ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Quality is important, but the Raiders needed quantity even more.
Oakland came into the draft with seven picks, having dealt its second- and fifth-rounders in trades for Carson Palmer and Aaron Curry – neither of whom is still with the team. They added sixth- and seventh-rounders by trading away Palmer and Louis Murphy, respectively, but that left the Raiders with a bottom-heavy load as the draft approached: four picks in the last two rounds, and just three in the first five.
By the end of the draft, seven picks had become 10, they picked in all but one round, stayed in each of the first four rounds and began addressing their many needs. Perhaps the only advantage of being in the state in which the Raiders find themselves is that you have so many needs, picking the top player on your board in the only way to go.
“We stayed true to the board, “ Oakland General Manager Reggie McKenzie said.
One example of the Raiders’ fidelity to their draft rankings came in the sixth round, when they picked two tight ends: Colorado’s Nick Kasa with the 172nd overall pick and Tennessee’s Mychal Rivera 12 picks later. Rivera should be the most ready to play immediately, but Kasa, a converted defensive end who only took up tight end midway through his junior season, has a high ceiling and showed surprising downfield speed during his Senior Bowl work.
“It was definitely the board because those two guys were right together,” said McKenzie, who pictures Kasa more as a blocker, with Rivera making his mark as a receiver.
Athleticism and potential were the Raiders’ watchwords. Their top two picks, cornerback D.J. Hayden and offensive tackle Menelik Watson, fit the bill. Hayden’s recovery from a near-death injury is a great story, but the 5-foot-11, 191-pounder also could be a good pick on playing merits; he has a knack for interceptions (one every 3.8 games), is swift (a 40 timed as quick as 4.33 seconds) and solid overall athleticism.
Watson is a more intriguing case. Before coming to Florida State, he grew up in Manchester, England, and needs plenty of technical and fundamental polish. Had athleticism and potential been the only factors in play, Watson wouldn’t have lasted beyond the 20th pick; instead, the Raiders got him with the 42nd, and now face the task of coaching him up. Watson also might make the Raiders into England’s de facto team, since he’ll join fellow Englishman Jack Crawford, a defensive end who was drafted last year.
Oakland’s third-round pick, linebacker Sio Moore, exploded after a terrific Senior Bowl. What impressed me about Moore was his all-around ability and quickness. He’s as effective against the run as he is in the blitz, he quickly accelerates and hits with plenty of power. With Rolando McClain washing out, Oakland’s linebacking corps is in transition; Moore can be a big part of their future plans.
Day 3 led off with perhaps the most interesting pick: Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson. Like the Razorbacks as a whole, Wilson never seemed to recover from the firing of coach Bobby Petrino following a motorcycle accident that revealed massive conflict-of-interest and ethics issues. Wilson needs some mechanical work: his delivery isn’t as compact as is ideal. He also needs to stop forcing the ball into tight coverage; if he threw it away every so often, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. But the lack of experience among Oakland’s other quarterbacks – combined career starts for Terrelle Pryor and Matt Flynn: three – gives him a chance to impress, and maybe even start.
If you’re a rookie for whom playing time is the primary consideration, Oakland is the place. Because the Raiders have elected to take their dead-money lumps this year in order to have salary-cap room in the future, the roster has absorbed a massive talent hit. Among the key contributors no longer in the mix are Palmer, linebacker Philip Wheeler, tight end Brandon Myers, linebacker Rolando McClain, punter Shane Lechler, defensive tackles Tommy Kelly, Richard Seymour and Desmond Bryant, safety Michael Huff and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Only two of the players Oakland signed in free agency inked contracts longer than two years. This is a team starting over, and looking to make room to be bigger players on the market in the future.
But for now, the young roster makes Hayden, Watson and Moore decent bets to start as soon as Week 1, although Hayden might be held back and used as a nickel cornerback if Oakland opts for experience and starts Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter.
Beyond Wilson, sixth-round running back Latavius Murray could see some heavy work if injuries again strike running back Darren McFadden, and one of the tight ends should see substantial playing time. Sixth-round defensive tackle Stacy McGee and seventh-round defensive end David Bass could also play extensively given the Raiders’ defensive-line woes.
The Raiders are a consensus choice for last place in the AFC West after shedding so much salary, but for draftniks, they will be worthy of close study since they’ll have to play their rookies so much.