Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith is the sexy pick for the Oakland Raiders, but don’t get your hopes up for that to happen. The Raiders have other glaring needs at more vital positions than inside linebacker.
Who will the Oakland Raiders draft with their first pick? The repetitive question that the offseason revolves around up until the day of the draft. With the coaching staff still being finalized, it’s difficult to tell which direction the Raiders want to go with their pick.
However, in his first stint in addressing the media via a conference call as a Raider, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther tipped his hand to how he likes to operate his defense.
If Georgia Bulldogs inside linebacker Roquan Smith is there for the Raiders, don’t expect them to pull the trigger on selecting him. General manager Reggie McKenzie has proven that he doesn’t like to draft linebackers early. Guenther is in alignment with McKenzie. They believe that they can find value late in rounds for that position. This makes it hard to see them drafting Smith with their No. 9 or No. 10 pick if he falls to them.
The inside linebacker position isn’t as glaring of a need if they re-sign NaVorro Bowman. Guenther has made it known during the conference call that he would like Bowman back and rightfully so.
You don’t need statistics to prove how much of a difference Bowman made to the Raiders’ defense. One of the more significant differences is we didn’t see the defense confused pre-snap as often. Bowman’s physical ability isn’t what it used to be, but his intellect far surpasses any player on the defense.
It’ll be hard to imagine letting Bowman walk given Gunther’s fondness of him. It helps that Gruden loves veteran players. A veteran presence would prove helpful towards fellow inside linebackers Cory James and Nicholas Morrow.
James had already shown some upside during the 2016 season and proved it once again this past season by being a run stuffer. Morrow started getting more snaps due to the injuries of James and inside linebacker Marquel Lee. He did not disappoint given that he was an undrafted free agent. Morrow’s quickness to last in coverage against running backs and his downhill tackling for meeting backs at the line makes him a steal given his initial value.
Bowman’s effect on the two young linebackers showed throughout the season, so keeping him would prove worthwhile for the team. However, Bowman is starting to get up there in age. His injuries have already shown he is not the same top tier player he once was. So drafting Smith seems like a no brainer, especially after seeing him standout in the College Football Playoff. There is a chance the Raiders draft Smith, but it’s unlikely.
The NFL is a passing league. Inside linebackers aren’t as valuable as they once were. While it would still be a good choice to draft Smith, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with the Raiders drafting another secondary position. The Raiders could draft safety Minkah Fitzpatrick out of Alabama if he’s there and that would be a great pick.
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There is no such thing as having too many cornerbacks. This past season is evident of that with the injuries to Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu. The Raiders didn’t have enough cornerbacks which is why they were forced to roll out with players like Dexter McDonald and T.J. Carrie. Even drafting an inside pass rusher on the defensive line would be a solid position to draft.
Everlasting coverage and a brutal pass rush is the standard to having an elite defense. Inside linebackers are great, but they are not necessarily the key ingredient to an elite defense. Which is why McKenzie drafted Conley over linebacker Reuben Foster.
Defenses spend most of their time in the nickel package, so you need to have at least three viable corners that can cover. If you can stay in coverage for a while, then your pass rush should be able to get to the quarterback.
It would be wise to not fall in love with Smith becoming a Raider. A secondary position player would prove just as, if not more valuable than a linebacker. Conley and Melifonwu should be ready to go next season which will add depth to a depleted secondary. We’re still a long way out until the draft, but this offseason for the Raiders will be one of the more intriguing in recent memories.