The Oakland Raiders possess the No. 24 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. On April 27, they will officially make their first round selections. Pro Days and the NFL Combine are behind us so there is enough information to distinguish between different prospects.
Moreover, the majority of free agents have already found homes, so there is a clear read on NFL roster needs. Thus, here are the top NFL Draft prospects for the Oakland Raiders’ first-round draft selection.
Zach Cunningham was the Raiders first round pick in my most recent NFL Mock Draft for Oakland. Cunningham brings the size and production that make him an instant starter at outside or inside linebacker. He needs to improve his pad level, coverage, and tackling in the NFL, but he shows capable football instincts.
Oakland’s two starting linebackers from last season are not on the roster. Malcolm Smith bounced via free agency and Perry Riley Jr. is still a free agent. Thus, Cunningham would be a logical replacement. Cunningham was very good during his entire Vanderbilt career.
The Oakland Raiders’ biggest draft need is on the defensive line. After the season, head coach Jack Del Rio called the group out for not getting enough push. Hence, they could address this position in the NFL Draft.
Florida’s Caleb Brantley makes a lot of sense. He has some size concerns which has earned him comparisons to the Los Angeles Rams’ All-Pro Aaron Donald. Donald’s size has not stopped him from being one of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL. The Raiders would be lucky if Brantley turns into Donald. Either way, Brantley could thrive as a three-technique defensive tackle or a two-gapping defensive end. That is the versatility that the Raiders value in their defensive line. Further, Brantley may be the best defensive lineman available at No. 24 overall.
King has already had private workouts with the Raiders, so Oakland is interested. They should be interested since King could instantly start as a slot corner or coverage safety. Moreover, he could challenge starters David Amerson and Sean Smith for playing time. Both Smith and Amerson are quality players who can teach King how to dominate offenses as a big corner. However, Amerson and Smith have also been inconsistent during their time in Silver and Black. Hence, King makes sense.
Speaking of the secondary, the Oakland Raiders could use some help at safety. Pro Bowler Reggie Nelson is 32-years-old and in the final year of his contract. Therefore, the Raiders may decide to draft his heir in the first round of the NFL Draft. Further, Oakland’s secondary gave up too many big plays last season.
Further, Oakland’s secondary gave up too many big plays last season. Adding a safety like Obi Melifonwu may be what the Raiders need. Melifonwu’s athletic profile should prevent the Raiders from getting beat deep. He also has experience playing as a safety and corner. His versatility could make him an immediate asset to the Raiders. Last season, Melifonwu registered 118 tackles, four interceptions, and one fumble recovery. That means he has the production and athleticism to go as high as No. 24 overall to the Raiders.
It is unlikely that Leonard Fournette falls to Oakland at No. 24. Regardless, mock drafts have the running back going all over the first round. Reports also indicate that Fournette may still warrant consideration at the No. 1 overall spot. Hence, Fournette’s unpredictable draft value could come into play for the Raiders at No. 24.
Either way, The Ringer’s most recent Mock Draft had Fournette falling to the Raiders in the first round. Oakland should not pass on the former LSU running back. Fournette has the power to wear defenses down between the tackles. He has the speed to turn short runs into touchdowns. Fournette is the ideal fit in the Raiders backfield. He would compliment small and shifty backs like Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. Plus, Fournette would make Derek Carr‘s life easier on third down by shortening the down and distance.
Ultimately, all of these players or none of these players could be available when the Oakland Raiders go on the clock. The NFL Draft is very hard to predict and that is what makes it an annual spectacle.
Nonetheless, the Oakland Raiders should consider Cunningham, Melifonwu, Fournette, King, and Brantley in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
[Featured Image by Gregory Payan/AP Images]