Reggie McKenzie is coming off an “executive of the year” season, as the retooled Raiders roster that he created made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. That creates its own problems in the draft, with each pick coming later in the rounds. With weaknesses at each level in the defense, fans were hoping to see that addressed early. Here’s who the Raiders drafted:
1st Round, 24th Overall: CB Gareon Conley (Ohio State)
2nd Round, 56th Overall: S Obi Melifonwu ( Connecticut)
3rd Round, 88th Overall: DT Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA)
4th Round, 129th Overall: OT David Sharpe (Florida)
5th Round, 168th Overall: LB Marquel Lee (Wake Forest)
7th Round, 221st Overall: S Shalom Luani (Washington State)
7th Round, 231st Overall: OT Jylan Ware (Alabama State)
7th Round, 242nd Overall: RB Elijah Hood (North Carolina)
7th Round, 244th Overall: DT Treyvon Hester (Toledo)
Raiders 2017 Draft Grade: 8/10
Oakland Raiders 2017 NFL Draft Review
Best Player – Gareon Conley
Yes, taking Gareon Conley was a risk. But, given how much research Reggie McKenzie and his team will have done into the situation before using their first round pick on him, it can’t be considered a huge one. And as we stand now, the Raiders have drafted a top-15 talent with the 24th overall pick. So it’s a risk with significant upside.
Ohio State saw three of its defensive backs go in the first round. Whilst Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker got more pre-draft buzz, both of those players really just started one year. Conley was a three year starter and team captain, and during this time demonstrated the ability to overcome adversity on the field and has improved as a player.
And what a player he is. According to Pro Football Focus, He allowed just 14 receptions for 159 yards in the entire of the 2016 season. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 14.0 when targeting his coverage. The Raiders get a player with no injury concerns, the experience that comes with being a multi-year starter, and the man coverage skills to be a lock-down corner in the NFL.
Head Scratcher – Eddie Vanderdoes
After a killer season as a junior Eddie Vanderdoes had a poor senior season, even by his own admission. In interviews following the draft, he explained he was slightly overweight and playing with several high ankle sprains. In fairness, footage of him at the Senior Bowl was impressive. But it’s only one game.
Montravious Adams, the talented defensive tackle from Auburn, was still available when Vanderdoes was drafted. Here’s another player with concerns on tape, following a poor junior season. However, Adams response can be clearly seen throughout his senior year at college. He looked powerful and hungry, constantly disrupting the pocket and creating opportunities for those outside and behind him.
Despite Vanderdoes saying the right things since being drafted, and despite his admittedly strong Senior Bowl performance, Adams would have been a better pick here. Some draft experts had Adams as a second round prospect, and it just makes more sense to take the player who had the stronger senior season. Not that Vanderdoes will be a bad player – far from it – but just that he represents a bigger risk.
The Surprise – Elijah Hood
Oakland just signed Marshawn Lynch, and also have Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington and Taiwan Jones listed at running back. So, perhaps it was a surprise to see them draft Elijah Hood in the seventh round.
However, despite the legitimate excitement, Lynch is 31 and returning to the game from a year’s retirement. He’s no sure thing. Hood has modelled his game on Beast Mode and gives the Raiders a little insurance as a between-the-tackles bruiser.
Bear in mind the Raiders have a history of using the fullback spot creatively, from Marcus Allen blocking for Bo Jackson to Marcel Reese catching wheel routes out of the backfield. Hood could continue this tradition. He looked great as a lead blocker for T.J. Logan in college, and he’s also a powerful downhill runner and more than reasonable in pass protection. If he makes the team, it could well be at the expense of Jamize Olawale. Just a small improvement in his receiving skills out of the backfield would make him an interesting weapon for offensive coordinator Todd Downing. Could we see Baby Beast blocking for Beast Mode in 2017?
The Steal – David Sharpe
NFL.com’s draft projection for David Sharpe was rounds two or three, so picking him up at the end of the forth is the closest thing to a steal here. Sharpe is a huge body, a massive man with two full years of starting experience at Florida. His size and strength means defenders can’t bull rush him backwards. However, his lack of agility makes him susceptible to speed moves. He was a left tackle at Florida, but expect him to move over to the right side for the Raiders where the competition for that tackle spot should be a good one.
Most Likely to Turn Heads at Training Camp – Obi Melifonwu
Obi Melifonwu is a ridiculous physical specimen. 6’4” and 220lbs, Melifonwu ran the 40 in 4.40 seconds and had a spectacular 11’9” broad jump at the combine. He’s fast, he’s big and he’s strong.
However, he’s also a heck of a player. He was a four year starter at UConn, showing great closing speed, superb downhill tackling and an uncanny knack of making plays when really needed. At the Senior Bowl he also showed an improvement in coverage. There are times on tape that it looks like he takes just a fraction too long to process the play, but that will improve with coaching. He can cover tight ends and play the run, and his size and strength will really help with red zone defense.
Marquel Lee is a high energy, big tackler who is useful between the hash marks. Although he makes himself busy, he’s shown little ability to play sideline to sideline and bites on every cutback on run plays, meaning he can find himself out of position easily. He’s another contributor to a crowded inside linebacker group that doesn’t have a clear star in the room yet.
Reggie McKenzie’s eyes lit up when discussing Shalom Luani during the post-draft press conference. If that’s a good indication of his talent, then expect big things. Cover skills, speed and pursuit are all apparent but can be a liability tackling, missing over 30 tackles in his college career. He’s an ex-soccer star and his quick feet and agile body has helped in his transition to football. If he can fix his problems tackling, he can surprise a few people.
Mike Mayock referred to Jylan Ware as a ‘dancing bear’, and that should give you an idea of his agility and athleticism. However, he needs to improve his fundamentals before he sees any serious playing time. Treyvon Hester is a good value pick late in the seventh round. He had a great senior campaign where he led Toledo in sacks with five. He could make the team if he can show that interior pass rush burst consistently during camp.
If the Conley pick works out and Vanderdoes plays like he did as a junior, then this has the makings of a stellar defensive draft. The first three picks could all be long-time starters and in Melifonwu the Raiders finally should have a solution to their tight end coverage woes.
Marquel Lee doesn’t truly answer the need at inside linebacker, and the risk of both the Conley and Vanderdoes picks needs to be acknowledged. Still, this could well be another great draft for the Raiders, who seem to have managed to fill most of their needs whilst also drafting players with excellent potential.