The Las Vegas Raiders are at a crossroads. The franchise is entering its second season with Las Vegas as its home, yet the Raiders are stuck in mediocrity. Over the last three years -- since Jon Gruden came out of retirement to become their head coach again -- the Raiders are 21-29 overall, and 15-17 in the last two seasons. The Raiders still haven't made the playoffs since 2016, the only year they qualified for the postseason since losing in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Vegas still has Derek Carr at quarterback and Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller, but the rest of the team is hard to grasp. The Raiders need help at a lot of different positions heading into 2021, as the franchise is one of the wild cards in the tough AFC West. There's talent on the roster, but how good this franchise will be in 2021 remains a major question mark -- even with how well Carr has played the past two years.
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For the Raiders to capitalize on Carr's play in 2021, they'll have to nail this draft -- specifically in the early rounds. Here's the blueprint for Vegas to have a successful draft:
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at No. 17
Vegas needs a playmaking linebacker and Owusu-Koramoah can become a dominant force on the Raiders defense for years to come. Owusu-Koramoah is not only productive (24.5 tackles for loss over 25 starts), but he's intelligent and explosive off the snap -- a force opposing coordinators always have to game plan for when he's on the field.
The Raiders could play Owusu-Koramoah in a variety of positions, helpful for a defense that has a lot of needs. Owusu-Koramoah can play the "jack of all trades" role, from nickelback to linebacker to safety -- showcasing his value all over the field. His speed is an asset in coverage, important for a defensive unit that allowed the third most points per game and had the third fewest takeaways.
If the Raiders don't like the offensive line options at No. 17, they shouldn't think twice about selecting Owusu-Koramoah here. There are many options the Raiders can use with their first-round pick, but they (literally) cover a lot of holes on defense with Owusu-Koramoah on the unit.
About that O-Line
The Raiders decided to move on from Trent Brown this offseason, sending him and his massive contract back to the New England Patriots. They also traded right guard Gabe Jackson to the Seattle Seahawks and center Rodney Hudson to the Arizona Cardinals, eliminating the entire right side of an offensive line that had an abundance of talent. Vegas is back to square one.
Kolton Miller has been a pleasant surprise at left tackle, but the Raiders are heading into this draft with Brandon Parker at right tackle. Vegas needs an upgrade if Carr is going to play all 17 games. If the Raiders don't select Owusu-Koramoah at No. 17, Vegas will have to find a Day 1 starter on the right side of the line -- and there are a few options available.
Alijah Vera-Tucker is the ideal choice if he's available at No. 17. While Vera-Tucker can be a dominant guard in the league with his smooth feet and excellent pass protection, the Raiders may be better off playing him at tackle in 2021. Christian Darrisaw can play both tackle and guard, but he may not be there by the time the Raiders pick. Teven Jenkins needs to be more consistent, even though he projects to be a good starting tackle in the league. The Raiders can't go wrong with either of these picks, although it may be wise to trade down if Darrisaw and Vera-Tucker are off the board.
Take advantage of third-round picks
The Raiders have consecutive third-round picks in this draft at No. 79 and No. 80, an opportunity to add to their pass rush and the interior of their offensive line. Vegas added Yannick Ngakoue this offseason and still has Clelin Farrell and Maxx Crosby on the edge, but could add more depth to a unit that has just 66 sacks over the last three years -- the fewest in the league.
An intriguing third-round option for Vegas is Oklahoma's Ronnie Perkins, who does need a go-to move to solidify his pass rush -- but can penetrate a backfield. Rashad Weaver was productive at Pittsburgh, showcasing the ability to read blockers and get to the quarterback. Both players can start down the line and are excellent in a 2021 defensive end rotation.
Vegas has to address right guard if the Raiders don't make a selection in the first and second round. Finding a starter in the third round shouldn't be difficult, as Alabama's Deonte Brown would be a more-than-adequate Gabe Jackson replacement. Penn State's Michal Menet should be available here, as he can play center and guard. Ohio State's Wyatt Davis may be off the board by No. 79, but the Raiders should pounce if he's available.
Vegas can't miss on either of these picks. The Raiders have too many holes on their roster not to find a starter on the offensive line and pass rushing depth at No. 79 and No. 80. These picks will determine how successful the Raiders' draft will be.
Here's the prospects CBS NFL Draft writer Josh Edwards has the Bengals taking in his mock draft:
Round (Overall pick)
Terrace Marshall Jr. (WR)
Levi Onwuzurike (DT)
Dylan Moses (LB)
Kelvin Joseph (CB)
Kendrick Green (OL)
Kary Vincent Jr. (CB)
Stone Forsythe (OT)
Trevon Grimes (WR)