Grading out the Oakland Raiders NFL Draft and offseason signings

How to describe the Oakland Raiders’ 2018 NFL Draft? The first word that came to mind as it unfolded: Puzzling. A month later, it’s still a head-scratcher.

With Gruden’s much-anticipated return, the pressure was on both him and Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie to select draft picks that would ensure both their futures. After having missed on picks with injured players like Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu in the past, McKenzie needed to do his best to save his job. Gruden needed players to lay the foundation for his 10-year contract.

The result was a draft with no clear strategy for a team that started last season as a Super Bowl contender, but finished 6-10, and third in the AFC West.

Top Picks

The Raiders could easily have taken Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick with their No. 10 pick, but instead swapped with the Arizona Cardinals, moving back to No. 15 and acquiring an additional third-round pick.

Fitzpatrick was widely considered a top-5 blue-chip prospect with the ability to play every position in the secondary. Instead of taking Fitzpatrick at No. 10, though, the Raiders took developmental UCLA offensive tackle Kolton Miller at No. 15. 

In picking Miller at No. 15, the Raiders also passed on Florida State safety Derwin James, who was on the board at both No. 10 and No. 15, and was one of the few remaining guaranteed blue-chip prospects left.

James would have immediately upgraded the Raiders defense, but instead fell to the division rival Los Angeles Chargers, where the Raiders will have to deal with him twice a year. Besides James, Alabama’s Rashaan Evans (No. 22 overall) and Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds (No. 16 overall) were also both still on the board at No. 15. Both linebacker prospects would’ve provided a spark to the Raiders defense.

As for Miller, his best asset right now is potential. A solid coaching staff can help realize potential, but that’s not something I’m convinced the Raiders have right now.

This isn’t offensive line coach Tom Cable’s first try at trying to develop a young offensive tackle. Cable — fired by the Seattle Seahawks for having one of the worst offensive lines in the league last season (45 sacks, 121 hits allowed on Russell Wilson) — was entrusted with first-round pick Germain Ifedi of Texas A&M in 2016.

Ifedi seemed to have potential, but never put things together. Instead, he lead the NFL in penalties drawn with 20 last season, including nine false starts and eight holding calls.

Now, the Raiders are asking Cable to develop their first-round tackle, one who needs a lot of development.

Leading up the draft there were whispers that the Raiders were interested in Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey, but he came off the board one pick before the Raiders got on the clock.

A common theme I heard in defense of Oakland’s selection of Miller was that since McGlinchey was gone, the Raiders just took the next best tackle available. That’s not the right strategy to build a team by. Just because a player you like gets taken doesn’t mean you pass on the best player(s) available, regardless of position, especially when you already have the third-most expensive offensive line in the NFL (25 percent of the salary cap, according to Spotrac).

After all that, the Raiders doubled down in the third round and picked another offensive tackle — Brandon Parker out of North Carolina A&T — that needs work to become a contributor at the NFL level.

Late Rounds

As baffling  as the first few picks Oakland made were, the back end of the draft was something to get excited about.

The Raiders selected Arden Key out of Louisiana State with their second pick in the third round. Key has all the skills you want in an edge rusher and easily could’ve been taken as high as the first round, but unfortunately his checkered past dropped him down to the third. Key will provide immediate help for Khalil Mack with speed and flexibility on the outside. Key will have to prove he can keep things together, but if he does the Raiders could have landed a serious steal in the third.

McKenzie and Gruden backed up the Key pick with a potential game changer in the fifth round. Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst out of Michigan is the biggest question mark out of all the Raiders picks, but if he’s deemed fully healthy, the Raiders got themselves an Aaron Donald-caliber player.

A healthy Hurst, teamed with Mack, Key and Bruce Irvin, could make for a very serious unit — probably the Raiders best overall position group — but it all depends on Hurst’s health. He was a lock a for the first round before a heart condition, discovered during the NFL Combine, concerned league medical staffs.

Two solid fliers Oakland took late were Washington linebacker Azeem Victor and Oklahoma State receiver Marcell Ateman. Victor showed serious flashes in the Pac-12, but has a checkered past of his own. The Raiders’ final draft pick, Ateman, put up crazy numbers in the Cowboys’  air raid offense, but will have to show out in OTAs and training camp to crack a packed Raiders receiving rotation. 

Undrafted Free Agents

When it comes to undrafted free agents, the Raiders have had luck finding diamonds in the rough in the past, like Jalen Richard. This season, one UDFA stands out from the rest: Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro.

An extremely successful kicker at the college level, most expected Pineiro to go between the 5th-7th rounds. The money the Raiders spent to sign Pineiro in the open market isn’t a good sign for fan favorite Giorgio Tavecchio.

From the moment Jack Del Rio was fired after a 30-10 loss to the Chargers in week 17, things have been interesting in Oakland, from the hire of Jon Gruden to moving on from Michael Crabtree in favor of Jordy Nelson. There have been question marks stamped all across the Raiders offseason, at this point. Should we even be surprised by how they drafted?

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