The Oakland Raiders came away from the 2014 NFL Draft with eight new players who will compete for spots with the roster in 2014. Of those picks, it’s easy to tell which should have the biggest immediate impact on the team.
First round pick Khalil Mack was thought by some to be the best player in the draft. If he comes anywhere near to living up to those expectations, he will be the best Raiders draft pick in years. But he is not the only guy that the Raiders selected who could make a big difference for the team in 2014.
Unless things have gone terribly wrong, Derek Carr will not see many meaningful snaps in 2014, but four of the first five picks by the Raiders very well could. We have already talked about first round pick Khalil Mack, but third rounder Gabe Jackson and the pair of fourth rounders, Justin Ellis and Keith McGill, could all see significant playing time as rookies.
Gabe Jackson, in particular, could end up being one of the most important rookies for the Raiders this season. Ellis and McGill both look like very good prospects, but neither has a real strong chance of winning a starting job. Jackson, on the other hand, could be the final piece to the complete overhaul of the Raiders offensive line.
The Raiders added Donald Penn, Austin Howard and Kevin Boothe as free agents this season. At least two of the three, Penn and Howard, are almost guaranteed starting spots. The plan is to play Penn at left tackle, with Stefen Wisniewski at center, Howard at right guard and Menelik Watson at right tackle. Leaving the left guard spot to the winner of a competition involving Boothe, Khalif Barnes and the rookie Jackson.
Based on his scouting report, Jackson is a guy who should be able to provide stiff competition to Boothe and Barnes and very well could enter the 2014 season as the starting left guard.
The coaches all hope that Watson, the second year tackle out of Florida State, will be able to overcome the injury issues that plagued his rookie season and live up to the immense promise he has shown. However, if he cannot stay healthy, the Raiders will be forced to move Howard back to right tackle where he played with the Jets, creating the need for another starting guard.
The Raiders were one more good guard away from having an offensive line they could feel pretty comfortable with heading into the season regardless of how things with Watson played out. Jackson is a guy who will fill that need for the Raiders, either providing important depth or even as an upgrade to the starting lineup.