Most of the focus on the Raiders’ 2021 draft was on the struggles of first-round pick Alex Leatherwood, but other rookies showed that the NFL stage wasn’t too big for them.
In particular, defensive backs Tre’von Moehrig and Nate Hobbs showed star potential, and linebacker Divine Deablo might be an ascending player.
As the six-man class prepares for its second season, here’s a look at the first impressions the players made and what could be in store for this season:
Alex Leatherwood, offensive tackle
Round 1, pick 17
First impressions: The Raiders were criticized for investing such a high pick on the Alabama tackle, slotted by most draft analysts to be selected no earlier than the second round.
The criticism was warranted. Leatherwood struggled throughout the season — first at right tackle, the position the Raiders drafted him to play, then at right guard after switching spots four games into the season.
Among the 82 guards that Pro Football Focus graded in 2021, Leatherwood ranked 80th with a grade of 45.5 (out of 100). His assessment was dragged down considerably by his pass-blocking grade of 31.3, which ranked 80th. He fared much better as the 51st-ranked run blocker with a grade of 62.2.
He also struggled with penalties, finishing tied for second for the most infractions in the NFL at 13. Of those, seven were for false starts, a sign that Leatherwood might have been playing anxiously.
Moving forward: Leatherwood’s rough season is cause for concern, but he’s not the first Raiders rookie offensive lineman to start slowly before getting better. Left tackle Kolton Miller had a 49.5 PFF grade as a rookie, then improved to 65.5 in his second season, 73.0 in his third and 84.0 last season. If Leatherwood can achieve a similar second-year jump, he can provide a huge lift to the offensive line.
Leatherwood will get a chance to settle in at right tackle, but moving back to guard remains a possibility.
Tre’von Moehrig, safety
Round 2, pick 43
First impressions: The Raiders were thrilled to get Moehrig in the second round, and the Texas Christian product did not disappoint by delivering a solid season in which he continually improved as the starting free safety.
Moehrig was ranked 25th overall among safeties, according to PFF, and his pass-coverage mark of 75.5 was 16th best. Some early-season tackle-angle hiccups dinged his run-defense grade, which ranked 61st. But there were enough solid performances in that area to suggest he can improve.
Moving forward: Moehrig is an ascending player who figures to be an anchor in the secondary for years. He’s already a high-end pass-cover safety, and with more experience, he should get better as a run defender. That said, the expectations are higher this season, with Moehrig’s challenge to become a player who doesn’t just man a position but also is a playmaker.
Malcolm Koonce, defensive end
Round 3, pick 79
First impressions: Koonce essentially took a redshirt season as a rookie while facing a logjam at defensive end.
When he was on the field, he flashed the pass-rush skill that prompted the Raiders to invest a third-round pick in him. He appeared in just 25 pass-rush snaps, but maximized his opportunities by generating two sacks, four pressures and two hurries.
Moving forward: With Carl Nassib no longer on the team, Koonce has a chance to earn a full-time edge rush rotational role. He was the primary backup to defensive end Maxx Crosby during organized team activities, though he also profiles as an outside linebacker to spell Chandler Jones.
If Koonce continues to take advantage of his opportunities, he has a chance to bring pass-rush heat off the bench.
Divine Deablo, linebacker
Round 3, pick 80
First impressions: After sitting out most of training camp with an injury, it took the former Virginia Tech safety awhile to catch up while making the transition to linebacker.
By Week 13, he was well on his way to taking Cory Littleton’s starting job and gave the Raiders a big lift down the stretch. He was particularly effective in run defense, flashing the speed and toughness to track down ball carriers. He struggled in pass coverage, but some of that was the result of the different dynamics of defending the pass as a linebacker rather than a safety.
But Deablo showed enough that the Raiders can comfortably count on him as a starter.
Moving forward: Deablo’s speed, size and intelligence put him in line for a much bigger role in his second season. His challenge is improving his pass-coverage defense and creating a comfort level so he can be a three-down linebacker.
Tyree Gillespie, safety
Round 4, pick 143
First impressions: Injuries curtailed Gillespie’s progress and limited the former Missouri standout to three games and 13 snaps. As a result, it was hard to get a read on him.
Moving forward: First and foremost, Gillespie has to show he can stay healthy. The physical tools are there, but he faces a crucial training camp trying to prove he is worthy of a role.
Nate Hobbs, cornerback
Round 5, pick 167
First impressions: Hobbs was a steal as a fifth-round pick, and it took him little time to show that. From the minute OTAs began last season, it was impossible not to notice everything from how he carried himself to his knack for making plays. That carried over to a regular season in which Hobbs finished as the fifth-best cornerback in the NFL, according to PFF, and was a marvel as a heady, rugged, slot corner equally adept at defending the pass as playing the run.
Moving forward: It will be fascinating to see how many ways the Raiders’ defensive staff can cook up packages to unleash their young star as a playmaker.
July 18: Rookies report to training camp.
July 20: Veterans report to training camp.
Aug. 4: Preseason opener, vs. Jaguars, Canton, Ohio.
Aug. 30: Rosters must be cut to final 53.
Sept. 11: Regular-season opener, at Chargers.