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Projecting the draft: Raiders' direction is anyone's guess

The SportsXchange

Perhaps as much as anyone in the history of the league, Al Davis changed the NFL.

His passing changes the strategy employed in rebuilding his beloved Raiders.

Under Davis, the Raiders' emphasis on speed was perceived by some as an outdated way in which to build an NFL roster. Considering that the Raiders were the last AFC West team represented in the Super Bowl (losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003), that perception may not be fair.

With new general manager Reggie McKenzie leading the show, the Raiders are clearly heading in a different direction. McKenzie, a former linebacker who got his start in the NFL as a 10th-round pick with the Raiders in 1985, surprised many with his choice of 39-year-old Dennis Allen as head coach. Not only is Allen the NFL's youngest head coach, he's also the first head coach with a defensive background hired to head the Raiders since John Madden in 1969.

McKenzie and Allen certainly have their work cut out for them.

Under Davis, the Raiders had shown a willingness to trade picks and this is certainly the case in 2012. The Raiders have just five selections, their first coming at No. 95 overall. Most notably, Oakland had traded away the rights to their first-round pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for quarterback Carson Palmer and invested their third-round pick via the supplemental draft on former Ohio State passer Terrelle Pryor.

Under veteran offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, it would appear safe to assume that the Raiders will continue with the strategy of being a run-heavy team willing to take the occasional deep shot downfield. While Allen's roots lie with the 4-3 scheme, McKenzie helped oversee the Green Bay Packers' scheme change from the 4-3 to the 3-4 during an 18-year tenure that culminated with his earning the role as the team's Director of Football Operations in 2008.

Other than these basic assumptions, it is difficult to project which direction the Raiders may go on draft day ... which is probably the way Davis would have wanted it.

Five picks Reggie McKenzie should contemplate:

TE Orson Charles, Georgia (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 95)

Historically speaking, the Raiders have featured strong play at tight end and this is a fundamental element of Knapp's offense. Having lost Zach Miller to the Seahawks a year ago and his replacement - Kevin Boss - to division rival Kansas City, Oakland currently features several projects at the position. Charles lacks the traditional bulk scouts would prefer at just 6-3, 251 pounds but he's a better football player than his size and average speed would suggest. For a team needing some instant impact out of their draft, the Raiders could do worse than Charles with their first pick (No. 95 overall).

OT Tony Bergstrom, Utah (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 137)

The Raiders re-signed veteran Khalif Barnes to a one-year deal but are likely hoping that second-year pro Joseph Barksdale will be able to beat him out of the starting right tackle job. As a backup option to that plan, Bergstrom - an All Pac-12 player at right tackle who some project inside to guard - would make a great deal of sense with the Raiders' fourth round pick, No. 129 overall.

OLB Terrell Manning, NC State (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 158)

Former No. 4 overall pick Aaron Curry (Seahawks) looked like a new man after being traded to the Raiders last season but with Oakland struggling to defend the run for years, reinforcements may be needed opposite him. Manning was a bit overshadowed at times while at NC State by others, but has the athleticism worthy of developing. The Raiders could hope that he'd slip to their second of two fifth round picks but considering the relative lack of depth of this year's OLB class, McKenzie may feel it necessary to take the athletic Manning at No. 148 rather than risk losing him.

RB Terrance Ganaway, Baylor (NFLDraftScout.com ranking 170)

Of all the Raiders' needs, running back might appear to be the least of their concerns considering that Darren McFadden has proven himself to be a star... when healthy. With the underrated Michael Bush having signed with the Chicago Bears, the Raiders' top option behind the former Arkansas Razorback is arguably second-year pro Taiwan Jones. Jones boasts mercurial speed and will make his share of big plays if given the opportunity, but he too has struggled with durability. The Raiders like the potential shown by another second year pro, Lonyae Miller but that may not stop them from adding Ganaway with their second fifth round pick (No. 168 overall). Ganaway, at 6-0, 239 pounds, would give the team the power they lost when Bush left.

DT DaJohn Harris, Southern Cal (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 197)

Considering that the Raiders allowed an average of 5.0 yards per carry last season and may be contemplating using multiple fronts in 2012, one could make the argument that the team's primary need heading into the draft is at defensive tackle. Teams anticipate a strong run at this position in the first and second rounds, however, to wipe out most of the top prospects and therefore there simply may not be players of value left when the Raiders get on the clock with their first picks. Harris possesses the physical skill set to warrant mid round consideration but hasn't developed as hoped throughout his career with the Trojans. If still available in the sixth round (No, 189 overall), however, it would certainly appear worth taking a risk on the local product.
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