Editor’s note: Scott Bair will provide daily content previewing the NFL draft, including position breakdowns, news stories, mock drafts and more. Here, he analyzes draft prospects among cornerbacks, and whether the Raiders should select one.
Go back a few months. It’d be tough to find someone then who didn’t consider cornerback the Raiders biggest draft need. At the time, that would’ve been right on. Then Sean Smith joined the squad. The high-profile free agent seems a perfect for the Raiders defensive scheme, and gives his new team a dependable veteran presence atop the depth chart.
The unexpected rise of waiver claim David Amerson gives opposite Smith. He should be the No. 2 corner and a mainstay on the outside. TJ Carrie has experience playing the slot well, though he may spend time at safety as well.
Neiko Thorpe is involved here, and the Raiders clearly value him after placing a second-round contract tender on the restricted free agent.
DJ Hayden is in the mix as well, with the raw materials to get it right after three seasons wrecked by injury and ineffectiveness. This marks an important season for Hayden, still focused on proving himself a quality pro.
The Raiders are in far better cornerback shape than a year ago, but additions should be made to upgrade a secondary that remains a work in progress.
Who’s here: Sean Smith, David Amerson, TJ Carrie, DJ Hayden, Neiko Thorpe, Keith McGill, Sa’Quan Edwards, Dexter McDonald, Dewey McDonald
Draft needs: Cornerback may not be as pressing need as it was recently, but taking one at No. 14 remains a strong possibility. Amerson is entering a contract year, and there’s no guarantee he’ll match last year’s level of execution. The Raiders need a solid scheme fit – as Smith and Amerson are -- and the coaching staff could find someone tailor-made for a system that could be in place a while.
Good fits: Top quality cornerbacks should be available when the Raiders select at No. 14 overall. Only Florida State cornerback/safety Jalen Ramsey seems 100-percent certain to be off the board then, though Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves is likely gone before then as well.
That leaves a pair of worthy options that seem to fit the Raiders mold. Houston’s William Jackson III and Ohio State’s Eli Apple are taller, aggressive corners with strong upside.
Jackson III is believed to be high on the Raiders draft board, and it is a strong option worthy of their first-round selection. While the Raiders haven’t had much luck with Houston cornerbacks DJ Hayden and Stanford Routt, but Jackson should be judged independent of those previous choices.
Jackson excelled during the pre-draft process, turning in top numbers at every turn. Jackson stands 6 feet and 189 pounds, and ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash. Jackson has the awareness and ball skills the Raiders desire, with the closing speed to erase gaps and make big plays. He allowed just 40 percent of his targets to be completed over his last two seasons. Jackson would have time to develop, without the pressure Hayden felt as he grew up on some bad teams needing an impact right away.
The Raiders will have some interesting options if Hargreaves is available at No. 14. He isn’t as big, but he’s a precise cover man who rarely makes mistakes and seems ready to contribute.
Apple is 6-1 and 199 pounds, with a 4.4 40-yard dash. He can be solid in man coverage and deal with physical receivers. Analysts believe he should improve as a tackler and can be penalized too often.
Miami’s Artie Burns is a taller, tough option who should be available in the second or third round. He can play nickel or on the outside, and is tough at the line of scrimmage.
Alabama’s Cyrus Jones is an option in the third or fourth round should the Raiders take another position early on. He also has value as a return man.