Thursday, April 22, 2021 | 2 a.m.
How important is the NFL Draft? Last year, the Raiders passed on Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. in the first round, and Winfield went on to start from Day 1 and win a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while Las Vegas had the league’s worst safety unit and missed the playoffs entirely.
On April 29, the Raiders will pick 17th overall in the first round, and coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock really need a hit. Fortunately for them, there are a bunch of first-round prospects who would look good in silver and black.
First round prospects on offense
• Teven Jenkins (OT, Oklahoma State): The general consensus says Jenkins is the biggest, baddest run blocker in the draft. If he’s available when the Raiders pick at No. 17, it’s hard to see Gruden and Mayock passing on a player who could lock down the right tackle position for the next 10 years.
• Christian Darrisaw (OT, Virginia Tech): If Jenkins is already off the board, the Raiders could turn to Darrisaw to be their future right tackle. He’s not as nasty in the running game as Jenkins, but he’s a premium pass protector, having allowed just one sack last season.
• Devonta Smith (WR, Alabama): Some mock drafts have the Heisman winner dropping to the middle of Round 1, and though the Raiders just used a first on an Alabama speedster, the early returns on Henry Ruggs III haven’t been great. Smith has the potential to super-charge the Las Vegas offense.
• Najee Harris (RB, Alabama): A running back in Round 1? Impossible, right? Maybe not, considering Gruden seems to value backfield depth more than most coaches in today’s game.
• Creed Huphrey (C, Oklahoma): The Raiders have a hole in the middle of the O-line after releasing veteran Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson, and the long-term solution might not be on the roster yet. Humphrey would be a bit of a reach at No. 17 overall, but he would fill a big need.
First round prospects on defense
• Micah Parsons (MLB, Penn State): The Raiders could drop Parsons into the middle of their defense and let the tackling machine run sideline to sideline for the next five years.
• Jaelan Phillips (DE, Miami): Phillips is one of the draft’s biggest mysteries, after injuries and position questions dampened his production in college. But if he figures it all out, some lucky team could get a monster pass-rusher in the middle of the first round.
• Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (OLB, Notre Dame): Perhaps the most versatile defender in the draft, Owusu-Koramoah projects as a weakside linebacker who can rush the passer, tackle ball-carriers and run with tight ends and slot receivers down the field. The Raiders could use a guy like that.
• Caleb Farley (CB, Virginia Tech): Farley has injury concerns, but if healthy he might end up being the best cover cornerback in the draft. And Las Vegas desperately needs more corners after possibly whiffing on last year’s first-round pick, Damon Arnette.
• Trevon Moehrig (S, TCU): Current starter Johnathan Abram graded out as the worst safety in the NFL last season, so yeah, the Raiders have a need at the position. Moehrig can defend the deep part of the field, which will be key under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
Tigers to track
The Raiders have selected four players from national power Clemson in the past three drafts. Here’s who they could target:
• Travis Etienne (RB): The Raiders have invested a lot in the running back position, with Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake set to make a combined $6.25 million this season. But Etienne ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at Clemson’s pro day and could be available when Las Vegas picks at No. 48. Can Gruden resist adding another playmaker to the backfield?
• Jackson Carman (OT/OG): The Raiders are retooling their offensive line on the fly, and Carman (6-foot-4, 317 pounds) is a beast of a blocker who could play inside or outside in the NFL. As a fourth-round pick, this could be a fit.
• Amari Rodgers (WR): Hunter Renfrow has developed into a heck of a slot receiver for Las Vegas, so why not double-dip and grab the man who succeeded him at Clemson, too? Coming off a really good senior year (77 catches, 1,020 yards, seven TDs), Rodgers could be available in the third round, when the Raiders pick back to back at Nos. 79 and 80.
• Cornell Powell (WR): Powell was almost as productive as Rodgers last season (53 catches, 882 yards, seven TDs) and actually ran a slightly faster three-cone drill at his pro day. With both of the Raiders’ receiver picks from last year looking like question marks, it might make sense to add a prospect like Powell in the later rounds.
• J.C. Chalk (TE): Chalk caught just six passes last year, and he ran a glacial 5.20 40-yard dash at Clemson’s pro day, so you can pretty much forget about any team using a draft pick on him. But as an undrafted free agent, the Raiders might be interested.
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.