Oakland Raiders Free Agency and Draft Wish List

By (Featured Columnist) on February 4, 2014

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For the Oakland Raiders, the 2014 offseason is a chance to address some of the team's biggest areas of need.

Unlike year's past, this time around general manager Reggie McKenzie will finally have an opportunity to land some marquee names via free agency and the draft.

Thanks to an estimated $61.8 million in cap space, McKenzie will have a surfeit amount of loot to help shore up Oakland's roster.

For the Silver and Black's current regime, the excuses are over. At the end of the day, this team has to show signs of improvement in 2014. Anything less would be a disservice to one of the most loyal fanbases in all of sports.

Scanning free agency and looking ahead to the upcoming draft, it's time to examine some of the players who need to be on Oakland's radar.

All stats and free agency information courtesy of NFL.com unless noted otherwise.

All 2014 draft projections provided by NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) unless noted otherwise.

All CFB stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.

Quarterback

The quarterback situation in Oakland has been quite the quandary over the last decade.

Since former signal-caller Rich Gannon last suited up for a full-season back in 2002, it's been nothing but a revolving door in Oakland.

Names like Kerry Collins, Andrew Walter, Aaron Brooks, Josh McCown, Daunte Culpepper, JaMarcus Russell and Carson Palmer have all taken snaps while wearing a Raiders uniform.

Needless to say, the quarterback blues this city has encountered has been devastating.

Forget Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin, the real key to finding quarterback nirvana has to come via the draft.

 

Free Agents

Michael Vick: Despite being considered a "polarizing" player, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is worth taking a look at.

The biggest knock on Vick over his tenure in the NFL is that he can't find a way to stay healthy—Vick hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2006.

Even at 33 years old, Vick possesses enough speed and arm strength to be effective when he's on the field. Proving that theory to be true, ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets have expressed "some level of interest" in Vick.

For Oakland, Vick clearly isn't the long-term solution. The free-agent-to-be QB would serve as nothing more than a veteran presence who will be expected to come in, compete and push the other quarterbacks on this roster.

 

Kellen Clemens: Say what you want about Kellen Clemens, but the eight-year veteran came in during the 2013 season and performed admirably after St. Louis Rams starting quarterback Sam Bradford tore his ACL.

While he won't ever blow you away with his arm strength or mobility, Clemens would provide this Raiders team with a sense of leadership.

Whether he starts or not is immaterial. At this point bringing in Clemens would be a low-risk move that could pay off huge in grand scheme of things.

As Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com mentioned, Clemens has a history of "tutoring young players."

 

Draft Prospects

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Texas A&M folk hero Johnny Manziel is one player who seems to cause mass hysteria whenever his name is mentioned.

In just two seasons as the starting quarterback for the Aggies, Manziel managed to rack up 7,820 passing yards, 93 total touchdowns and post an impressive 68.9 completion percentage. That bodacious amount of production helped transform the man they call "Johnny Football" into a cultural superstar.

Projecting Manziel's skill set to the NFL isn't an easy task. At just 6'0" tall, he lacks that "prototypical" size teams covet when looking for a franchise QB.

But what sets Manziel apart from his peers is uncanny vision on the field. Possessing almost a sixth sense, Manziel demonstrates on film the ability to constantly evade any pressure that's thrown his way.

If nothing else, the explosiveness and diverse skill set Manziel possesses makes him the most exciting player in this year's draft.

 

Derek Carr, Fresno State: Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr is one name that's been garnering a lot of attention as of late.

As NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah pointed out, Carr's exceptional play throughout the entire Senior Bowl process has helped set him apart from the rest of his peers.

At 6'3", 215 pounds, Carr's big frame complements his tremendous arm strength and ideal mechanics.

The biggest concern about Carr's game is the fact he's looked timid in the pocket at times. On film, the Fresno State gunslinger rushes his mechanics whenever he doesn't have a clean pocket.

Still, any quarterback who can spin the pigskin like Carr deserves attention.

Getting the football out quickly and efficiently, Carr's physical tools give him an advantage over any other quarterback in this year's draft class.

A student of the game, NFL.com's Dan Greenspan wrote in detail about Carr learning to read defenses from his older brother David Carr at a young age.

With so many positives traits to his game, the Raiders may want to take a closer look at this young man on draft day.

Running Back

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Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

With Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings set to hit free agency, McKenzie will have some major decisions to make regarding the running back position this offseason.

Thanks to a bevy of talented tailbacks circulating around the open market, there will be plenty of options to choose from.

 

Free Agents

Toby Gerhart: If McKenzie wants to go out and make a splash in free agency, signing Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart would be one way to shake things up.

Averaging 4.7 yards per carry serving as Adrian Peterson's backup, Gerhart has proven to be an effective runner.

If you turn on the film and watch Gerhart operate, the thing that stands out is the patience he displays while running the football. Time after time, Gerhart is able to find open lanes and bounce through them with a nice blend of power and speed.

With just 276 carries to his name over the four seasons he spent in Minnesota, the former Stanford Cardinal tailback could be the second-coming of Michael Turner—with just 198 carries to his credit, Turner left the San Diego Chargers and became a fantastic asset for Atlanta Falcons after the 2007 season.

 

James Starks: Another player who deserves some attention this offseason is Green Bay Packers running back James Starks.

The 27-year-old Starks proved this past season that he can still be a valuable commodity.

Finishing the 2013 season averaging 5.5 yards per carry, Starks served as a change-of-pace for rookie sensation Eddie Lacy.

Even though Tyler Dunne of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweeted that the Packers have interest in re-signing Starks, the odds of that happening are slim. Already deep at the running back position, Green Bay would be wise to spend their money addressing other positions of need.

For Oakland, adding Starks makes a lot of sense. Aside from his ability on the field, financially, he's the type of player who won't demand an intoxicating salary.

With a lot of gas left in his tank, casting a line and luring Starks in would give Oakland an accomplished runner who could also contribute in the passing game.

 

Draft Prospects

De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon: If the Raiders are looking to infuse an explosive playmaker into their offense, Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas is one guy they should keep an eye on.

A melding pot of sizzling speed and nifty footwork, Thomas is a player who can contribute in more ways than one. Racking up 5,000 all-purpose yards during his time at Oregon, the young man they call "The Black Mamba" runs with a purpose.

Projected by NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) to be selected between the sixth and seventh round, Thomas' value significantly outweighs his draft stock.

Possessing the type of speed that would make Al Davis proud, Thomas' game-breaking ability would be a welcomed addition to an Oakland offense that's in desperate need of finding playmakers.

 

Jeremy Hill, LSU: LSU running back Jeremy Hill is an absolute beast who can demolish defenders between the tackles.

A downhill runner who's shown impressive vision on film, unlike a lot of the running backs in this year's draft class, Hill is player who will be able to wear opposing defenses down with his punishing style of running.

As Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group pointed out, the Raiders rushing attack has mixed in a ton of power runs to help move their offense move downfield.

Familiar with that type of scheme, Hill would be able to come in from Day 1 and excel in offensive coordinator Greg Olson's system.

While free agency presents an opportunity to acquire a solidified running back, the draft represents a chance to add a franchise-caliber player for a fraction of the cost.

And in the end, isn't that the goal of any successful offseason? To accrue as much riveting talent as you possibly can without breaking the bank.

Wide Receiver

Like Joey Gladstone needed Jesse Katsopolis, the Raiders need a marquee wide receiver.

Not having a wide receiver break the 1,000-yard mark since Randy Moss did it back in 2005, Oakland's crusade to find a true No. 1 target will be one of the important decisions made during the 2014 offseason.

 

Free Agents

Eric Decker: Serving as one of Peyton Manning's loyal soldiers over the last two seasons in Denver, Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker is going to be one of the hottest names in free agency.

While in a perfect world the Broncos would retain the services of their standout wide receiver, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport tweeted that the front office "fears they may lose him."

If that theory becomes reality, the Raiders would be in a fantastic position to swoop in and steal the 6'3" playmaker from their division rival.

Aside from the financial aspect, the biggest concern with signing Decker will be figuring out if he really is a true No. 1 wide receiver.

Countless times on film—especially during Super Bowl XLVIII—Decker has struggled to beat press coverage and use his body to outwork opposing cornerbacks.

Racking up 2,292 yards receiving and 24 touchdowns during the time he's spent with Manning, it's going to take a lot of scouting to determine whether this former Minnesota Golden Gopher is for real or just a product of the system he's played in.

 

Emmanuel Sanders: One wide receiver who could be a nice under-the-radar signing this offseason is Emmanuel Sanders.

With ESPN.com's Scott Brown writing that Sanders' future in Pittsburgh is up in the air, the door is now open for the 26-year-old to test his worth in free agency.

At 5'11", Sanders isn't the biggest or strongest wide receiver around. However, he has established himself as a solid route-runner who has a knack for creating separation.

Using Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) metrics as a benchmark, Sanders managed to register a better grade than wide receivers Torrey Smith, Mike Wallace and even Oakland Raiders speedster Denarius Moore.

If the two sides could come to a mutually beneficial agreement, offering Sanders a contract would be a great decision.

A shifty wide receiver who can work in the slot as well as on the outside, Sanders' versatility would instantly upgrade Oakland's lethargic wide receiving corps.

 

Draft Prospects

Allen Robinson, Penn State: Standing at 6'3", Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson is one player who would look great in a Raiders uniform.

A big-bodied target, Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) compared Robinson to San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

A possession guy with room to grow at the next level, Robinson's skill set would provide this offense with a sense of security.

One concern that's easy to notice when watching this young man operate on film is that he lacks elite-level speed. Still, his strength as a route-runner and ability to separate from defenders makes him an intriguing prospect for McKenzie and his staff.

 

Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: A prospect who hasn't generated as much hype as some of the other "top-tier" wide receivers in this year's draft class is Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews.

Amassing 262 receptions for 3,759 yards and 24 touchdowns over the course of his collegiate career, Matthews has proven time after time that he can do it all on the football field.

At 6'3", Matthews boasts the size needed to be a Day 1 starter at the next level. Projected by NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) to be selected in the second round of this year's draft, Matthews is an NFL-ready wide receiver who could develop into a star during his tenure in Oakland.

Defensive End

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Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Like reruns of Seinfeld or a pristine pair of Air Jordans, elite pass-rushers will never go out of style.

Although the narrative this offseason will be centered around the Raiders' quarterback woes, finding valuable pass-rushers to help bolster this defense will be equally as important.

 

Free Agents

Lamarr Houston: First and foremost, the Raiders need to find a way to retain the services of free-agent defensive end Lamarr Houston.

A "homegrown" talent, Houston's been one of the most productive players the Raiders have had in years.

Grading out as PFF's (subscription required) 11th-best 4-3 defensive end, Houston managed to generate an outstanding 41 quarterback hurries during the 2013 season.

Dubbed by ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez as one player the Raiders "must-sign" this offseason, the 300-pound defensive lineman has yet to miss a game throughout the course of his four-year career.

That rugged sense of durability he brings to the table is just another reason why McKenzie needs to make sure this 26-year-old superstar stays in the Bay Area for the foreseeable future.

 

Everson Griffen: Assuming he doesn't re-sign with the Minnesota Vikings, free-agent defensive end Everson Griffen is one player the Raiders need to target.

A pass-rusher who flaunts an obscene amount of athleticism, by PFF's count (subscription required), Griffen registered 39 QB hurries despite playing just 717 snaps in 2013.

A tireless worker who bullies opposing offensive linemen with his football IQ and athletic ability, McKenzie would be thrilled if he could get his hands on this kid.

 

Draft Prospects

Chris Smith, Arkansas: Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith is an formidable pass-rusher who's always had an aptitude for getting after quarterbacks.

Analyzing his strengths, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller wrote:

Smith isn't the tallest guy in the room, but his arms are an insane 32.75" long. That's equal to many of the offensive linemen weighed and measured at the Senior Bowl. Being shorter is fine if you have the long arms to keep offensive linemen off your frame, and Smith does.

When you put on the tape, Smith is a guy who constantly uses an impressive arsenal of moves to get by offensive linemen. Watching him work, it doesn't take long to realize Smith is a smart player who's been blessed with a high motor.

Projected to fall somewhere between the second and third round of the 2014 draft, Smith is a guy who could help Oakland out from Day 1.

 

Marcus Smith, Louisville: The second Smith to make this list could very well end up becoming one of the biggest assets in this year's draft.

Louisville's Marcus Smith has the size and speed needed to make an impact at the next level.

A prospect who's versatile enough to line up anywhere on the field, on film, Smith has proven to be a savvy pass-rusher who uses his outstanding burst to erupt off the line of scrimmage and make things happen in the backfield.

Look, we all know the Raiders need guys who can get after the quarterback in the worst way. That's why drafting a hybrid pass-rusher like Smith would help ignite a fire under Oakland's defense.

Offensive Line

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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Amidst the massive rebuilding project the Raiders have undergone over the last two seasons, one thing that hasn't been addressed is the team's offensive line.

Now, with left tackle Jared Veldheer set to hit free agency, there are a plethora of issues McKenzie needs to deal with entering the 2014 offseason.

 

Free Agents

Alex Mack: Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack could be the biggest prize floating around the free-agent market.

Arguably the best center in all of football, Mack has been a picture of perfect health since coming into the league back in 2009. Starting 80 consecutive games, the Cleveland Browns big man has proven to be a reliable player who always produces at a high level.

Mack is one player who's clearly worth shelling big bucks out to. A proven commodity who's always found a way to dominate on the field, McKenzie needs to do everything in his power to convince Mack that Oakland is the place he needs to be for the rest of his career.

 

Jared Veldheer: Another "homegrown" talent, re-signing left tackle Jared Veldheer needs to be a top priority for McKenzie this offseason.

After originally telling Alex Marvez of Fox Sports 1 that he wants to "stay in Oakland," Veldheer recently told 95.7 FM The Game that he would "like to see a little more urgency" from the Raiders in regards to getting a new deal ironed out.

If the team wants to bring Veldheer back, now's the time to do it. Because with each passing day, the 26-year-old offensive lineman will have a chance to change his mind and test free agency.

 

Draft Prospects

OG/OT Brandon Thomas, Clemson: Brandon Thomas out of Clemson is one of the best offensive linemen you've never heard of in this year's draft class.

As Greg A. Bedard of MMQB.com mentioned in his Senior Bowl notes, Thomas is a special talent. Describing what he saw from Thomas in further detail, Bedard said:

I fell in love with Clemson T/G Brandon Thomas when he handled South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney largely one-on-one this season. That continued this week. His smart, savvy and tough play reminds me a bit of future Hall of Fame guard Brian Waters. Thomas just knows how to play.

With the ability to play both guard and tackle, Thomas is quickly turning into a "must-draft" prospect.

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