Now that the initial wave of free agency is over, we have a much better idea of team needs heading into next month's NFL draft. While a month ago we may have thought a certain team needed a certain position, that could have changed if that team added a player at that position in free agency. Using free agency as a way to identify what positions a team might be targeting is very beneficial as we look to create realistic mock drafts and project potential team and player fits.
A perfect example of this would be the Las Vegas Raiders. All year the narrative around the Raiders' draft needs started with the fact that they desperately needed more help rushing the passer. It was clear that former No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell is not the player the Raiders hoped he would be, and that Maxx Crosby needed more help opposite him. It became trendy to automatically mock the Raiders the best pass rusher available.
While the Raiders may still take one at No. 17, edge rusher is no longer the team’s most pressing need due to the signing of Yannick Ngakoue in free agency. Because of the signing of Ngakoue, the Raiders now have the flexibility to target other positions of need like linebacker or right tackle and won’t feel forced to take an edge rusher in the first round.
Here is a post-free agency seven-round mock draft for the Raiders that could closely resemble what they actually do in next month’s draft.
Round 1 (No. 17 overall): Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
This pick came down to Owusu-Koramoah or Oklahoma State’s right tackle Teven Jenkins but ultimately, Owusu-Koramoah is just too good of a player to pass up. Owusu-Koramoah would be an excellent fit for this Gus Bradley defense which utilizes heavy Cover 3 principles requiring the linebackers to have a lot of responsibility in pass coverage. Without linebackers who can run and play in space, this style of defense won’t succeed. Owusu-Koramoah is an outstanding coverage linebacker who showed a rare ability to turn and run with receivers from the slot. His defensive versatility will allow Bradley to stay in base personnel more often, which will also help defend the run as you won’t be replacing a linebacker with an extra corner. Owusu-Koramoah has excellent speed and instincts and is a very good tackler in space. He has potential to be a perennial Pro Bowler in this style of defense.
Round 2 (No. 48 overall): Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
The Raiders have a huge hole at right tackle after the team shipped Trent Brown off to the New England Patriots. Mayfield has seen his stock fall a bit after a sub-par pro day in which his testing numbers displayed a below-average athlete. That being said, Mayfield’s tape is excellent and there is a very real chance he is still a first-round pick. Mayfield played right tackle for Michigan the last few seasons, so his transition to the Raiders should be pretty seamless. Together, Mayfield and Kolton Miller, who just received a nice extension, will form a very solid tackle duo to help protect quarterback Derek Carr.
Round 3 (No. 79 overall): Quinn Meinerz, G, Wisconsin-Whitewater
The ultimate Jon Gruden pick. Meinerz is a football guy’s football guy and is exactly what Gruden would want in an interior offensive lineman. He plays with toughness and a mean streak where he looks to finish his opponent on every snap. There are certainly some risks here with Meinerz as his level of competition is well below what he will see at the NFL level, but he did do well to answer some of those questions at the Senior Bowl where he was one of the better linemen throughout the week. The Raiders have a hole at right guard now that the team traded Gabe Jackson, and Meinerz could be a solid replacement.
Round 3 (No. 80 overall): Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston
Even with the Ngakoue signing, the team still does need more edge rush help. Ngakoue and Crosby together form a nice duo, but behind them the talent at edge still leaves a lot to be desired. Turner is a long, athletic edge rusher who plays with very good physicality at the point of attack. His hand use and motor allow him to excel both as a pass rusher and run defender. While there are certainly areas of improvement for Turner, his upside is very intriguing.
Round 4 (No. 121 overall): Tariq Thompson, S, San Diego State
Las Vegas will be in need of a new free safety, and one could argue with who they lost in free agency, it’s their biggest need. The team elected to let both LaMarcus Joyner and Erik Harris walk in free agency, leaving a massive hole. In Bradley’s scheme, free safety is very important as he is responsible for the deep middle third of the field. This is the position where Earl Thomas excelled for those Seattle defenses and the Raiders will need to find a rangy backend defender who can play deep while Johnathan Abram plays near the LOS. Thompson offers very good coverage ability with excellent instincts and ball skills. He is capable of playing both in the backend at free safety but can also play in the slot if needed.
Round 5 (No. 162 overall): Tedarrell Slaton, DT, Florida
Even with the signings of Soloman Thomas and Darius Philon, I still believe the Raiders should add some more depth along the interior of their defensive line. Slaton is a big-bodied defensive lineman with outstanding power at the point of attack. He projects as a nose in a 4-3 defense who can hold off double teams and keep the linebackers clean. He has an occasional win with a bull rush in the passing game, but his true value will come as an early-down run defender.
Round 5 (No. 167 overall): Cornell Powell, WR, Clemson
You thought the draft would go by without Gruden and Mike Mayock drafting a Clemson Tiger? Well, not so fast! The Raiders' brain trust is infatuated with the Clemson program and the pipeline continues with the selection of Powell. Powell had a breakout year as a senior in 2020 after being buried on the depth chart behind a slew of other Tiger receivers. Powell has good size, speed, and ball skills to develop into a quality NFL receiver, but the lack of sample size will give teams cause for concern.
Round 6 (No. 200 overall): Thomas Graham, CB, Oregon
The Raiders have two very talented starting corners in Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette. The problem, however, is that both have dealt with injuries in their young careers—so having strong depth will be key. Graham opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the NFL draft, but he put enough on tape in his first three seasons to show he is an NFL-caliber player. Graham is extremely tough and competitive with very good athleticism and ball skills. He has inside and outside versatility and will also excel covering kicks on special teams.