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Raiders add two potential starters on last day of the draft

Updated April 25, 2020 - 3:52 pm

The Raiders made just two selections Saturday on the final day of the NFL draft. But what they lacked in volume they hoped to make up for in impact, drafting massive Clemson guard John Simpson and diminutive but ultra-competitive cornerback Amik Robertson from Louisiana Tech.

Both were projected to go higher in the draft, and each has starting-caliber ceilings. The Raiders had both on their Day Two draft board, but with other pressing needs they went in different directions hoping to get another shot at them on Saturday.

Much to their surprise, they were still available at the start of the fourth round. The Raiders moved up from 121 to 109, surrendering their fifth-round pick to the Detroit Lions in the process, to get Simpson. Then they anxiously waited on Robertson at No. 139.

“We were thrilled with the way Day Three went,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said.

The fall of Robertson to the fourth round was the result of various reasons, with his smaller than usual stature for a cornerback — he’s 5-foot-8 — and a groin injury that required surgery in January worrying some teams.

The Raiders had no such reservations.

“He’s a competitive, tough kid, and if he was two inches taller he would have gone in the second day,” Mayock said.

The selection of Simpson continues the Raiders’ recent infatuation with Clemson players. He is the fifth Tiger to be drafted by Mayock. He joins Mullen, defensive end Clelin Ferrell and wide receiver Hunter Renfro, all of whom were drafted last year and eventually earned starting spots, and linebacker Tanner Muse, who the Raiders drafted in Friday’s third round.

Much like the players taken in last year’s Clemson haul, the 6-4, 321-pound Simpson has a chance to get on the field early, although some of that depends on the Raiders’ plans for veteran Gabe Jackson, who the club has been reportedly shopping.

The market has not been brisk for Jackson, who has battled injuries the last two seasons and wasn’t nearly as good as he’s typically been after returning from a knee injury over the second half of 2019.

If Jackson leaves, Simpson could be his eventual successor, with valuable reserve Denzelle Good potentially serving as the bridge. Right guard Richie Incognito, who will be 37 in July, will also need an heir apparent, with both Good and Simpson providing that cover.

SYRACUSE, NY - SEPTEMBER 14: Clemson Tigers Offensive Lineman John Simpson (74) prior to the ga ...
SYRACUSE, NY - SEPTEMBER 14: Clemson Tigers Offensive Lineman John Simpson (74) prior to the game between the Clemson Tigers and the Syracuse Orange on September 14, 2019, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The Raiders lost 15 games from their starting offensive line last season due to injuries, so depth is also important. Simpson, with his ability to play both guard positions, could be a good insurance policy as a rookie.

“Preferably, I’d like to stay on the left side, but it doesn’t really matter to me,” Simpson said. “I’ve been practicing coming out of my right-handed stance. I’m trying to be as versatile as I can.”

A three-year starter, Robertson had 14 career interceptions — three of which he took back for touchdowns — and plays with a chip on his shoulder having been lightly recruited out of high school and then downplayed as a top draft prospect due to his size.

“I’ve been doubted my whole life,” Robertson said. “On the field, I’m going to prove to the world why I belong.”

He certainly does not lack confidence, and vowed to justify his selection.

“I want to prove that Raider Nation didn’t make a mistake,” Robertson said. “They got the best DB in this class. Ball hawk, corner, nickel, safety, whatever – the best hybrid in the class that can force turnovers and get the ball back to the offense.”

Robertson joins a young cornerback group that includes Trayvon Mullen, a second-round pick in 2019 who finished his rookie season with a flourish, and Damon Arnette, who the Raiders selected in the first round on Thursday out of Ohio State.

Louisiana Tech's Amik Robertson (21) defends against Texas during the second half of an NCAA co ...
Louisiana Tech's Amik Robertson (21) defends against Texas during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

The Raideers also remain high on Isaiah Johnson, a fourth-round pick last year out of Houston, and Keisean Nixon, who made the team as an undrafted free agent last year. The lone veterans are Lamarcus Joyner, who is listed as a safety but plays the slot cornerback position, and Nevin Lawson, who has started 59 games over his six-year career, including five in his first season with the Raiders last year.

Robertson could eventually push for significant playing time in the slot, although he could work his way into a role in some sub-packages even earlier.

“Wherever they put me, I’m going to make an impact, easy,” Robertson said. “If that’s corner, nickel safety, special teams too. If they want me to slide in and match up with Tyreek Hill, that’s what I’ll do.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore onTwitter.

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