Ranking the Raiders' top five needs heading into free agency, NFL Draft originally appeared on nbcsportsbayarea.com
The Raiders season stunk. It was a throw away, in essence, used to acquire the NFL draft picks and salary cap flexibility to remake the roster as Jon Gruden sees fit.
Now is that time. The Raiders have roughly $78 million in cap space and 10 NFL draft picks, including four in the top 35 selections.
The Raiders are armed well to reload in a pivotal offseason where we could and should see significant roster turnover. Let's rank the Raiders' top five needs heading toward the 2019 season:
1. Edge rusher
The Raiders didn't generate much pressure on the quarterback, especially from the flanks. Arden Key and Frostee Rucker were miscast as three-down players, forced into some roles that played away from their strengths.
They were forced into steady snaps after Khalil Mack got traded and a frustrated Bruce Irvin got cut, eliminating established threats off the edge.
The Raiders have to start over atop the depth chart. They could use more than one new impact edge rusher, with Key returning as the situational pass rusher he was expected to be as a rookie.
There's enough salary cap space to sign someone in a loaded free-agent class that gets away from his team – several, including Jadeveon Clowney and Frank Clark, should re-sign with their current clubs – who can get a raise to lead the defense and provide some heat. Then the Raiders should still use their No. 4 overall pick on another edge rusher.
That could remake the defensive front, with Key in reserve and 2018 draftees Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall helping rush from the inside.
Jordy Nelson is coming back in 2019. The Raiders should build a whole new position group around him. Nelson is a solid leader and a smart pass catcher who can still produce, but he doesn't have the wheels to scare opponents anymore.
Seth Roberts is likely gone, Martavis Bryant is suspended again and Brandon LaFell won't be back after suffering an Achilles tear. Marcell Ateman will remain, but needs more time to develop in a much smaller role.
The free-agent class is thin outside Golden Tate and a few others, but a free agent could still help the group and add experience. The Raiders should use a first-round pick on a receiver, and maybe another selection later in the draft to remake the group. Derek Carr needs dynamic threats, and didn't have many after Amari Cooper was traded to Dallas near midseason.
3. Middle linebacker
The Raiders started the 2018 season with Marquel Lee in the middle spot, but moved him to the strong side as the year progressed. Jason Cabinda and Nick Morrow platooned at that spot after the Lee switch and were serviceable young players, but a new and dynamic presence is needed on the inside next to returning weakside linebacker Tahir Whitehead.
The Raiders haven't devoted significant resources to this, but now might be the time to do so. A veteran makes the most sense, which would allow Cabinda and Morrow to continue developing underneath a more established player.
That guy must cover well if playing all three downs is required. Philadelphia's Jordan Hicks seems like an affordable fit there.
Karl Joseph sure looked like the answer at strong safety and should be expected back next season, but his running mate is up in the air. Marcus Gilchrist was just okay as a one-year rental and Reggie Nelson won't return, leaving the Raiders lacking at the free safety spot. Erik Harris had some good moments there, but could be a strong No. 3 who can play extensive snaps in a pinch.
There are plenty of good free agents and a few early-to-mid-round draft picks who could be the ballhawk an otherwise strong secondary could use roaming in the back.
5. Running back
Marshawn Lynch proved to be as physical and aggressive as ever early in the 2018 season, before a groin pull ended it after six weeks. Lynch's contract expired and there's no telling what he'll do in 2019, though it sure seems unlikely he would come back unless the Raiders played within the Oakland city limits.
Doug Martin finished strong after Lynch got hurt, but he'll be 30 next season and there could be some questions about whether he could stand up to a full season as a feature back. Jalen Richard is expected back in restricted free agency and Chris Warren III will be ready to go after a rookie year spent on IR.
The Raiders could and probably should look for a young runner in the draft who can compete for or grow into a large role on first and second down. There's always a possibility Le'Veon Bell could end up with the Raiders, but it seems are more likely they'll add versatile depth to the position group.