Could the Raiders throw a curve ball at the 2018 NFL Draft?
Anyone claiming they know what the Raiders might do in the 2018 NFL Draft is playing themselves. Why?
The stakeholders in the Raiders draft room do not even possibly know what they’re going to do yet. Jon Gruden hasn’t been in a draft war room in nearly a decade. The last time he was in one for Oakland, late owner Al Davis had the final say.
Now, general manager Reggie McKenzie has been in charge at the draft. McKenzie’s picks have been hit and miss over the years but this time he’ll have a coach with the name and scheme recognition in Gruden.
How will the duo co-exist on draft day? Who will they draft with the 9th or 10th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft?
Browsing through Mock Drafts, many experts have the Raiders selecting a variety of positions including corner Denzel Ward, linebacker Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds and other defensive playmakers.
This makes sense as the Raiders have long had needs at corner and linebacker. They also have needs at pass rusher, running back and receiver they may consider addressing at the top of the draft if the right player falls to them However, there’s been little talk about the Raiders addressing one of their other biggest needs at right tackle with the 9th and 10th pick.
Traditionally, Oakland’s draft selections are always difficult to predict. This is especially true given the variables that Gruden-McKenzie relationship brings. It Is an even harder pick to predict when you consider that the Raiders haven’t met with a prospect they spent a first round pick on since DJ Hayden in 2013.
Selecting a tackle in the first round of the draft is the under the radar pick that is crazy enough for the Raiders to consider. Here are the reasons selecting a tackle makes sense even though no one is predicting it.
Not a splashy move
Oakland needs playmakers on both sides of the ball. Plus, they signed Jon Gruden and payed out Jack Del Rio which puts pressure on them to win now. That’s a large reason why many including myself believe the Raiders will select a player at the top of the draft who can score touchdowns, get sacks or intercept the ball.
A tackle doesn’t do any of this. Plus, it’s far from the biggest need or the sexiest pick.
Regardless, upgrading the offensive line is the easiest way for the Raiders to simultaneously upgrade their running and passing game. Snagging a top tackle selection in the draft ensures more time for Derek Carr to play catch with his receivers and more running lanes for whoever plays running back.
Doubling down on strengths
You’ve heard it in self-help books and podcasts, focus on your strengths instead of weaknesses. The same goes for the Raiders roster.
What if the team made one of their strongest positions groups stronger by addressing their weakest link?
Look no further the Titans. They were last season’s surprise playoff team. Some of that is attributed to their strong tackles that they invested top draft picks into.
Last season, the Raiders offensive line as a whole took a step back in production. The right side especially.
Despite getting a fat extension before the season, guard Gabe Jackson struggled even when he wasn’t hurt. Giving him a better compliment on the right side should help Jackson live up to those contract terms. The unit as a whole is one of the more compensated groups in the league so adding a young tackle on a rookie deal might balance out the investment. It might give the Raiders a young and strong right side to build around too.
Don’t forget, Oakland signed a new offensive line coach too. Offensive line coach Tom Cable prefers zone blocking. If the offense decides to institute more zone schemes, adding a tackle makes sense. He could give Cable a prospect to develop in his scheme.
Tackle is a huge need
Right tackle has been a need for a long time. Austin Howard was cut before the season and the team moved on from Menelik Watson who could not stay healthy. Journey man Marshall Newhouse played solid at the beginning of the season but he’s still not the long-term solution.
Adding a tackle on the right side allows the Raiders to use Newhouse as swing depth at either tackle position. It also gives the potential rookie a good NFL veteran to learn from.
Plus, Donald Penn is old enough to have played with Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay. He is now 34 and coming off an injury that cost him the final games of the season. Penn has been durable throughout his career but this is the second consecutive season he finished the season as a late addition to IR.
Thus, the Raiders should take a player that can start at right tackle now and play left tackle down the line. This is the strategy a team like the Philadelphia Eagles took with Lane Johnson. He’s athletic enough to be a left tackle but the success of veteran Jason Peters has put Johnson on the right side. Johnson’s success on that side has kept him there even when Peters is hurt but that could change when Peters retires.
Either way, last year’s fourth round pick David Sharpe flashed enough potential that he could become a starter at either tackle. Sharpe and a 2018 top rookie could give the Raiders great bookends for the future, especially with Cable’s mentor ship.
Best player available
Ultimately, the Raiders will take the best player available when they select 9th or 10th in the draft. Too much is on the line for them to reach for any player because of team needs. There’s a good chance that the best player available to the Raiders could be an offensive tackle.
Although tackles are traditionally overvalued and taken high, there’s a huge drop off from this year’s top prospect and the field. Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey is the consensus toP lineman in the draft. He could be available at 9 or 10 due to this year’s strength at running back, quarterback and defensive back. The elite talents at the front seven positions could also force McGlinchey to fall to the Raiders.
McGlinchey has the size and athleticism to play left tackle. He needs some work on his timing and strength before he can handle a backside speed rush consistently. Therefore, the Notre Dame product could be a starter at right tackle today and a left tackle down the line. He’s a tough enough run blocker to handle that role.
Of course, he’d be the only white starter on an offensive line that was the only unit with five black starters last year. Regardless, McGlinchey has the physical game and toughness that he should fit into the Raiders which is one of the more physical and nasty groups in the league.
Raiders shouldn’t overlook the tackle position
In the end, the Raiders may not select a tackle at No. 9 or 10 overall. Still, that doesn’t mean they should overlook the tackle position like many experts have.
Even if they trade back in the first round, they might find great value at the position when they pick. If a tackle is the best player available in the first round, like Mike McGlinchey, it makes a lot of sense for the Raiders to select him. Oakland selecting a tackle would make a lot of experts look silly since it isn’t the Raiders’ most glaring needs or sexiest picks for mock drafts.
The point is, even Gruden and McKenzie don’t know how they will interact until their first draft day. Until then, the Raiders and their experts better consider all options including the tackle position.