Following a 2016 season in which the Oakland Raiders ended a 14-year playoff drought, the Silver and Black could not build off their new-found momentum in 2017, going 6-10 and firing head coach Jack Del Rio.
But 2018 looks to be the beginning of something promising for Oakland, as Jon Gruden made his return to the sidelines after a decade in the broadcast booth. Gruden returns to the franchise where he got his start as a head coach, leading the Raiders from 1998-2001 during his first tenure.
Before the season can get underway, though, all eyes will be looking to Dallas for the 2018 NFL Draft and how the Raiders will look to improve a roster that is good, but certainly not great. However, Oakland will have a total of 11 picks to fix that. Here are the top areas of need for the Raiders in the Draft and the players that could be the perfect fit.
I will preface this by saying that defense, in general, should be the top concern for general manager Reggie McKenzie for the Draft, as Oakland finished 23rd in the league in total defense last season, which was actually a slight improvement from 26th in 2016. This is an issue that has needed a fix for a while now.
Anyway, the Raiders' secondary was one of the weakest links of the team in 2017, finishing 26th in passing yards allowed and recording the fewest interceptions of any team in the NFL with just five on the year. This wasn't helped by the fact that 2017 first round selection cornerback Gareon Conley barely saw the field due to injury and was placed on IR midway through the year. Oakland made moves in free agency to sign Senquez Golson and Marcus Gilchrist after releasing Sean Smith and David Amerson. With the 10th pick in the Draft, will a top secondary prospects named be called?
Solutions: S Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama), CB Denzel Ward (Ohio State), S Derwin James (Florida State)
Fitzpatrick was a two-time consensus All-American at Alabama and took home the coveted Jim Thorpe Award in 2017. Will McKenzie go back to the Ohio State well back-to-back years and take Ward, who is the top corner prospect in the Draft? If by some miracle James is still on the board, he should absolutely be taken since he's arguably the best athlete in the whole Draft, but most mock drafts have Tampa Bay scooping him up.
Khalil Mack is one of the most-feared pass-rushers in the NFL, taking home the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2016. He followed that up with another Pro Bowl season in 2017, recording 10.5 sacks and 15 TFLs. Since 2016, he's been joined in the pass rush by linebacker Bruce Irvin, who was second on the team with eight sacks in 2017. But other than that? There's not much to write home about for Oakland.
Solutions: LB Roquan Smith (Georgia), DT Vita Vea (Washington), DE Bradley Chubb (NC State)
Smith was the key to a dominant Georgia defense after having his coming out party during his junior season. Oakland could definitely use the 6-foor-4-inch, 347-pound Vea as the anchor to hold down the defensive line with Mack and Irvin on the edges. Like James for the secondary, if Chubb is still on the board when the Raiders pick at No. 10, he is a must-take after being the best pass-rusher in college football last year.
Making a move to improve the offensive line is more out of planning for the future than out of necessity. The unit is still in good hands with Donald Penn, Rodney Hudson and Kelechi Osemele leading the way. But, there needs to be solid depth built up on the OL, especially if Oakland wants to keep QB Derek Carr healthy long-term.
Solutions: OT Jamarco Jones (Ohio State), OT Austin Corbett (Nevada), OT Connor Williams (Texas)
Jones seems to be a popular selection for Raiders among mock draft writers and was a very solid player for the Buckeyes. Corbett is a under-the-radar prospect who played all over the line at Nevada and had a solid showing at the Combine. Williams was a very solid pass-protector at Texas when healthy, but injuries in 2017 caused his stock to take a slight hit. None of these players are the top OL prospects, but one of these should be on the board for the Raiders 2nd and 3rd round picks.