US Sports Veteran
Publish Date: 04/16/2021
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
The Las Vegas Raiders are entering a pivotal year for their current regime. Jon Gruden is in his fourth season with the organization and hasn’t produced a winning record yet. He and General Manager Mike Mayock haven’t performed well in the draft either. Another year of draft day failure should shut the door on Gruden’s second stint with the silver and black.
Since Gruden returned to the Raiders in 2018, he’s used 25 draft picks and six first-round selections. The team only added one Pro Bowler (Josh Jacobs) in that haul and recently parted ways with 2018 mid-round selections Maurice Hurst Jr. and Arden Key. Lynn Bowden Jr., P.J. Hall, and Johnny Townsend also aren’t on the team anymore despite two of those players being Day 2 selections.
Las Vegas enters 2021 with serious concerns along the offensive line, at linebacker, and in the secondary. The Raiders are the least talented team in the AFC West despite their plethora of first-rounders used under Gruden and Mayock. If this team doesn’t see significant improvement from its young investments or ace this draft, it’s curtains on Gruden’s comeback.
I used The Draft Network’s mock draft machine and Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator to justify each of my selections. At least one website had the chosen players available at their listed picks over several simulations. I didn’t create any trades and included an “ideal pick” after every selection for optimistic fans.
The Raiders tried and failed for years to fix their issues at linebacker. This pick slams the door closed on some of those issues. Parsons is the best linebacker in the 2021 NFL Draft, but his stock isn’t high because of character concerns. In general, a linebacker isn’t as valuable as an offensive tackle or wide receiver, which also pushes Parsons down the board.
Parsons opted out of the 2020 college season, but he logged 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks, and four forced fumbles in 2019. The 21-year-old possesses sideline-to-sideline range and has elite twitch for a 246 lb. linebacker. He flashes a violent closing burst and is always looking to create turnovers.
Las Vegas can get creative with Parsons. He has experience as an edge rusher dating back to high school, which could come in handy on blitzes of exotic looks.
The worst thing Las Vegas could do at 17th overall is overdraft a controversial prospect like Christian Barmore or Jalen Mayfield. The Raiders must deal in known commodities if they want any hope of escaping draft purgatory.
Las Vegas recently committed to left tackle Kolton Miller long-term with a three-year extension. While he hasn’t performed at a Pro Bowl level, Miller goes down as one of the few selections from the Gruden era that reached a second contract. However, the Raiders don’t have a reliable running mate for the 25-year-old.
Brandon Parker, a 2018 third-round pick in the final year of his rookie deal, currently sits in the starting right tackle spot for Las Vegas. While Parker has 19 starts in his three seasons, he’s underwhelmed in those opportunities. He earned a 47.3 PFF grade as a rookie, a 39.3 grade in 2019, and peaked at 48.9 last year. Yikes.
Leatherwood checked in at 6-5, 312 lbs. with 34-inch arms at Alabama’s pro day. He crushed the explosive tests, but scouts are worried about his lack of improvement from 2019 to 2020. Some analysts view him as a better guard than tackle. I trust him in pass protection but would like to see him generate movement in the running game more consistently.
I’m not ruling out Dillon Radunz falling this far, in which case he’s the ideal pick, but common sense says he’ll go in the first 40 selections.
Ideal pick: Dillon Radunz, OT North Dakota St.
Las Vegas drafted Trayvon Mullen in the second-round two years ago. While he’s a quality starter, the Clemson product hasn’t taken the next step yet. Last year’s 19th overall pick, Damon Arnette, also hasn’t proven he’s capable of sticking in the NFL. Arnette only appeared in nine games as a rookie, earning a 41.7 PFF grade. He was the most surprising first-round selection last year.
Gruden’s other corners include 2020 fourth-round pick Amik Robertson, who’s 5-8 and a projected slot corner, 2019 fourth-round selection Isaiah Johnson, who played all of 181 defensive snaps last year, and veteran Nevin Lawson. Lawson started nine games for the Raiders in 2020 but is facing a two-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy.
At 6-3, 202 lbs. with over 32.5-inch arms, St-Juste has prototypical size for a cornerback. While he lacks top-end speed, as evidenced by a pedestrian 4.51 40-time, the Minnesota product excels in short spaces. He ran a 4.00 short shuttle and 6.83 three-cone, both of which rank above the 90th percentile for corners.
St-Juste has many positive physical traits but might take a year or two to reach his full potential. I like him in zone and press coverage roles.
Ideal pick: Paulson Adebo, CB Stanford
There are several third-round-caliber guards in this class, including Deonte Brown, Cleveland, and Trey Smith, that could land in Las Vegas. The Raiders drafted John Simpson at guard last year, but he only started two games as a rookie. Gruden’s team also recently re-signed 37-year-old Richie Incognito and 30-year-old Denzelle Good to short-term deals.
I’m not giving up on Simpson, but Cleveland is a better player who could push Good and Incognito for starting snaps immediately. Incognito only played in two games last season because of injuries, and Good only has two seasons with more than five starts. One of them was last year, when he posted a 56.7 PFF grade.
Cleveland isn’t a great athlete in space, and his limited agility makes mid-play adjustments difficult. He’s just a massive lineman that defenders can’t get around, and he creates movement in the running game. Jacobs would love this addition, considering the Pro Bowl running back averaged under four yards per attempt last season.
Ideal pick: Richie Grant, S UCF
I’m not sure the Raiders had a plan when they assembled their safety room. The team drafted box safety Johnathan Abram 27th overall in 2019 and signed Jeff Heath to a two-year deal the following spring. Las Vegas also recently reunited with former 14th overall pick Karl Joseph. All three of those guys are primarily strong safeties that offer limited to no upside in one-on-one coverage.
Wiggins injects some versatility into Las Vegas’ secondary. His 2018 tape was better than his performance in 2020 because of a significant 2019 ACL injury. However, Wiggins began looking more like himself late in the 2020 season. When healthy, Wiggins is an explosive, dynamic player capable of playing in the box or the slot.
According to PFF, Wiggins spent more time in the slot in 2018 than in the box or at free safety. Some analysts project him as a box safety, in which case you can throw this pick out because the Raiders have plenty of those. I’m willing to spend a fourth or fifth-round selection on Wiggins with the hope that he can play free safety in Cover 3 and offer more versatility than Las Vegas’ current options.
The Raiders should target Wiggins or TCU’s Ar’Darius Washington on Day 3 if they don’t land Jevon Holland or Grant.
Ideal pick: Tyler Shelvin, IDL LSU
The Raiders have several half-answers along their interior defensive line. Johnathan Hankins and Quinton Jefferson are good players, but they and Solomon Thomas are all on one-year deals. Keep in mind the Raiders also recently released Hurst, who earned a higher 2020 grade from PFF than any of their current interior linemen.
At 6-4, 330 lbs., Slaton is a less consistent nose tackle than LSU’s Tyler Shelvin, but the Florida product still plays with an excellent pad level. He also flashes an explosive first step, but it’s not consistent snap-to-snap. While Slaton’s ideal fit is in a 3-4 front, his ability to occupy bodies and stop the run should create opportunities for Las Vegas’ struggling linebackers.
Ideal pick: Marvin Wilson, IDL Florida St.
Wildgoose is a physical corner that suffers from plenty of inconsistencies. He committed 13 pass interference or holding penalties during his three seasons with Wisconsin. Most of those calls trace back to Wildgoose’s lack of speed and trust in his technique. He’s also not the best athlete compared to other prospects, which shows up as a lack of burst and clunky short-area transitions.
Despite all of those concerns, Wildgoose is a tough competitor that shows effort against the run and could find a role in the slot.
Ideal pick: Cornell Powell, WR Clemson
Jones tallied 86 tackles and five tackles for loss in only nine games last year. Las Vegas has serious depth concerns at linebacker. While Jones won’t see starting time soon, he’s an experienced player that served as a team captain for the Gamecocks. He’s a vocal, vicious player that makes his money against the run.
Jones should fit in with Las Vegas’ locker room and open his career as a special teams contributor.
Ideal pick: Sadarius Hutcherson, IOL South Carolina