Unlike some of the teams slated to pick at the top of the first round, the Oakland Raiders have very few franchise players to build around.
The quarterback position is uncertain. Last year’s free-agent signee Matt Flynn was a bust, and neither Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin impressed enough to be named the team’s starter. Former first-round pick Darren McFadden is a free agent and, given his history of injuries, it’s unlikely the team will want to re-sign him. Up front, the offensive line surrendered 44 sacks and 68 hits to the quarterback.
It doesn’t get much better on the defensive side either. The team’s most productive unit was its defensive line, but all four starters — Lamaar Houston, Jason Hunter, Pat Sims, and Vance Walker — are heading toward free agency. Its secondary features a bunch of aging veterans, evident by the fifth-most passing yardage it surrendered last season. This offseason Mike Jenkins, Charles Woodson, and Tracy Porter are free agents, and they’ll have to rely on their first-round pick last year, D.J. Hayden, who played in just eight games as a rookie.
Oakland has a chance to address the quarterback position early. With the No. 5 overall selection, the team could nab the top quarterback available. The question is, however, with so many quarterback-needy teams picking in the top five, which prospect will be around come the fifth pick.
Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles could all feasibly be off the board within the top four picks. If one of them lasts past the Cleveland Browns at No. 4, it wouldn’t be a shock if the Raiders pull the trigger and draft their quarterback of the future, but all indications point to Derek Carr being the highest-rated prospect at that position available which would allow the Raiders to potentially grab him at the top of Round 2.
If none of the aforementioned quarterbacks are around at No. 5, the Raiders may elect to nab the draft’s top wide receiver in Sammy Watkins. The Clemson standout is the consensus No. 1 receiver this year and justified his status with an eye-opening NFL Combine outing. Given former owner Al Davis’ affection for speedy wide receivers, it is only fitting that Watkins dons the Black and Silver.
With McFadden likely out of the team’s plans, the Raiders could try and re-sign Rashad Jennings as a stop gap and draft a complementary running back in the draft. Tre Mason, Jeremy Hill and Devonta Freeman could all be options for Oakland, which could add a backfield piece in the third round. Mason was a Heisman Trophy candidate after leading Auburn all the way to the BCS National Championship game; as did Freeman, who was not only a strong runner but a terrific receiving threat for the Seminoles. Hill was a downhill runner for LSU and is one of the few workhorse-style backs in this year’s draft.
Depending on which defensive linemen the team can retain in free agency, the Raiders could go after a pass rusher or interior player in the later rounds of the draft. Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence played in numerous positions along the D-line and could provide the Raiders with an edge rusher — as could West Virginia’s Will Clarke, who gave Zach Martin fits during the Senior Bowl. Clarke’s size makes him a fit for either a 4-3 or a 3-4. Both prospects should be available toward the middle-to-late rounds.
Among interior line prospects, Louisiana Tech’s Justin Ellis is a big-bodied run-stuffer and can fit in at nose tackle. Local product George Uko of Southern Cal played all over the D-line for the Trojans. These two both could be late-round finds for the Raiders.