As we round out the NFL free agency season and get closer to the draft, the product the teams will be putting on the field is becoming more apparent. The Las Vegas Raiders find themselves in a bit of a precarious predicament.
The Raiders have approximately $3 million to use before they are over the cap, per overthecap.com. That said, the Raiders have to have some money to sign the rookies they draft. As of right now, Las Vegas has seven picks in this upcoming draft and only $3 Million to spend. Honestly, I think we better prepare to see more cuts from the Raiders.
One of the unfortunate things for the Raiders, and maybe it was by design, is that I don’t see any free agent signings for Las Vegas to help them take a step forward. The signing of Keyon Drake is quite interesting on its own, considering the current high volume usage of Josh Jacobs.
Drake signed a two-year $11 million contract. If the Raiders were to cut one or both backs in 2021, the dead cap hit would be $7 million for Jacobs and $8.5 Million for Drake. For the 2022 season, Jacobs’s cap hit would $3.7 million while Drake’s would be $5.5 million.
I won’t cover all the cap impacts of players, but I use these two to illustrate a particular point. The point being, the contracts and constraints thereof help us determine future moves. In this example, cutting either player this year would be foolish. In other words, we know this backfield will be a two-headed committee at the very least.
Next year is a little different. I won’t say that the cap hits next year scream that both players will hit waivers, but we can see that the coaches wanted some competition for Jacobs. It seems obvious this coaching staff is not sold on Jacobs being their guy, and there is too much money tied up in both of these running backs.
The other thing I take away from these two signings, Las Vegas isn’t running back shopping in this year’s draft. The reason I say that the Raiders would be eating quite a bit of dead cap space by doing or overloading their running back room going in 2022.
Stranger things have happened. I assume they will snag a young back still and maybe move on from one of the other backups. The dead cap hit for 2022 isn’t atrocious, to be fair, but let us remember the Raiders have no cap space left for this year.
Is WR an Area of Need For The Raiders?
I see a similar challenge at wide receiver. When you look at the Raiders roster, and you peruse over the wideouts, you notice something. It’s a bunch of unproven players or players that already appear to be journeymen. For example, the third highest-paid wide receiver in Las Vegas is none other than Zay Jones. John Brown is the second-highest-paid receiver. Henry Ruggs is at the top of the pay scale in Vegas.
I will be upfront in that I still think that potentially the best wideout on that team could be Bryan Edwards. Nothing we have seen on the field shows that, but Edwards did join the team after a significant injury, and we had little to no off-season last year. For reference, Edwards is collecting roughly what Hunter Renfrow is making this year, which 4th on the team.
Quite frankly, I believe the Raiders could use some receiver help. I had questions and concerns regarding Henry Ruggs last year, and I didn’t see anything throughout the season to change my mind. I have faith in Edwards still based on his size. Speed kills in the NFL, but there isn’t a lot of undersized, fast receivers that have found success in the NFL historically.
To be fair to Jon Gruden and the Raiders, I am nitpicking this receiver group and the running backs. The fact was last year, the Raiders ranked 10th in points and eighth in yards, offensively. That’s pretty solid, but I don’t see any moves where the Raiders improved. Maybe Drake is a crucial piece, but I strongly doubt that.
What Are The Areas of Need?
One thing to point out, though, the Raiders did lose some key offensive lineman. The changes to the line are not insignificant. There is a lot of linemen available, and multiple teams are doing all they can to shore up their offensive fronts.
The Raiders don’t have any money to do so. I am very concerned about this offensive line. Vegas has historically been good, but they lost an anchor in Hudson and a very talented left tackle in Trent Brown. The Raiders did sign Zack Martin, but he’s no Rodney Hudson.
The real struggle for Las Vegas in 2021 was the defensive side of the ball. The Raiders ranked 30th and 25th in points and yards allowed, respectively. There is no denying the fact that’s just flat terrible. The Raiders should feel fortunate they even came close to making the playoffs.
I lay out this background to give you an idea of what options the Raiders have and potentially what they can do to help themselves. Since Vegas only has $3 Million to play with regarding the salary cap, I can’t see the Raiders making any more free-agent moves unless they start cutting some players. The Raiders will probably have to cut some players to sign any rookies. I am betting they don’t do any of that until after the draft, and they see what players they were able to draft.
We have already outlined some significant holes on this team, both the offensive line and most of the defense. The positions I see Mike Mayock and Gruden targeting in the draft are the following: offensive tackle, defensive back, and potentially help on the interior defensive line.
The lack of experience or familiarity with the Raiders system could have been a part of the defense’s challenges last year. Mayock and Gruden may feel like they coach up some of these players, like Johnathan Abram, who was a first-round draft pick in 2019.
The raiders did go out and spend some money on that defensive front. The lack of push rush was something both Mayock and Gruden wanted to address. The Yannick Ngakoue signing was a big splash in the marketplace. If the Raiders can’t make any more free-agent moves, the only other place to improve the team’s talent is through the draft.
Here are where the Raiders will be picking:
- Round one overall pick 17
- Round two overall pick 48
- Round three overall pick 80
- Round four overall pick 121
- Round five overall pick 162
- Round six overall pick 202
- Round seven overall pick 247
Here Are The Rookies The Raiders Should Target With Their Current Picks
I suspect Mayock and Gruden will be looking at offensive tackle in the first round. Chances are Penei Sewell won’t be available at pick 17, but Christian Darrisaw could be available at that spot. Given this is Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden, don’t be surprised to see them take a swing with someone like Dillon Radunz out of North Dakota State. If Mayock does like Radunz, I would expect the Raiders to wait until round two or three to make that pick.
The Raiders may not see the challenges at the offensive line with age that I do, and I will be upfront, I am big in building teams around your offensive line. Mayock may want to go more with an edge rusher, which could make sense, but with the Yannick signing, I am not sure that’s the first concern.
In round two, the Raiders really should look for an additional playmaker for the defensive secondary. There is a lot of young talent in the secondary, but they could use a boost with a solid playmaker. The guy I like here is Richie Grant or Hamsah Nasirildeen.
I like Narsirildeen better for the Raiders due to his size. At 6’3″ and 213 lbs, he can be a tight end neutralizer and be moved all over the secondary. Since the Raiders play both the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos each twice a year, I would think neutralizing the tight end would be a big help for this defense.
Narsirildeen suffered an ACL tear in 2019, leading to Hamsah missing all but two games this past season. Hamsah has a great skill set, and if it wasn’t for the injury in 2019 that cost him games, it would exciting to see the player that led the Florida State Seminoles in tackles that year.
The injury, unfortunately, has led to Hamsah slipping down some draft boards, but that also means we could see a team take a gamble on him earlier. Either way, I do believe in round two, either Narsirildeen or Richie Grant would be available. Both players can play multiple roles, including playing man to man in the slot. Grant, in particular, is a bit of a ball hawk.
The last draft pick I want to address is round three. I don’t want to go past round three at this point. It’s my opinion once you get past round three in the NFL draft, all bets go out the window. Teams move up or back based on their players’ grades, and the teams tend to target players they feel they can develop.
The player Mayock should target in round three is Tyler Shelvin. Not many defenses in the NFL use a nose tackle, but the Raiders are one of those teams. Shelvin is perfect for a nose tackle. He is a dominant run stopper, and at his size, he clogs up the middle of the line. Shelvin has no problem playing the 0 technique, and he seems to embrace the idea of taking out blockers.
I will be somewhat surprised if Shelvin doesn’t find himself on an NFL roster before the Raiders pick. That said, the Raiders should have an idea of who they need to move in front of to make sure they get Shelvin. As I mentioned, not many teams use a nose tackle, which’s the perfect fit for Shelvin.
Players taken in the fourth round or later are essentially skilled players who need time to evolve or are players that teams have concerns about them. Those concerns could come from off-the-field issues to mental breakdowns on the field. There is a lot of personal preference at this point in the draft.
Regardless, I feel like teams make their hay with day two picks. You have to hit on day one selections. We see it yearly where teams miss with those picks in the first couple of rounds. Yet if you can find those gems in rounds two and three, you really can get a jump on your competition. Side note, this is how I feel about fantasy football too.
The Raiders flashed with success on the offensive side, but they did lose two anchors on that offensive line. The defense was atrocious, and there is no denying that. If the Raiders want to take a step closer to being playoff-bound, these would be players I would be targetting. All that said, I am not going to pretend I know what Mike Mayock is going to do. So far, he has surprised me each year.
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