Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels are only 15 months into their tenures, but it’s not an overreaction to say the regime has reached an inflection point. After acquiring receiver Davante Adams and edge rusher Chandler Jones last season and returning most of the key contributors from the 2021 run to the playoffs, they expect to compete in 2022. Instead, the team is over failed and only finished 6-11.
In response, Ziegler and McDaniels made a change at the most important position when they released quarterback Derek Carr in February. They replaced him with a competent starter in Jimmy Garoppolo in March, but their measured moves in free agency made it clear that their view of where the Raiders stand has changed dramatically.
The Raiders are undoubtedly in the midst of a rebuild, making the draft even more important if Ziegler and McDaniels can bounce back from their slow starts. They got a mulligan for last year’s draft — they didn’t pick until the third round after trading their first- and second-round picks to the Packers for Adams — but that’s no longer the case. They own the No. 7 first-round picks — along with 11 other picks — when the NFL Draft begins Thursday.
There’s an immense focus on the first round for almost every team, but it’s amplified for the Raiders because of their recent history. One of the main reasons their roster is lacking is the almost unimaginable poor run of first-round picks the franchise has endured. Of the seven first-round picks they’ve made since 2018, alone two — left tackle Kolton Miller and running back Josh Jacobs — remain on the active roster. Furthermore, their drafting in the later rounds since then hasn’t been much better aside from home runs in Maxx Crosby and Hunter Renfrow. That’s not Ziegler and McDaniels’ fault, but it remains a trend they cannot allow to continue.
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Unsurprisingly, a large sector of Raiders fans wants them to start that by landing their quarterback of the future in the first round. The general consensus among media draft analysts is that there are at least four first-round-caliber quarterbacks: Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis. It’s important to note, however, that each team has its own grading system for prospects and will have players in different orders based on their talent evaluations, schemes and needs.
Obviously, the Raiders are no different. They will continue their preparation at the start of Thursday’s draft — as Ziegler said Friday — but they feel strongly about what they think about the prospects. And the sense I gathered is that they are don’t believe there are four quarterbacks warranted first-round picks, let alone within the top 10 picks.
Young is expected to go No. 1 to the Panthers. And while the assumption since the end of the season was that the Texans were guaranteed to get the next best quarterback No. 2, the latest buzz is that may not be the case. If Young goes to the Panthers, Houston could have a defensive prospect at No. 2 or trade down. And even Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. is widely viewed as the best defensive player in the draft, Texas Tech edge rusher Tyree Wilson is said to be gaining steam.
If the Texans stick around and draft Wilson or Anderson, it puts the Cardinals in an interesting position. They can hire someone at No. 3, but they could also field calls from teams interested in trading quarterbacks. It seems logical for the Raiders to be one of those teams but, again, the impression I gather is that they are not as high in this quarterback class as others. Considering the price it would cost for them to move up for one of the remaining quarterbacks, this seems like an unlikely outcome.
Still, the Raiders need to at least explore the possibility. Stroud has prototypical size at 6 foot 3, 214 pounds and showed good arm strength, touch, accuracy and poise in college. He doesn’t do much outside of structure, but he has the athleticism, speed and pocket presence necessary to extend plays at the next level. And, despite questions about his processing ability coming from him the score is said to be low on the S2 Cognition test, his tape shows he can make checks at the line of scrimmage, grasp advanced passing concepts and quickly read defenses after the snap. Also, the Raiders aren’t a team that uses the S2 Cognition test to evaluate prospects, anyway. Ziegler said the Raiders aren’t opposed to Garoppolo facing competition for the starting quarterback job this season, and Stroud has the ability to push him right away in Year 1.
However, it’s easy to see a more desperate team like the Colts taking on the Raiders and trading up from No. 4 to No. 3 to acquire Stroud’s services. Garoppolo may not be the long-term answer, but he is a short-term answer. Part of the reasoning behind adding his services this offseason was to avoid going overboard to draft a quarterback early. If Stroud somehow slips to No. 5, perhaps that math changes as the Seahawks are open to trading back.
If Young and Stroud go in the top three picks as expected, it would be easy for the Raiders to justify shifting their attention to another position group. Right tackle, edge rusher, defensive line and cornerback all make sense as alternatives. They will consider positions on both sides of the ball if they stay in the top 10, but it likely won’t be at quarterback without Young and Stroud. In a strategy available to the best player, there could be few players ahead of Richardson and Levis.
Outside of Anderson and Wilson, other non-quarterback prospects projected to go somewhere around that range include offensive linemen Peter Skoronski and Paris Johnson Jr., defensive tackle Jalen Carter, edge rushers Lukas Van Ness and Nolan Smith, and cornerbacks Christian Gonzalez and Devon Witherspoon . Of that group, Carter, ranked No. 3, the highest in place The Athletic draft analyst Dane Brugler’s draft board. And while there were concerns inside Raiders headquarters about Carter after he pleaded no contest last month to two misdemeanor charges of racing and reckless driving following a car crash that killed teammate Devin Willock and Georgia recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy — the connection of former Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs III’s arrest on felony charges including DUI resulting in death following a 2021 car crash that killed a local resident Tina Tintor cannot be ignored — said league sources The Athletic he remains on their draft board.
The Raiders may consider moving up from No. 7 to make sure they land one of the aforementioned players — or someone else they deem worthy — and they’re seriously considering both offensive and defensive prospects. In a perfect world, they would just stay at No. 7 and draft their desired prospect there, but that may not be realistic. That drums up a follow-up question: What if they don’t change and the players they prefer drafting at No. 7 is not on the board? The natural line of thought is for them to trade back and collect more draft assets this year, but the Raiders aren’t going to trade down just to do it. They have 12 picks, which they have lined up to draft more rookies than they could possibly make their final roster, and eight of those picks are on Day 3. The Raiders won’t discriminate when it comes to Day 2 picks, but they’d rather add Day 3 picks that could be offered in future years than hoard more late-round picks this year.
It should also be considered that there aren’t any teams that really want to trade up for the No. 7, which happened in 2019 when the Raiders had to hold on and take Clelin Ferrell at No. 4. If that’s the case again , the Raiders have no choice but to pick. The good news for them is that there should be some quality prospects available.
If it’s not already clear, this is an ongoing process for the Raiders that, obviously, is not entirely in their control as it depends on the decision making of other teams. What is in their control, however, gets any first-round pick they make right.
“We put the pressure on ourselves,” Ziegler said. “I think that pressure, that motivation to get it right, that motivation to improve the team, that’s the pressure that keeps us pushing and keeps us focused and dialed in.”
(Top photo of Jalen Carter and Anthony Richardson: Kim Klement / USA Today)