Every week during the 2021 NFL season, we’re going to — just being honest here — overreact to what we’ve seen on the field for a different NFL team and begin projecting NFL draft prospects at positions of concerning need.
Think of it as a mini one-team mock draft, with early (Rounds 1-2), middle (Rounds 3-4) and late (Rounds 5-7) prospects at each team’s respective position of concern.
This week’s NFL draft makeover is for the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Las Vegas Raiders started 3-0 this season with wins over the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Then the Raiders dropped five of their next seven games, including losses to the Chicago Bears and New York Giants.
Sunday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was the Raiders' third straight, although they kept their season alive with the overtime win in Dallas on Thanksgiving. What a wild, inconsistent campaign it has been.
Of course, there are some legitimate reasons for the slide. Head coach Jon Gruden resigned after the email scandal. Wide receiver Henry Ruggs was released following felony DUI charges. Cornerback Damon Arnette was cut following a troublesome social-media post.
It's hard to imagine team morale was high when these bombshells hit within days of each other, even if the team held firm for a few weeks afterward.
Offensively, things have been terribly inconsistent. Prior to Dallas, the run game disappeared and the third-down conversion rate has been abysmal. A defense that has held its water in the first halves of games (12.2 points allowed) has often been reduced to tatters in the fourth quarter (11.5 points allowed).
Derek Carr, once a dark-horse MVP candidate, played well in the Cowboys victory. But he had four picks in his previous three games and saw his average yards per attempt drop from 8.6 yards in the first seven games of the season to 7.8 yards over his past four.
The Raiders remain in contention in the wide-open AFC but have a lot of work to do. If they can't keep things afloat this season, 2022 figures to bring a whole host of changes.
At this rate, Rich Bisaccia, Gruden's replacement, shouldn't count on converting his interim tag to full-time status. GM Mike Mayock's fate might also hang in the balance. There has even been chatter that Carr could be moved in the offseason for the right deal.
The team is expected to have major cap space (more than $50 million, and there are few pending free agents the Raiders absolutely must bring back. They own all of their own 2022 draft picks in Rounds 1 through 4, plus two more in Round 5 and one in Round 7.
But the epic failure that was the Raiders' 2020 draft class has left a major talent void. It might speak to why the Raiders have been outscored in the fourth quarter this season, 129-58. And why they're on the verge of seeing that 3-0 start go to waste.
Here's one possible path to recovery, starting with adding more firepower to an offense that has gone cold.
Early round prospect
Ohio State WR Chris Olave
Right now, the Raiders would pick 15th in Round 1. However, as we've seen with their topsy-turvy season, their final draft spot could end up quite different. It might be top 10. It could be in the 20s. There is a wide range of outcomes possible.
And that, naturally, will change the pool of prospects they'll be choosing from. But there's a good chance they still could be in a position to draft one of the first two or three receivers next spring if they choose to go that route (again). Losing Ruggs has almost forced them to consider taking one high, especially if they don't bring back DeSean Jackson.
Mayock has favored experienced, highly productive receivers in general, although the wideouts he's been a part of drafting — namely Ruggs, Bryan Edwards and Hunter Renfrow — are totally different styles of player.
Why we think Olave fits well is that he's a craftsman as a route runner, very experienced (37 college games and counting), highly productive (career 15.6-yard receiving average and 35 TDs) and has been able to adapt well with three different starting quarterbacks with the Buckeyes.
Olave is neither big nor physical. He's got a lean frame, shorter arms and smaller hands. But his spacial awareness and 4.4 speed allow him to glide through secondaries and past defensive backs to find open seams. If the Raiders want to bring back big plays to the offense, Olave is among the best Round 1 options.
Another would be Alabama's Jameson Williams, Olave's former OSU teammate, but would Mayock draft another speedy receiver from Tuscaloosa, knowing what questions that would entail, fairly or not? The Raiders also could favor a bigger target, such as Arkansas' Treylon Burks or USC's Drake London. Perhaps Olave's teammate, Garrett Wilson, or Georgia's George Pickens is more their speed.
But one way or another, the Raiders really could use some help out wide.
Connecticut DT Travis Jones
The third round might be where a team must draft Jones if it wants him, and by the time the draft actually rolls around, it might be higher than that. Yes, UConn is a terrible team at 1-10. But they actually have a few really good NFL prospects, including Jones.
The Raiders really have no impact players inside, along with very little tangible DT depth, which speaks to just how good edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue have been without an inside presence commanding any real attention, blocking-wise.
Jones is a hulking, gap-eating factor inside. He's 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds, with massive hands (10 3/8 inches), good arm length (33 5/8 inches) and a lengthy wingspan (81 3/4 inches).
With a Senior Bowl invite secured, Jones has the opportunity to go down to Mobile and win the week with good performances in the one-on-one drills against what could be a very respectable group of interior blockers. (We'll take a matchup against Kentucky's 345-pound guard Darian Kinnard any day.)
All season long, Jones has faced double teams. I've watched him turn in dominant performances this season against Purdue and Clemson, and what you notice is how well he moves for a man of his size. Jones can help erase an opponent's run game with his sheer power and mass, but he also can swim his way to the backfield and change directions quite nicely.
Jones fits the Linval Joseph-Jordan Phillips-Grover Stewart mold and could be a key cog on a defense for years.
Missouri C Michael Maietti
The Raiders must continue building out their offensive line again, and the interior can't go overlooked even after the team drafted its two likely starting guards for the future in John Simpson and Alex Leatherwood the past two years. Center is an area the team could upgrade. Starter Andre James appears to be a replacement-level player to our eyes.
On average, there are between seven and 10 true centers every year. The league needs them, but they're surprisingly hard to find. The Raiders attempted to find a Day 3 center in the 2021 draft in seventh-rounder Jimmy Morrissey, but he was sniped off Las Vegas' practice squad and thrust into the Texans' starting lineup shortly thereafter.
Maietti is cut from a similar cloth as Morrissey was, both highly experienced and technically sound pivots who turned themselves from under-recruited high school players into respected team captains and NFL prospects. Between Rutgers and Mizzou, Maietti will finish his career with close to 4,000 college snaps and 54 starts and counting.
If you're looking for a late-round prospect who could come in an contribute as a rookie, Maietti is a candidate. He's not terribly gifted physically, with sub 30-inch arms at 6-foot-1 and 295 pounds — a center-only physique. But we view Maietti as an Austin Blythe type of player who could overcome his shortcomings to make it into an NFL lineup.