The Oakland Raiders appear to be on the verge of contending, so what do they do in the 2017 NFL Draft in this final seven-round mock draft to make the leap?
It’s been a while since they could say it, but the Oakland Raiders have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations looking ahead to the 2017 season. They were rolling a year ago, but were bounced in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs thanks to Derek Carr’s season being ended by a broken fibula late in the year. Carr’s almost already fully recovered and now Oakland will look to get over the hump with key additions in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Raiders own all seven of their picks with no additional capital coming in. They’ll pick 24th in the first round, which still sets them up nicely considering the quality depth of the 2017 NFL Draft class. And it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see this team target defense in the first and in the rest of the early rounds given that was their Achilles’ heel a year ago, with or without Carr.
General manager Reggie McKenzie has been batting close to 1.000 his moves in recent years to build the current iteration of the Raiders. Their success last year is a good enough indication of that. With that said, this may be his most important draft yet. So what can he bring in to help this team grow?
With the draft almost here, let’s dive into the final seven-round mock draft for the Oakland Raiders. (Note: This mock draft was compiled using the Fanspeak On The Clock simulator.)
Round 1, Pick 24: Zach Cunningham, LB – Vanderbilt
The not so secret shortcoming of the Raiders was their defense a season ago. Yes, Khalil Mack is a deserving Defensive Player of the Year and there’s talent around him with the likes of Bruce Irvin off the opposite edge, in addition to safeties Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph. While Sean Smith and David Amerson had their share of bad moments last season, there’s still hope that they’ll be effective after getting better acclimated to the defense in Oakland.
Where the Raiders truly struggled, however, was against the run. Part of that was because of Dan Williams not living up to his hype when they signed him at defensive tackle, but much of it was due to sub-par linebacker play. That had to have been circled as a need early on and the departure of Malcolm Smith — who frankly wasn’t all that good in Oakland — makes the need more dire. Zach Cunningham is the man that can help their problems.
The Raiders would love to see Reuben Foster drop to No. 24 after all his off-field concerns coming up just before the draft. However, him falling that far seems highly unlikely. Cunningham is a hell of a consolation prize if that’s the case, though. Though the Vanderbilt product needs to get strong and bulk up, he’s an athletic specimen with a fantastic frame for linebacker. He wasn’t always dominant for the Commodores, but he did put that ability to be that type of player at times.
Cunningham is the athletic player that can both recognize plays, drop back into coverage and come up and help to stuff the run — even being able to close in if the ball’s kicked outside. He’d be a sight for sore eyes in Oakland as he should improve their run defense to at least some degree upon arrival.