Oakland Raiders: JBB April Mailbag (Draft Edition)


May 8, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Khalil Mack (Buffalo) poses for a photo with commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected as the number five overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft to the Oakland Raiders at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

It is April, and the 2015 NFL Draft is near. Which means there are plenty of questions to be answered regarding the direction of the Oakland Raiders future once draft weekend comes in Chicago (not New York this year) later this spring. A pivotal draft bring a wide list of storylines that will reach endings for the Raiders who still have holes to fill on their roster in their ongoing rebuilding process.

With those burning questions surrounding the Raiders 2015 NFL Draft, Just Blog Baby Editor-In-Chief Chase Ruttig opened up the Twitter mailbag this week, asking followers to send their biggest questions in April for their favorite NFL franchise.

These are the questions from JBB readers provided with Chase’s answers, because that is how mailbags work on the internet.

Chase: This is a popular question and one that is easy to answer even if I personally believe that Amari Cooper is still the consensus top wide receiver in the 2015 Draft. However White has entered the discussion for several reasons:

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  • 1) Sake of Debate: While White is a great prospect in his own right, the consensus that Cooper was going to be head and shoulders above the rest of the skill position prospects on offense left an opening for a player to become the counter to those crowning one individual as the top pick at wide receiver.

    That player is White and while he has a good body of work to back it up, the fact so many were quick to proclaim Cooper as the best non-QB prospect on offense has allowed the debate over Cooper/White come to life with people rebelling against the original consensus.

    2) Athletic Differences: This is where White really stands out over Cooper as a different option to be the first receiver selected in the opening round. While Cooper is undersized, White is the exact opposite as a physically gifted wideout who provides a different sort of upside with his higher catch point due to his added height and verticality.

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  • Because of White’s physical gifts and Cooper’s smaller frame, those who value athleticism over a collegiate body of work are drifting away from Amari which has helped raise White’s stock significantly. Height and the ability to go up for jump balls, particularly in the endzone, is increasingly important in the NFL so if analysts or scouts are looking for a player who has more ability to be a guy who can win aerial battles with defensive backs White is going to be the top wide receiver on their boards.

    3) Surrounding Talent: This is the biggest factor in why White has risen to Cooper’s level as many analysts have used the Alabama wideouts help from teammates as a knock on the Heisman finalist while those same analysts have given White credit for playing at an extremely high level on an average West Virginia offense.

    It is a fact that Cooper played with far more talented players that needed to be accounted for while at Alabama, particularly the running game that balanced out offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s offense to make sure that defenses remained honest. However Cooper was often the only receiver that was gameplanned for and managed to have one of the best statistical seasons in the country even if Alabama ran the ball a ton or when they did pass defenses mostly accounted for him while allowing the rest of the wideouts to get single coverage.

    White faced similar attention at West Virginia as their only NFL prospect on offense, but he also was their only playmaker and because of that got a high number of targets that allowed him to compile a strong Senior season. If the Mountaineers went deep through the air, it was usually to White, and they did so often as a team that had some of the highest passing attempt numbers in the NCAA which certainly allowed for their top receiver to put up big numbers.

    Analysts have given White credit for putting up bigger numbers on a worse team, but the reality is both players faced similar challenges as two of the most focused on players in the country for opposing defensive coordinators. It is a fact Cooper had a benefit of having the rest of his Alabama teammates on the field, but that didn’t stop defenses from throwing the kitchen sink at him just like they did with White.

    The fact of the matter is both players are close to equally talented prospects, but Cooper just edges out White based on his younger age and greater body of work in a much tougher role in playing with the expectations of winning SEC titles along with competing for National Championships. There is a chance that both players become future stars, but those putting White above Cooper are doing so to rebel against the consensus, even if White is a very talented player in his own right.

    Chase: This will be a popular debate again this year, as it is every year that the Raiders pick highly in the draft. Some always wanting the team to trade down for the allure of additional picks outside of the first round, gaining more talent for the cost of risking missing out on a potential franchise talent inside of the Top 5 or Top 10.

    Last year the Raiders decided not to risk a trade down and selected Khalil Mack with their pick inside of the Top 5, something that you could say worked out well for them as Mack appears to be a cornerstone at outside linebacker. In fact, Mack was one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the league last year as a rookie, so everyone got to see the argument for staying in the Top 5 no matter what up close last year due to Mack’s success.

    I am personally always of the mindset that a team should stay inside of the Top 5 if they are there because those types of players are going to be the cream of the crop for a draft class unless you royally screw up your evaluations (see: Russell, JaMarcus). The Raiders need more franchise players, so unless they are offered a Godfather deal that includes future first round draft picks down the road, they should stay in the Top 5 to try and get another player who positively impacted the franchise as much as Mack has so far.

    Chase: This is a similar question and one that changes the factors, but not much. Even if Leonard Williams and Amari Cooper appear to be their two top targets, that doesn’t mean that they should trade down further to miss out on any of the other top names that would be available. Players like Dante Fowler Jr., Vic Beasley and Kevin White are all potentially franchise talents in their own right so if Cooper/Williams are gone the factors change slightly, but not enough for McKenzie to trade down. This is also something that seems highly improbable because of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston likely going 1/2 in the first round. The chances of Cooper or Williams being left for the taking are high, so this scenario is one that would require a ton of things that just won’t happen unless Mariota or Winston get passed on.

    Chase: I spent nearly 1000 words on the original question debating White/Cooper, so to make this easier on myself (and a better read) I will argue that the Raiders should absolutely select Leonard Williams if he is available at the fourth overall pick. For a variety of reasons:

    1) Building a Foundation: Last year the Raiders selected Khalil Mack in the first round, and Mack played outstanding, but his biggest problem was not putting up high sack totals. Something that was a direct impact on teams focusing plenty of their attention on shutting down Mack, which they could do as a past his prime Justin Tuck was the only other threat on the defensive front for opposing offensive lines. A lack of a supporting cast allowing Mack to be double teamed and less effective in getting to the quarterback for sacks rather than hurries.

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  • Drafting Williams would solve that problem by placing another elite young defensive talent in the trenches, one that does some things that Mack does not do as a pure defensive line player. With that addition to the defense it would pay huge dividends for the Raiders pass rush, making it logical to draft another pass rusher even after drafting Mack in the first round last year.

    2) Raiders Roots: Williams has made it public that he would be excited to join the Raiders as a California native who played at USC, and while it doesn’t count for much it would be a bonus to have a player who buys into the history of the franchise with the fourth overall pick.

    3) Wide Receiver Value In Rounds 2-3: Because of the depth at wide receiver in the draft class this year, the Raiders easily could go with a pass rusher in the first round before waiting to see how the rest of the picks shake out before the second round where they could grab a top talent at the position.

    At pass rusher there is a decent list of prospects, but less impact players outside of the first round, something that can’t be said about wideout where it appears there will be a guaranteed impact player in Round 2. It may not be a Kevin White or Amari Cooper level talent, but the likes of Jaelen Strong, Devin Funchess etc. are all very promising if they are available outside of the first round. Because of that the Raiders should seriously consider going defense/offense for the second straight year in the first two rounds, something that worked out just fine last year when they nabbed Mack and Carr with their first two picks.

    Chase: As stated previously, I am against a trade down for various reasons, but if the Raiders are to trade down it will be if Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston are available for a team to offer a Godfather deal to Reggie McKenzie for the right to draft one of the two highly regarded passers.

    That leaves a short list of teams that are going to be desperately trying to acquire Mariota or Winston. Teams such as the Eagles, Browns, Rams, Jets, etc. all being floated out there as teams who would pay a big price for either Mariota or Winston. If those teams come calling the Raiders could consider, but it will take a lot (multiple first round picks) for McKenzie to part with his fourth overall selection. If a team is willing to pay that price, then they will be a potential trading partner for Oakland who could use future first rounders more than they need additional picks outside of the first 32 selections this year.