Sunday, May 2, 2021 | 2 a.m.
It’s far too early to tell whether the seven players making up the Las Vegas Raiders’ 2021 NFL Draft class will ultimately succeed or fail. It’s not too early to see reasons why they could reach expectations or fall short.
Here’s a rundown of all seven players taken by the Raiders over the last three days as well as an optimistic and pessimistic view of their future.
Alex Leatherwood, tackle, Alabama
First round, No. 17 overall pick
Why he’ll work out: Raiders general manager Mayock says everyone on the staff, from coaches to scouts, loved Leatherwood and thought he was a perfect fit if not one of the best players in the whole draft. He mauls defenders in the run game and should make it easier for former Alabama teammate Josh Jacobs to run to a right side of the line that was beset with injuries this past season.
Why he won’t: Call it the Clelin Ferrel Predicament. Like Ferrell, Leatherwood is all but certain to be a productive NFL player. But after the Raiders took him at least 20 picks ahead of where he was most commonly tabbed to go, Leatherwood may need to be a Pro-Bowl caliber player to make up for all the lost draft capital. His pass blocking is also a concern, and one reason why Las Vegas might have been better off trading back, gaining extra picks and getting Leatherwood or another offensive lineman later.
Trevon Moehrig, safety, TCU
Second round, No. 43 overall pick
Why he’ll work out: The Raiders need a starting free safety after letting much-maligned Erik Harris leave in free agency, and by most accounts, Moehrig was the best one in the draft. He’s a controlled, cerebral player who on the surface looks like a match with the more freewheeling, aggressive Johnathan Abram at strong safety.
Why he won’t: A lingering back injury. Neither Moehrig nor the Raiders’ training staff thought the issue was any big deal, but it’s the most reasonable explanation for why the Jim Thorpe Award winner as college football’s best defensive back slipped further than expected. If Moehrig’s medicals aren’t sterling, then trading up to take him might not have been as much of a no-brainer as it appeared at the time.
Malcolm Koonce, edge rusher, Buffalo
Third round, No. 79 overall pick
Why he’ll work out: In Mayock’s words, he has “an innate skill” at getting to the quarterback. “Sack artist” might be a term using too liberally, but Koonce really was the Michelangelo of the Mid-American Conference in pass-rushing over the last two years. He’s tricky and quick to elude and speed past blockers.
Why he won’t: Sacks can be a misleading statistic, and they come a little easier in the MAC than they do in the NFL. Strength is seen as a red flag, and Koonce may need some time to adjust to playing against much bigger and faster opponents than he’s ever encountered before.
Divine Deablo, linebacker, Virginia Tech
Third round, No. 80 overall pick
Why he’ll work out: He’ll have time to work his way into a role as a linebacker, a position he only started playing at the Senior Bowl in January after serving as a safety for the Hokies. In the meantime, Deablo can still contribute as a special-teams mainstay as he says he loves the often-overlooked third aspect of the game. Virginia Tech is renowned for its special teams, and Deablo was a school record-setter in the department by Player of the Week honors while there.
Why he won’t: A long-term linebacker project whose primary role will be special teams is probably the last thing Raiders’ fans want to hear about a third-round pick after the same description was used for Tanner Muse last year. Muse never saw the field in his rookie season after going No. 100 overall, struggling in training camp and then injuring his toe. There’s inherently a lot of variance in making these types of picks.
Tyree Gillespie, safety, Missouri
Fourth round, No. 143 overall pick
Why he’ll work out: Aggression and attitude. Gillespie should bring fire to the Raiders as his hard-hitting, playmaking ability is what made him a standout mid-round prospect to some. He fits the profile of someone whom fans love watching and teammates love feeding off of.
Why he won’t: Aggression and attitude. The Raiders already have a strong safety who fits the above description, and though they remain bullish Abram long-term, he did more harm than good in his first full season a year ago. Out-of-control run-stopping safeties generally don’t fare well in the modern NFL.
Nate Hobbs, cornerback, Illinois
Fifth round, No. 167 overall pick
Why he’ll work out: Based on his measurables, Hobbs has the potential of a future NFL starter. With quick feet, a strong body, leaping ability and change-of-direction skills, he checks virtually every box.
Why he won’t: Based on his game tape and therefore many draftnik’s grades, Hobbs profiled more as an undrafted free-agent than a fifth-round pick. A reach in the fifth round is far less damaging than a reach in the first few rounds, but this might be another case where Mayock and coach Jon Gruden became captivated with a player at the disregard of league value.
Jimmy Morrissey, center, Pittsburgh
Seventh round, No. 230 overall pick
Why he’ll work out: He’s overcome the odds before with sheer determination and leadership. The Huntingdon Valley, Pa. native originally walked on at Pittsburgh before becoming an All-ACC honoree. He’s a smart player who was beloved by his teammates, whom voted him to be a team captain.
Why he won’t: The odds against him are substantial. It’s always hard for a seventh-round draft pick, especially for players who aren’t obvious prospective special-teams contributors, but the Raiders also already have two centers on the roster. He might be at a disadvantage from size and speed perspectives.