability. He blazed in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.35 seconds, while also jumping 38 inches in the vertical and 136 inches in the broad. He has the explosiveness and athleticism to be a playmaker, which you can see on his tape from 2016 as he seemed to own the Bruins secondary.
More from NFL Spin Zone
What’s more, Moreau has solid size working for him as well. He’s not necessarily a big-bodied corner, but he’s not going to get pushed around at 6-0, 206 pounds. Back to his tape, he’s big enough to cause troubles for opponents in press coverage, while also being quick and disciplined enough to play off and still make plays. So why then is he falling to the back-end of the second round.
While competing at UCLA’s pro day, Moreau tore his pectoral muscle. That effectively stopped his rise and has him settling down as a second round pick. Oakland benefits from that, though. Their secondary left a bit to be desired a season ago and they’re now thin at the position behind Sean Smith and David Amerson. Moreau could come in immediately and play as a slot corner, or even step outside if called upon. He’s the perfect corner for a team that needs one in the position of the Raiders. If they’re secure in his medicals as he recovers from the pec injury, he could be a steal this late in Round 2.
Round 3, Pick 24: Jaleel Johnson, DL – Iowa
Even before the Raiders made the personnel decision to cut Dan Williams, there was a need at defensive tackle in Oakland. They were highly susceptible to the run a season ago and the now-departed Williams’ shortcoming were a big part of that, in addition to the linebacker corps which was addressed with Cunningham in the first round. Thus, they look for a guy to step in on Day 2 of the draft and find Jaleel Johnson out of Iowa.
Johnson, to me, is one of the most undervalued players in this entire draft class. The former Hawkeye is first off a load at 6-3, 316 pounds with nice length. What makes him truly special, though, is the quickness that he has for a man his size. He’s most certainly not fast (5.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash), but his hand movement and footwork on the interior of a line are fantastic. Going further, it’s hard not to fall in love with a guy who plays with the effort that Johnson does.
Though some have questioned Johnson’s ability to be an overall effective back because of his perceived inability to stop the run consistently, I don’t fully buy that. While he may make his bones as a pass rusher, you can’t teach the size and motor that Johnson has. As such, I fully believe that a dose of NFL coaching will make him an all-around force and a steal for the Raiders in the third round.
Round 4, Pick 22: Cooper Kupp, WR – Eastern Washington
Despite the signing of Cordarrelle Patterson in free agency, the overall depth of the receiving corps for the Raiders doesn’t have a lot to inspire a ton of confidence. They’re obviously fine at the Nos. 1 and 2 positions with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. However, the likes of Patterson and the sometimes-effective, always inconsistent Seth Roberts could be upgraded. And with Cooper Kupp somehow slipping to them in the fourth round, that’s just too good for them to pass up.
Though he was a target monster at Eastern Washington, the transition to playing out of the slot inside of Crabtree and Cooper wouldn’t be much of a transition at all for Kupp. That’s where he largely was lined up in the offense at EWU. With that said, he has great size for a player in that position at 6-2 and 204 pounds, while also having possibly the surest set of hands in the entire draft class. Then you also have the qualities that people circle as intangibles as he’s a leader and a real grit-guy on the field.
Kupp would be the perfect player for the Raiders now and for the future. He’d be a great complement to the receivers already in place if he came in as the slot guy. But he’s also got the route tree and intelligence to transition to the outside as he becomes more adept to the speed and flow of the pros. With Crabtree not getting any younger, that makes even more sense as to why Oakland can’t pass him up here.
Round 5, Pick 24: Jeremy Sprinkle, TE – Arkansas
One of the subplots amidst the Raiders rise to being contenders in recent years has been their search for a tight end. Be it Mychal Rivera or Clive Walford, the Raiders have continuously been in the business of trying to find a reliable player in that regard. The signing of Jared Cook in free agency will certainly help subdue that search momentarily, but they could still use a more viable long-term option at the position.
With the addition of Cook, nabbing Jeremy Sprinkle in the fifth round would be the ideal pick for the Raiders to be able to find that long-term answer at tight end. Though the Arkansas product has a minor red flag after getting caught shoplifting at the Belk Bowl (at, you guessed it, Belk), his on-field talent and potential are both impressive. He’s a willing and solid blocker, but also has great, strong hands and the ability out-muscle coverage. Sprinkle also has solid speed, though he won’t be breaking away from anyone.
Looking at Sprinkle and his 6-5, 252-pound frame, he has the NFL build that you want. What he needs, though, is to get on an NFL strength and conditioning program to simple hone his body to being NFL ready. That will drastically increase his effectiveness as a blocker and could also help him develop as a route-runner. Thus, having him basically serve as Cook’s backup for a season would be ideal. He’s serviceable enough to slot in if there were to be an injury, but he can learn and further develop if he’s able to sit behind Cook all season.
Round 6, Pick 24: Johnathan Ford, S – Auburn
With Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph in the fold, the Raiders don’t need a starting caliber safety in the draft just yet. However, what they would benefit from is adding depth, especially after the departure of Nate Allen. What’s more, they need a player with versatility and athleticism that can sub in for limited snaps and make plays in whatever avenue he’s asked to do so. Johnathan Ford out of Auburn is the type of player that can make that happen.
Asking where Ford didn’t play throughout his career with the Tigers is almost the easier question to answer. Ford was recruited as a running back, but converted to the other side of the ball during practice. He played both sides of the ball as a freshman, then played safety, then nickel and safety, and was largely playing as a nickel back in his final season with Auburn. However, nickel isn’t where he excels necessarily as his fluidity in coverage leaves a lot to be desired.
What Ford lacks as a coverage player in nickel and to a lesser degree at safety, he makes up for with his tackling ability. He’s a sure tackler that wraps up with proper technique. His burst to make tackles also highlights his running back background with the way he can accelerate to make a play. Having him come in to help stack the box in sub packages could be a nice asset for the Raiders, as will him competing on special teams and helping to bring down returners.
Round 7, Pick 24: Aaron Jones, RB – UTEP
Though Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has set a soft deadline of the draft for signing Marshawn Lynch as the two sides are currently at an impasse over a deal because of the money, no one truthfully knows how that saga will conclude. If they get a definitive answer on the Lynch front, they may target a running back earlier. Then again, if they know that they could get a player like Aaron Jones in the seventh round (a steal), they might not be too interested in using more valuable draft capital.
Jones isn’t a household name on a large scale due to the fact that he played at UTEP. However, his tape from his time in El Paso has had draft heads drooling in recent weeks and it’s not hard to see why on the tape. He stands at just 5-9, but has the strong, athletic 208-pound frame to eliminate any real concerns about him not being able to take the physical toll of running between the tackles. And while his 40-time of 4.56 seconds wasn’t spectacular, the rest of his athletic testing was.
You see that athleticism on his tape, too. He has great short-area quickness and burst when he’s finding holes and space and also has great balance, rarely going down on first contact. Despite going in the seventh here, he has true every-down back potential in my mind. With or without Lynch, Jones has the chops to be a part of the Raiders future.
Source: Fox Sports