In the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders went defense-heavy, selecting a safety and two defensive ends in Karl Joseph, Jihad Ward and Shilique Thompson. The Raiders switched gears on day three, drafting using four of their five picks on three offensive players and one more defender. I know, I know, the math doesn’t make sense — but that’s because they technically used two picks on quarterback Connor Cook, one to trade up and one to take him.
And if you weren’t paying attention to the NFL Draft yesterday, you are probably pulling your hair out trying to figure out why the Raiders drafted a quarterback — let alone traded up to get one — so that seems like a good place to start.
ROUND FOUR: Connor Cook, QB – Michigan State
The Raider surprised everyone by trading up, then shocked them by drafting a quarterback. It was shocking not only because of what they did to get Cook, but also because the Raiders have Derek Carr entrenched as their starter and Matt McGloin, who was just signed to a second round tender. But while some Raiders fans are still trying to figure out what the hell Reggie McKenzie is doing, there is some logic behind the pick.
McGloin is only signed for one more season and the Raiders have never been big on him (just look at how they tried to replace him with Christian Ponder). Meanwhile, Cook was thought by many as the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft. With him, the Raiders upgrade an important and often overlooked position in backup quarterback while also getting a player who they might be able to trade for a ransom a-la Matt Flynn in a few years.
ROUND FIVE: DeAndre Washington, RB – Texas Tech
I wanted the Oakland Raiders to draft a big, bruising back who could gain tough yards between the tackles. Instead, they drafted a 5′ 8″ scat back who compares himself to Maurice Jones-Drew. I’m still confused as to who Bill Musgrave plans on using when he runs behind guard and center nine times out of ten next season, but Washington is still a nice get for the Raiders. He is versatile and offers them an option to run the ball, catch the ball and return kicks and punts.
He is small but sure doesn’t run like it. With a low center of gravity and quick, shifty moves, Washington is better at making guys miss than bringing the pain. He can still get tough yards between the tackles, not due to being physical, rather from his ability to hide behind blockers and pick his way through traffic. And when he is confronted with a defender, he is not afraid of contact — he’ll put his head down, lower his shoulders and churn his legs while making any defender who attempts an arm tackle sorry for the lack of effort. He’s not a bell cow, but he can probably contribute to the Raiders right away.
ROUND SIX: Cory James, LB – Colorado State
He probably won’t be their best pick of the draft, but Colorado State linebacker Cory James might just be the most interesting pick the Oakland Raiders made this year. He’s a player with a lot of experience who the Raiders are optimistically looking at as being a versatile guy rather than a tweener.
The Raiders were in need of a starting middle linebacker after cutting Curtis Lofton. While that may not be James, he is definitely a player who could be used in a middle linebacker rotation. But that’s not why he’s intriguing, it’s his college career that really peaks one’s interest.
James started off as a pass rushing OLB in a 3-4 defense, so naturally when Colorado State switched to a 4-3 defense, they put him at MLB, a position that does very little pass rushing. Since the move, James has improved but still has issues adapting to the concept of playing coverage. Also, it appears that his best attribute in college was his pass rushing ability. It will be interesting to see how the Raiders use him and whether they try to take advantage of his experience rushing the passer.
ROUND SEVEN: Vadal Alexander, OT/OG – LSU
This may just be the best value the Raiders got in this year’s draft. Alexander is an offensive lineman with experience playing at both guard and tackle while in college at a major football program. Alexander is a monster of a man, standing at 6′ 5″ and weighing 326 pounds with extremely long, 35.25″ arms (something coaches love in linemen). But while his body fits the prototype of what NFL teams look for in an offensive tackle, his athleticism does not. Awkward with his feet and a poor lateral mover, Alexander does not appear to be a good fit for defending a quarterback against edge rushers in the NFL, but he does appear to be a great fit as a power blocking guard.
That’s not bad value for a seventh rounder. The Raiders got a player with experience at tackle and guard, so he can fill in for either spot in an emergency injury situation. But he’s not just a career backup, Alexander has the talent and potential to develop into a good starting guard in the NFL. He needs some work, especially with his hands and footwork, but if the Raiders can get him to live up to the potential of his frame, they will be rewarded with one of the biggest steals of this draft.
All franchises go through cycles; but, it's just incredible how quickly the Niners plunged and the Raiders improved. Just prior to last season Kaepernick was considered one of the most promising QBs in the league and the Niners were a premier NFL Team. All the surprising retirements ...along with head-scratching management proved to be a devastating combination for SF. Proving that staying on top is very precarious in the NFL. The Raiders have had nice combination of good luck and good decision making the last couple of years, to the degree that I'm beginning to have faith in their draft strategy. The most impressive part is the Raiders now have the leadership, culture, and structure that they CAN AND NOW DO get the most of promising, raw, young talent like Jihad Ward (See: Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, Mario Edwards, Ben Heeney, TJ Carrie, Clive Walford). It'll be interesting see how this draft class materializes, there's certainly significant talent there and the Raiders, in contrast to their recent history, are a team that is demonstrating it can develop talent. if McKenzie holds form with this draft, it's going to be an entertaining next few years.