The Raiders enter 2014 with a more talented roster than a season ago. G.M. Reggie McKenzie used free agency and the trade market to actively address personnel shortcomings, and some short-term on-field gains are quite possible for Oakland.
The Raiders are also positioned to make a splash early in the 2014 draft. They hold the No. 5 overall pick, which gives them some flexibility, especially if they want to trade down in what is regarded as a strong draft. The Raiders have one pick in each of the first four rounds and three seventh-round picks — a decent, but hardly overwhelming stockpile of selections. The Raiders still have quite a few roster holes to fill, and their free agency haul is only a temporary fix.
Of course, the Raiders could also stay put at No. 5 and take the best available player. After two consecutive 4-12 seasons, the Raiders must show progress under McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen, which likely explains the organization’s free agency spending — and underscores the importance of getting at least one impact rookie out of this draft.
Here is PFT’s assessment of Oakland’s top draft needs:
Quarterback: The Raiders don’t need an immediate starting quarterback out of the draft, but they would hardly be blamed for addressing the position, as they need a long-term solution under center. Ex-Texans starter Matt Schaub, who turns 33 in June, figures to start in 2014. He is signed for two more seasons, which buys the Raiders a little time. Still, Schaub’s 2013 form left much to be desired. Second-year pro Matt McGloin is the top backup and figures to have a spot on the depth chart even if Oakland drafts a passer.
Defensive end: The signings of Justin Tuck (ex-Giants) and LaMarr Woodley (ex-Steelers) bolstered the Raiders’ pass rush, but Tuck is entering his 10th season, and Woodley has missed 14 games in the last three seasons. A young edge player to keep Tuck and Woodley fresh while learning from these skilled, accomplished pass rushers would be a nice addition to the defensive depth chart. Veteran Jason Hunter, one of the regulars at defensive end for Oakland a season ago, remains an unrestricted free agent, so a little more end depth is needed.
Defensive tackle: The Raiders lost 27-year-old defensive tackle Vance Walker in free agency to Kansas City. Ex-Texan Antonio Smith, a better pass rusher than Walker, looks set to replace Walker on the depth chart. Smith has been durable and productive throughout his career, but he turns 33 in October. In the short term, the Raiders could use another capable player inside to back up the starters.
Cornerback: The Raiders added ex-49ers corners Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers in free agency, but both only signed one-year deals. After drafting a cornerback (D.J. Hayden) in Round One in 2013, the Raiders are probably more likely to select one on the second or third day of the draft this year. Nevertheless, it’s a position that Oakland should continue to address.
Safety: Fun fact: the Raiders got 1,098 defensive snaps from safety Charles Woodson a season ago, per Pro Football Focus data. What’s more, Woodson earned a slightly above-average grade from PFF in 2013. Nevertheless, Woodson will be 38 in October, so adding a young free safety to groom behind Woodson would make a lot of sense.