The Raiders continued to work the phones on Thursday as NFL free agency moved into Day 4. But with most of the heavy lifting done, the frenzy of the last few days gave way to a much calmer pace.
The Raiders aren’t satisfied, and plenty of work remains as they try to remake themselves into legitimate playoff contenders. But the big bite they took out of that process the first two days of free agency was not lost on anyone.
They’ve set themselves up to be prudent rather than careless during the second wave of free agency.
If the first week accomplished anything, it was fleshing out the roster in a way that addresses their major areas of need. As they peek ahead, the one gaping hole that remains is an explosive, playmaking wide receiver. They seemed to barely dabble in the wide receiver market at the opening of free agency, which is an indicator they feel the draft will yield sufficient options.
The group of wide receiver draft prospects this year is considered one of the deepest and most talented in years. Armed with the 12th and 19th picks in the first round and five picks among the first 100, the Raiders are positioned to tap into that position in a major way.
At pick No. 12 they should have their pick of at least two of the top three wide receivers — Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs of Alabama and Oklahoma’s’s CeeDee Lamb. All three project to be immediate difference makers. And given the Raiders expected access to them, it lessened the need to go shopping down the wide receiver aisle during free agency.
That allowed them to focus on a defense that had holes across the board.
By overhauling their linebacking corps with the additions of Cory Littleton, the top linebacker available in free agency, and up-and-coming middle linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, and bringing in two secondary starters in cornerback Eli Apple and safety Jeff Heath, the Raiders added youth and production to positions that let them down last season.
They also came up with an interior pass rusher in Maliek Collins, who is expected to push for a starting job. And in Carl Nassib, they added a reserve defensive end they can plug into the rotation without sacrificing production.
The plug-in starter capabilities of Heath and Apple won’t dissuade the Raiders from delving into cornerback and safety in the draft, but certainly they buy time for them to address both positions stress free.
Apple and Heath’s presence also allows any potential draft picks at those positions to be brought along slowly. At pick No. 19, the Raiders could be looking at cornerback prospects such Florida’s C.J. Henderson, LSU’s Kristian Fulton and Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, along with Alabama safety Xavier McKinney.
Littleton and Kwiatkoski are big-time upgrades at linebacker, but the Raiders need to come up with one more starter. The Raiders were active with linebackers at the scouting combine, meeting with LSU’s Patrick Queen and Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray. Both are expected to be day one starters and both are projected to be available when the Raiders pick at 19. Wisconsin’s Zack Baun is also a player to keep an eye on.
In signing former Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Raiders seemed to signal they have a comfort level in moving forward with Derek Carr next year. Their conviction about him was a question given the reluctance by head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock to give him a full public vote of confidence this offseason. But barring a major move to bring in Tom Brady, there were no real options on the open market compelling enough to move on from Carr.
It’s possible the Raiders will use one of their first-round picks on a future replacement — Utah State’s Jordan Love would be the most likely candidate — but their interest in Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts makes a second-day plunge into quarterback much more likely.
The Raiders have three third-round picks — a round where Hurts is often projected to be drafted — but his stock rose at the scouting combine. So a scenario in which they move into the second round isn’t out of the question.
Their work is not done yet this offseason. But as another wave of free agency and the upcoming draft beckons, the Raiders are operating more from an area of strength than weakness.