Race for 2019 NFL Draft No. 1 pick: Here are players the Raiders could target in the draft if Derek Carr returns
With each passing week it looks like Oakland will have the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft
It's unclear what the Raiders' short-term plan is in Jon Gruden's first season, but there's a chance to fix this mess in relatively short order. Owner Mark Davis, after the team's latest defeat.
"I always look in the mirror, and the buck stops with me," Davis told ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez after Sunday's 20-6 home loss to the Chargers. "Where this team is right now is my fault. We haven't been able to build a 22-man roster. We haven't been able to give this team a chance to win because the reconstruction failed. We failed from 2014 on to have a roster right now."
Davis was referring to the four-year plan to turn the organization around. Starting in 2012, the thinking went, the team should be able to land five players -- three in the draft and two in free agency -- every year to rebuild the roster. Several of those cornerstones have been shipped out of town; Khalil Mack was traded before the season and the Raiders' pass rush immediately suffered. Amari Cooper was traded several weeks ago and Derek Carr and the offense continue to sputter.
As it stands, Oakland has 11 picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, including three first-rounders, the 33rd overall pick, as well as picks No. 65 and 97, giving them six selections in the top 100. With those odds, the Raiders should be able to meet Davis' "land five players every offseason" rebuilding strategy. And here's the thing, despite all the speculation, there's certainly a chance Carr returns in 2019, especially since this quarterback class isn't considered a strong one. So what three players could the team draft with the first, 13th and 25th pick (according to the latest draft order based on winning percentage, playoff seedings and strength of schedule) if Gruden truly thinks Carr can quarterback his team in 2019 and beyond?
Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa seems like a no-brainer with the first overall pick. He would be the closest thing to a player-for-player swap for Mack. At No. 13, NC State wide receiver Kelvin Harmon could be an upgrade from Cooper, who is now with the Cowboys. Alternatively, the Raiders could add more defensive depth by taking the best available cornerback -- Georgia's DeAndre Baker or Washington's Byron Murphy should be on the board though Greedy Williams probably won't be. Alabama's all-world safety Deionte Thompson would make a lot of sense here. And at No. 25, take Harmon if he's still available.
And that's just in Round 1. The Raiders still have three of the next 68 picks. There's still the problem of picking the right player which, as Davis alluded to above, is the entire reason the organization finds itself in this current mess. That said, it was just two seasons ago that Oakland went 12-4, made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 (also the last time the team had a winning record) and Carr was a legit MVP candidate.
Maybe Gruden didn't need to blow things up and start over, just a few tweaks were in order, but that ship has sailed. Now the question becomes: Can the coaching staff and front office come to an agreement on which players best fit what the Raiders need to do to win consistently?
(Note: In the table below, the teams are sorted from "most likely to have the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft" to "least likely" using two different methods. The "Current record" column does what the name suggests: Teams are first sorted by their '18 records, strength of schedule, via Tankathon. The other column is sorted by the "SportsLine's preseason projected draft order." Finally, here's if you'd like to see who we have each team taking.)
SportsLine preseason projected draft order
San Francisco (2-8)
New York Giants (2-7)
New York Jets (3-7)
Tampa Bay (3-6)
Oakland (via Cowboys)* (4-5)
Green Bay (4-4-1)
Chicago (to Oakland)** (6-3)
New England (7-3)
Los Angeles Chargers (7-2)
New Orleans (to Green Bay) (8-1)***
Los Angeles Rams (9-1)
Kansas City (9-1)
* Dallas sent its 2019 first-round pick to Oakland as part of the Amari Cooper trade.
** Chicago sent its 2019 first-round pick to Oakland as part of the Khalil Mack trade.
*** New Orleans sent its 2019 first-round pick to Green Bay to draft Marcus Davenport in 2018.
Tampa Bay at N.Y. Giants
The Buccaneers are a mess, even when compared to the Giants. Think about that for a moment. New York has at least shown glimpses of promise in recent weeks; yes, Eli Manning is 37 and probably should retire after the season. And yes, the offensive line has already cut two starters from the Week 1 lineup but they managed to protect Manning during Monday night's win over the 49ers. The Bucs appear to have no answers. Coach Dirk Koetter took over play-calling duties against the Redskins and while the offense was able to move the ball, four turnovers doomed any chance they had at a victory. And the defense, which tried to beef up its pass rush, barely bothered Alex Smith despite the fact that the offensive line was down three starters. At this point, it probably doesn't matter if Ryan Fitzpatrick or Jameis Winston is the starter.
Oakland at Arizona
We wondered at the beginning of the season if the Raiders would win a game. They beat the Browns, so they avoided that shame, but now the question becomes: Can the Raiders win two games? This is truly the worst team in football, in part because Jon Gruden insists of getting rid of his best players. The Cardinals haven't been much better, which is weird because this group went 8-8 last season without a quarterback. But first-year coach Steve Wilks replaced offensive coordinator Mike McCoy with Byron Leftwich, which seems to have helped rookie quarterback Josh Rosen and all-world running back David Johnson. If only someone in Oakland could help Derek Carr get back on track.
Carolina at Detroit
The Panthers had their doors blown off in Pittsburgh on Thursday night. If you're looking for a silver lining this is about it: Christian McCaffrey was just about unstoppable on the first drive and he scored every point the Panthers put on the board. But that loss feels more like a one-off than a trend, especially given this week's opponent. Detroit has been a huge disappointment; after back-to-back 9-7 seasons under Jim Caldwell, new coach Matt Patricia has the Lions going backwards. And it's hard to excuse all the losing when first-year coach and division rival Matt Nagy has quickly turned things around in Chicago.
Denver at L.A. Chargers
Are the Chargers the best team in the AFC? That's been one of the under-the-radar storylines in recent weeks. The problem, as Bill Parcells liked to say, "You are what your record says you are." And the Chargers' record says they're a game back of the Chiefs in the division, and behind the Steelers and Patriots in playoff seeding. But there's no mistaking how good this team is; the question is whether they can win the games they're supposed to and challenge the Chiefs when they play in Week 15. The Broncos are 3-6 and their season is all but over. Whether second-year coach Vance Joseph survives is one of many questions to be answered along with whether general manager John Elway will be searching for his next franchise quarterback a year after signing Case Keenum to a two-year deal.
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