Though Oakland has brought in former Kanas City Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith on a four-year, $38 million deal to start opposite of David Amerson, the Raiders’ depth behind their top two corners still needs to be significantly upgraded if their passing defense is going to have success in 2015.
With NFL offenses constantly coming out in four or even five wide receiver sets, head coach Jack Del Rio understands that he can’t enter the 2016 season with D.J. Hayden and Keith McGill as his third and fourth cornerbacks.
“We’ve got to attack our secondary with draft picks and free agents, and we’re going to,” Del Rio said, via Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com “We’re going to add talent to that group and we’re going to make it really competitive.”
According to NFL.com, Oakland had the 26th ranked passing defense in terms of yards allowed in 2016.
With Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey likely coming off the board in the top five, the next best available corner is former University Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. At 5’10”, 204 pounds, Hargreaves doesn’t have ideal size for an outside corner in the NFL, but his ball-hawking ability and sheer athleticism make up for what he doesn’t have in length.
In Oakland, Hargreaves could refine his skills as Oakland’s top slot corner behind Smith and Amerson while he adjusts to the speed of the NFL in his first year, and in turn, he could either develop into an elite slot corner or possibly evolve into an eventual replacement for Smith on the outside.
Like Elliott, Hargreaves will potentially go earlier in the draft, which would force Oakland to look at other options. Clemson’s Mackenzie Alexander and former Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple are two other cornerbacks that have been projected to go in the first or second round, but Oakland can’t afford to reach for either of them due to their overall lack of polish at the position.
Alexander, like Hargreaves, doesn’t have ideal size (5’10”, 190 pounds) to play on the outside, and his lack of production at Clemson (zero interceptions) has scouts questioning his playmaking ability.
At 6’1”, 199 pounds, Apple would provide Oakland with another tall cornerback that can hold his own against some of the bigger, physical receivers in the NFL, but he still needs time to refine his skills as he continues to develop his instincts.
With that being said, trading back in the first-round and selecting one of the two guys listed somewhere in the 20’s would be the ideal scenario for Oakland come draft day, but if they can’t get out of the pick McKenzie should pull the trigger on either of the two guys in order to avoid losing out on a premier talent.
If Oakland doesn’t address their need at cornerback in the first round, Houston’s William Jackson III is another guy that has risen up draft boards in recent weeks that would be an immediate upgrade in the second round.