Las Vegas Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler put together a solid draft class, though he would probably tell you that his work isn’t done. The front office still has a few glaring holes to fill across the roster.
In all likelihood, the Raiders may have selected a cornerback or linebacker Drew Sanders if tight end Michael Mayer didn’t fall to the second round. How do we know this? NBC’s Peter King spent time in the Raiders’ draft room and had a look at the team’s board after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the 19th overall pick.
“On the board were four players with similar grades: Georgia defensive end Nolan Smith, Maryland corner Deonte Banks, Harrison the Oklahoma tackle, and Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders. Close to them: Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer.”
According to ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio, the Raiders “desperately” tried to trade back up into the first round. Perhaps they wanted to land one of the five targets in King’s draft-day notes. Among those prospects, only Mayer and Sanders remained on the board early on Day 2 when the Raiders moved up to the No. 35 slot.
Related: Las Vegas Raiders schedule 2023
The Denver Broncos selected Sanders with the No. 67 overall pick, three spots before Las Vegas took defensive tackle Byron Young.
That’s the unpredictable nature of the NFL draft. You never know which team has its sights set on the same guy who ranks high on your board. Ziegler did the right thing in being aggressive after the first round, but every strategy has its drawbacks.
After picking up a tight end early, the Raiders addressed other major needs later in the draft, or not all.
Fortunately, Ziegler can fine-tune the roster while working to sign the rookie class before organized team activities (OTAs) go into full swing in two weeks. Let’s examine the Raiders’ biggest roster holes and which free agents can fill those positions.
Only For Vegas Sports Fans! Sportsnaut’s Unfiltered Vegas Sports Facebook Group – Join The Debate Today!
In the order below, each position is ranked from least to greatest need with a free-agent suggestion.
Dawuane Smoot, defensive end
Ziegler took defensive lineman Tyree Wilson with his first pick in the draft. The Texas Tech product will likely take over for Chandler Jones at some point in the upcoming season and line up alongside him and Maxx Crosby in certain situations, but he’s not going to take the field until training camp at the earliest because of a foot injury.
Related: Las Vegas Raiders draft picks draw praise from NFL execs
In the meantime, the Raiders should explore free-agent options at defensive end because they haven’t shown any interest in Malcolm Koonce, who played just 68 defensive snaps last season.
Dawuane Smoot isn’t a young player in need of OTA reps, but defensive coordinator Patrick Graham can get the 28-year-old defensive end acclimated into the system while Wilson recovers from his injury.
In a backup role, Smoot has recorded at least five sacks and five tackles for loss in each of the previous four seasons. He would be an upgrade over Jordan Willis and a capable third edge-rusher until Wilson gets up to speed.
Related: If you’re a fan of the Raiders, check out #RaiderNation rumors, rankings, and news here.
Dalton Risner, guard
As King noted, the Raiders had a high grade on Oklahoma tackle Anton Harrison, who mostly played left tackle with a spot start at right tackle with the Sooners, but the NFL scribe didn’t mention anything about the team’s interest in a guard. The Raiders didn’t select one either.
Before the draft, the front office re-signed guards Alex Bars and Netane Muti, but Ziegler must invest a little more into the position.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bars allowed five sacks and the second-most pressures (38) on the team last season. Muti has started in just four games (all with the Broncos) through three seasons. While he could earn the starting job, the Raiders can challenge him with strong competition.
Somehow, Dalton Risner is still a free agent after four solid seasons in Denver. Per PFF, he hasn’t allowed more than four sacks or 29 pressures in a single campaign.
In 2022, Dylan Parham played well in spot starts at right guard, and he also played the position in his final collegiate term at Memphis. The coaching staff could move him to the right side and insert Risner at left guard where he’s started all 62 of his games.
If the Raiders don’t plan to pay running back Josh Jacobs, they should at least make life easier for him running the ball between the tackles. Risner could be a cheap upgrade over Bars and his former teammate, Muti.
Kwon Alexander, linebacker
This has been said ad nauseum, the Raiders need linebackers, whether Graham puts a high value on the position or not. A good defense needs playmakers in all areas of the field, especially the middle where an increasing number of pass-catching tight ends feast on holes in coverage.
If the season started today, Graham would trot out Divine Deablo, Robert Spillane, Luke Masterson, Darien Butler and maybe Amari Burney (a rookie sixth-rounder) at linebacker.
In 2022, Deablo allowed three touchdowns and a 123.6 (out of a possible 158.3) passer rating in coverage, Spillane gave up a touchdown and a 109.2 passer rating in coverage and Masterson allowed two touchdowns and a 141 passer rating in coverage.
In today’s league, a big safety can suffice to cover the middle of the field, but Ziegler can strengthen the position with a more prototypical defender with zone coverage skills.
Kwon Alexander battled injuries early in his career, but he suited up for all 17 games (12 starts) last season. In 2022, Alexander’s missed tackle rate dropped to 5.5 percent, and he hasn’t allowed a touchdown in coverage since 2020.
Turning 29 years old in August, Alexander should have a couple of optimal years left in the tank.
If the Raiders chose to go with a “system fit,” they may call Kyle Van Noy, who can provide versatility as a run defender and pass-rusher, though he doesn’t provide much in coverage. In 2022, Van Noy recorded 46 tackles, eight for loss, five sacks and three pass breakups. The 32-year-old is a Reno, Nevada native.
Because of Alexander’s ability to make an impact on passing downs and his age, he should be the preferable target for a defense with a big hole at linebacker following Denzel Perryman’s departure to the Houston Texans via free agency.
Maurice Moton covers the Las Vegas Raiders for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.