The Las Vegas Raiders have been through an unspeakable amount of adversity this season that, frankly, no team should ever have to experience. At one point, the Raiders were 5-2 and first place in their division. A playoff berth seemed all but assured and this once-proud franchise was about to return to their place amongst the NFL’s elite. Then, just a few short weeks later, the team found themselves without their head coach, without two of their first-round picks from 2020, and without an identity.
The Raiders now sit at 6-7 and their playoff hopes are yet again crushed. Unlike in past years where the Raiders could still somewhat justify poor performance by claiming they are building the team with their new coach Jon Gruden, this team is now squarely at a crossroads entering the offseason. They are 100% going to hire a new coach. They will likely fire general manager Mike Mayock and bring in a new GM with more front office experience, and then must decide whether or not they want to trade quarterback Derek Carr for a bunch of picks and fully embrace the rebuild. That decision will likely shape what their offseason will look like and will certainly be one of the storylines to monitor this winter.
Regardless of whether or not the Raiders do embrace a full rebuild and trade Carr, this team needs a talent influx. They have whiffed too often with their early picks and can no longer afford such errors in the draft. Lucky for the Raiders, this upcoming class is full of talented prospects that can step in and make an immediate impact. Here is what a 2022 NFL Draft could look like for the Raiders.
ROUND 1, NO. 14 OVERALL: Kenyon Green, IOL, Texas A&M
For years, the Raiders’ offensive line has been the strongest unit on their team and one of the best in the NFL. They were big, physical maulers who could generate movement at the point of attack and open running lanes for their backs. Those days are over. The Raiders’ offensive line is downright terrible and is one of the worst run-blocking lines in the league. Running Back Josh Jacobs has zero room to get things going as defensive linemen are consistently in the backfield. The team attempted to solve their issues up front by drafting Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood in the first round of last year’s draft, but he simply isn’t a player the team can trust as it stands. Green is a player who is ready to start at guard at the next level and be an impact player. His physicality and power are exactly what the Raiders have been missing up front.
ROUND 2, NO. 45 OVERALL: Perrion Winfrey, IDL, Oklahoma
The Raiders are set to lose all of their interior defensive linemen as it stands to free agency. Quite honestly, none of them are great anyway. I’m sure they’ll re-sign a few and add a couple in free agency, but they need to prioritize the inside of their defensive line in the draft. Winfrey is a long and explosive rusher inside who can be disruptive playing next to ends Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue.
ROUND 3, NO. 76 OVERALL: Coby Bryant, CB, Cincinnati
The Raiders released former 2020 first-round pick Damon Arnette earlier this season after multiple off-the-field issues. While veteran Casey Hayward has been a nice signing and 2021 rookie Nate Hobbs has been a revelation in the slot, this team still needs to invest at outside corner. Bryant has the length, natural athleticism, and ball skills to develop into a difference-maker early in his career.
ROUND 4, NO. 113 OVERALL: Brandon Smith, LB, Penn State
Once thought to be a sure-fire first-round pick, the Penn State linebacker has seen his stock fall after an inconsistent 2022 season. Here in the fourth round, the Raiders would be delighted to call his name. At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, with rare overall athleticism, Smith is oozing with upside as a playmaker at the second level. He must improve his overall instincts and eyes, but the Raiders can afford to take a gamble on upside here.
ROUND 5, NO. 151 OVERALL: Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
Las Vegas is now without their No. 1 receiver in Henry Ruggs III and will certainly be in the market for a new WR1 this offseason. While free agency will likely be a place the Raiders look for a top pass/catcher, they are able to find one here in the fifth round. If not for injuries derailing his career, Ross would surely hear his name called in the first round. His physical tools and upside are outstanding and he has the skills to develop into a No. 1 receiver. By the way, the last time the Raiders selected a receiver from Clemson in the first round it turned out well.
ROUND 5, NO. 172 OVERALL: Nick Ford, IOL, Utah
Again, I truly think the biggest on-the-field reason the Raiders’ season has gone off the rails is the offensive line. This team cannot afford to go into next season with the same level of productivity from their unit up front. Ford is a versatile player who has played every single position up front for Utah. He primarily played center this year but could provide great depth at guard as well.
ROUND 7, NO. 225 OVERALL: Xavier Thomas, EDGE, Clemson
Thomas is a player many in the draft community are familiar with. He was a former 5-star recruit and a player who jumped on the scene as a true freshman. While his production hasn’t quite lived up to his high school hype, he is still a fine football player who profiles as a designated pass rusher at the next level who can win with quickness and a relentless motor.
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