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Las Vegas Raiders: Updated 2022 draft needs following early waves of free agency

Moe Moton

The Las Vegas Raiders addressed plenty of their issues in NFL free agency, strengthening the roster for the upcoming season. However, there are still quite a few Raiders draft needs that must be addressed on Day 2 and Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft.

General manager Dave Ziegler added a couple of cornerbacks in Rock Ya-Sin via trade with the Indianapolis Colts and Anthony Averett who can start on the boundary. Edge rusher Chandler Jones is set to replace Yannick Ngakoue, whom the club sent to Colts. Star wide receiver Davante Adams (acquired via trade with the Green Bay Packers) will undoubtedly become quarterback Derek Carr’s top target.

Beyond that, the Raiders have multiple players with the capacity to play in significant roles, but they’ll have to compete for spots, which leaves the door open for impressive rookies.

Related: 2022 NFL Power Rankings – Outlook for all 32 teams entering summer

As we head into the month of the draft, let’s take a look at the Raiders’ updated roster needs, highlighting which positions need another playmaker or two from the 2022 class. Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels dropped some hints while they interacted with the media in Palm Beach, Florida for the NFL owners’ meetings.

5. Backup quarterback

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While some fans may dismiss the need for a primary backup quarterback, just think back to 2016 when Derek Carr went down with a fractured fibula. The Raiders had to insert Matt McGloin into the lineup and start Connor Cook in a playoff game against the Houston Texans.

In a 17-game season, every team needs a capable backup in case the starter misses time, especially during crucial stretches late in the season.

Over the past two terms, the Raiders had one of the best backup quarterbacks in Marcus Mariota, who signed with the Atlanta Falcons in free agency. To replace him, Vegas inked deals with Garrett Gilbert and then Nick Mullens Friday, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.

Despite the addition of Gilbert, McDaniels hinted that the team would acquire another quarterback; he wants to have a developmental player at the position.

At the end of the day, what we’d like to do is get in a cycle where we find people that we bring in and can train. And we can develop. A great thing for a quarterback is to have time in a system, continued development year after year. Not bring him in for one year, then sit there and say, alright, now I’ve got to do it again. That’s a pain in the butt sometimes.”

Las Vegas Raiders HC Josh McDaniels on creating a QB development pipeline

Mullens has starting experience with the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns, opening 17 games in total. At 27 years old, he’s thrown for 26 touchdowns and 22 interceptions with a 64.6 percent completion rate.

On Day 3 of the draft, McDaniels may select a young quarterback to continuously develop in the next few years and drop Gilbert, who’s way past his development stage at 30 years old. If that prospect has enough upside, he could challenge Mullens for the No. 2 spot. That could be a better combination than McGloin and Cook six years ago.

For now, think of Mullens as the replacement for Mariota with an incoming rookie as McDaniels’ version of the Nathan Peterman project under former head coach Jon Gruden.

Related: NFL QB Rankings – Check our top-20 quarterbacks, including Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, and Jimmy Garoppolo

4. Defensive tackle

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Most interior defenders with decent roles play 50-70 percent of the snaps. Typically, defensive coordinators will rotate four or five players between the edge-rushers to keep their big guys in the trenches fresh for a full game or season.

Thus far, the Raiders have added Bilal Nichols, Vernon Butler, Andrew Billings and Kyle Peko to this group. They re-signed Johnathan Hankins, per insider Jordan Schultz, and Kendal Vickers is a holdover who has another year left on his deal. Clelin Ferrell may fit into this unit as well.

Within the current group, Nichols will likely play about two-thirds of the snaps. He can produce on all three downs. Over the last two years with the Chicago Bears, the 6’4″, 290-pounder racked up 91 tackles, 12 for loss, eight sacks, 28 quarterback pressures and an interception.

Related: NFL defense rankings – Outlooks for top 20 defenses entering summer

Butler hasn’t played more than 47 percent of the defensive snaps in any of his six seasons and started in just 19 career games. At 6’4″, 325 pounds, he’s shown the ability to rush the passer, recording six sacks and 12 pressures in 2019. But at his size, don’t expect him to take the field for much more than 50 percent of the plays.

Graham served as Hankins’ defensive line coach through the 2016 season with the New York Giants, so the two have some familiarity. Back with the Raiders, the 6’3″, 340-pounder will continue to plug the middle and play about 60 percent of the snaps.

With Peko, Vickers and Billings rounding out the group, the Raiders will have room for another defensive tackle who’s disruptive on passing downs as an alternative to Nichols. Ziegler could target this position in Round 4 or 5.

3. Linebacker

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Vegas didn’t retain a few linebackers who had significant roles a couple of years ago. The team released Cory Littleton (post-June 1 cut), Nick Kwiatkoski and allowed Nicholas Morrow to walk in free agency. All three played at least 651 defensive snaps in 2020.

In 2021, Littleton and Kwiatkoski lost their starting jobs to Divine Deablo and Denzel Perryman, respectively. Morrow missed the entire campaign because of an ankle injury and signed with the Chicago Bears in free agency.

The Raiders brought in Jayon Brown and Micah Kiser. The former will likely compete for a prominent role because of his coverage ability. The latter has battled injuries since he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in the summer of 2019, and made most of his contributions on special teams with the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos last season.

Though Perryman earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2021, he has a history of injuries early in his career and turns 30 years old in December. In Round 3 or 4, the Raiders should draft a linebacker who can take over for him after his contract expires next offseason.

2. Safety (hybrid slot)

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
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The front office addressed this position, plucking Duron Harmon from the free-agent pool. After seven years with the New England Patriots, he became a full-time starter with the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons over the past two seasons. The 31-year-old has logged at least two interceptions in each of the last five campaigns with 14 in total.

With that said, Harmon inked a modest one-year deal worth up to about $1.3 million, which suggests he’s not a lock to make the roster. The previous regime selected Tyree Gillespie in the fourth round of the 2020 draft, so the Missouri product who played just 13 defensive snaps last year will have to earn his spot on the depth chart.

Behind Tre’von Moehrig and Johnathan Abram, who’s struggled in coverage, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham may want a versatile defensive back who can develop in the same hybrid slot-safety mold as Logan Ryan.

Keep in mind, Graham’s former team, Giants, selected Xavier McKinney with the No. 36 overall pick in the 2020 draft. He lined up all over the secondary at Alabama and had a standout 2021 season, logging 93 tackles, 10 pass breakups and five interceptions with a pick-six after an injury-riddled rookie campaign.

1. Right tackle or right guard

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The Raiders went into free agency with a strong need on the right side of the offensive line, and that hasn’t changed going into April.

Team brass addressed this issue by re-signing Brandon Parker and Jermaine Eluemunor. That’s an underwhelming solution when you remind yourself that the former allowed eight sacks and committed nine penalties last year, per Pro Football Focus, and the latter didn’t play a snap after Week 4 when Alex Leatherwood shifted to right guard.

As of April 1, the Raiders have $6.7 million in cap space, so they won’t have any headline acquisitions at this position in the next few weeks. After the draft or once the post-June 1 cap space kicks in as a result of releasing Littleton and Carl Nassib, team brass may take a look at who’s available on the market again.

Ziegler had an interest in an offensive lineman but said, “it went a different way, so we went a different way.” (h/t The Athletic’s Vic Tafur).

Based on that comment, Ziegler probably isn’t done adding to the offensive line group. He may use the team’s top selection in the third round on a tackle or guard.

For now, McDaniels believes competition will decide who earns the starting spots on the right side.

“You will see a lot of people play at right tackle (at training camp and the preseason), you will see a lot of people play at right guard. We’re going to move through the group because you never know what’s going to happen through the course of a game, and the other thing we don’t want to do is pigeonhole ourselves and act like these guys will only play beside each other. We don’t know that.”

Josh McDaniels on Las Vegas Raiders’ plans on right side of offensive line

Without a doubt, the Raiders will have their biggest training camp battles at right tackle and right guard this summer.

Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.