The Raiders don’t have many draft picks, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t several holes the Raiders would like to fill through the draft. Reggie McKenzie may try to add more picks via trade and will also look to add players that aren’t drafted.
Not all of these holes will be filled with draft picks, but McKenzie would do well to address as many as he can.
1. Inside Linebacker
If the Raiders plan to play more 3-4, they will need to add one or two inside linebackers. Rolando McClain is likely to get one more year to prove he isn’t a draft bust, but he will need help inside. Travis Goethel has been given an opportunity to play, but he can’t stay healthy.
Aaron Curry may be able to move inside when the Raiders decide to play 3-4, but that leaves a large hole at outside linebacker.
2. Outside Linebacker
Kamerion Wimbley is the only lock to make the roster from last year’s group of outside linebackers. Curry will need to restructure his $5.7 cap number to stick and he also may become one of the two inside linebackers in a 3-4.
Factoring in the need for backups, the Raiders could be looking for two or three outside linebackers and at least one through the draft.
3. Nose Tackle
Conversion to the 3-4 is not going to be complete without the big man in the middle. The Raiders need to look for a space-eater in the draft that can anchor a 3-4 for years to come.
The popularity of the 3-4 makes nose tackles hot commodities, but there is occasionally one that slips due to weight and work ethic concerns that can drafted with a lower-round pick.
It would then be up to the Raiders coaching and training staff to groom the young man into a pro.
Stanford Routt was released last week, leaving Chris Johnson, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa as the only cornerbacks on the roster. Johnson also has a large cap number and it is unknown if he has been able to recover mentally from the murder of his sister last season.
Chekwa might find himself moving to safety and that could leave Van Dyke all alone at the position. McKenzie will need to find several cornerbacks and hope the competition elevates the play of a couple of them.
It’s a deep cornerback draft and McKenzie has plenty of time to find a good one. Tramon Williams is good cornerback and the Packers didn’t even need to use a draft pick to find him. McKenzie will need to work some of that magic.
5. Free Safety
Michael Huff has an $8 million cap number and will either need to restructure or he’ll be released next month. Hiram Eugene isn’t likely to be fully recovered from his femur injury. Chekwa could move to safety, but who knows if he would be ready to start at the position after one offseason.
That leaves free safety as a position of significant need. McKenzie may find a cornerback in the draft that can convert to free safety or an underappreciated ball hawk late in the draft with good instincts and poor measurables.
If Huff restructures, there is also a decent chance he converts to cornerback, leaving free safety as a need for the Raiders despite his retention.
6. Strong Safety
Tyvon Branch is likely to be re-signed, but he is an unrestricted free agent. Branch could decide to see what his value is on the open market. If he tests the water, there are plenty of other teams with a need at strong safety that have significantly more money to throw at Branch.
Branch’s departure would be painful and open up a spot for the Raiders to find a player via the draft.
7. Left Guard
Stefen Wisniewski should eventually be moved to center and the Raiders don’t have a left guard that can execute the zone-blocking system.
McKenzie will be looking for a good pass-blocker that struggled with man blocking in college and is likely to fall in the draft. A mobile and svelte lineman with quick feet will work for the Raiders’ purposes.
Even a late-drafted rookie might be able to start between Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski.
8. Right Tackle
Barnes was never the long-term answer at right tackle and the Raiders need to find someone better. Joseph Barksdale and Bruce Campbell are still relatively unknown commodities and who knows how quickly they will pick up the zone-blocking system.
There is opportunity for McKenzie to find the long-term solution at right tackle in the draft and he should make every effort to fill the hole utilizing one of the Raiders’ few draft selections.
9. Running back
Conventional wisdom is not always correct, but says a running back can be found late in the draft. The zone-blocking system has turned many undrafted or late-drafted players into stars, including Arian Foster and Terrell Davis.
Michael Bush is a good running back, but he’s likely to cost the Raiders far more than he would be worth on the open market. McKenzie would be wise to let Bush test the waters while still attempting to re-sign him.
If Bush does find a new home, the Raiders will need a suitable backup for Darren McFadden. Taiwan Jones will be in the mix, but he has an injury history of his own. Marcel Reece might be able to fill the void if and when he is re-signed.
The Raiders will begin the transition to the west coast offense. As long as Carson Palmer is the quarterback, the Raiders will not be able to run the system to its full potential.
There are a number of sleeper quarterbacks in the draft this season that could be perfect and McKenzie should study these men to determine if one could be groomed to replace Palmer is a couple years.
Any drafted quarterback may also become the backup quarterback by default. Kyle Boller isn’t likely to be back and Terrelle Pryor is in limbo and could be converted to tight end.