Lessons from Oakland Raiders’ 2015 Draft Class


Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Many informed Oakland Raider fans and media, including myself, predicted the Raiders wouldn’t pass on Leornard Williams at No. 4. So when Jacksonville selected Dante Fowler Jr. with the number three selection, I was ecstatic that many people’s top prospect fell right into the lap of the Raiders. Once the Raiders shocked many by passing on Williams for Amari Cooper, the new regime taught fans and media a like about their philosophy through the rest of their 2015 Draft Class.

Derek Carr is a priority

After missing on top offensive targets in free agency, Oakland rebounded in the draft by getting one of the all-around best tight ends, Clive Walford, in the draft paired with Cooper. Clearly the coaching staff is making Derek Carr a priority by surrounding him with play makers.

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Trying to make sense of the Las Vegas Raiders offseason
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  • Why else would the Raiders forgo the can’t miss player on defense? Simply, the Raiders stayed true to their board and got the most pro-ready offensive player in Cooper. They took heat for not selecting a receiver last season, but they could not afford to not put a top talent around their potential franchise quarterback.

    Collectively, the Raiders have a group of skill players who can do many different things. Walford combined with Mychael Rivera could be a dynamic duo in spread two tight end sets. Also, the Raiders have a group of receivers who will each compete for different roles within various receiver sets. The two top selections emphasis that the Raiders will utilize more up-tempo and spread concepts to allow Carr to flourish.

    Complex defenses

    One of the most controversial picks of the Raiders’ draft was the selection of Mario Edwards Jr. in the second round. Some analysts hated it and others loved it. In context, more natural pass rushers like Preston Smith would have made more sense for the Raiders. Yet the selection of someone with only eight collegian sacks again shows the Raiders’ staff focus on stopping the run. Edwards versatility to play inside and outside echo that of Justin Tuck and C.J. Wilson, so I expect to see many hybrid fronts from the Raiders.

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    The fact that the Raiders didn’t take a true pass rusher high is a testament to how they feel about Khalil Mack. After gaining much experience as a rookie, expect Khalil Mack to be put in a position to dominate as a pass rusher. Surrounding him with a run stuffer like Edwards and stout tackles Justin Ellis and Dan Williams should ensure Mack focuses on disrupting the quarterback.

    Moreover, the selections of linebackers in the late rounds prove the Raiders will probably utilize more stand up ends for 3-4 fronts. Ken Norton Jr. and Jack Del Rio played linebacker at the highest level, so I expect them to utilize tons of different blitzes to compensate for a bulky defensive line centered around stopping the run.

    New culture of Competition

    If the releases of Antonio Smith, James Jones and Miles Burris taught us anything, it is there is a new culture in town. No longer will players be grandfathered in. Regardless of who brought you in, if you don’t live up to your expectations or salary you will be let go. This is a message that the Manelik Watson, Tony Bergstrom and other under performers  should hear loud and clear.

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    The fact is the Raiders added three immediate starters in this draft with Cooper, Edwards and Walford. Then you factor in Jon Felicio and Ben Heeney who could be in the mix for playing time sooner than later. Plus, Max Valles and Dexter McDonald both have high ceilings that could mean starting despite stumbling in the draft.

    This could be a testament to the players themselves, but it is more of an indicator of how much the Raiders needed an influx of talent. Hence, the coaching staff was willing to take a risk on late round projects with high ceilings because they need players who can develop into starters or push their starters to get better. Either way, the message is that this coaching staff will put an emphasis on competition.

    Ultimately, the legacy of this draft will be decided by development of the prospects not where they were drafted. However, the Raiders coaching staff let the media and Raider Nation better understand their new philosophy.