The Raiders 2014 draft was widely considered the NFL’s best in show. It yielded Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson in early rounds, all considered first-rounders in hindsight-fueled re-drafts. Justin Ellis and TJ Carrie rounded out a solid class that left many wondering what general manager Reggie McKenzie would do for an encore.
He may have produced a track destined for his greatest hits. McKenzie had another strong effort by staying true to his draft position, stockpiling picks where possible and generally taking their best player available.
It produced another promising haul that generally made positive rookie strides in 2015. This class came from varied spots on the field, but bonded over a unified goal of making the Raiders respectable.
“We all talked about that early on,” Raiders tight end and third-round pick Clive Walford said. “We wanted to help elevate the program just like the class before us did. We wanted to make an impact right away, and keep building upon it. We believe we can help turn things around.”
Let’s take a look at the 2015 draft class’ early contributions and their outlook for the future:
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama (First round, No. 4 overall)
Stats: 1,070 receiving yards (14.9 ypc), six touchdowns
First impressions: Cooper set franchise records for rookie receivers, and was the best wideout in the 2015 class. He flashed great speed, route running and an ability to turn small gains into large ones. Cooper bonded well with quarterback Derek Carr and showed an ability to become a true No. 1 wideout the Raiders haven’t had in a decade. The future is bright for the soft-spoken talent, who was disappointed with a season that earned a Pro-Bowl alternate spot and could be a rookie of the year finalist.
Next steps: Cooper had some drop issues, totaling an NFL-high 18. He needs to concentrate on that aspect of his game, and responding to the physicality bestowed upon him throughout his first season.
DL Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State (Second round, No. 35 overall)
Stats: 41 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles, 28 other pressures, two passes defensed
First impressions: Edwards Jr. seemed like a questionable selection at first, but proved otherwise. He was initially pushed out of the primary rotation, but worked his way into it after Aldon Smith got suspended. Then Edwards proved himself worthy of significant snaps, and created pressure as an end, a standup edge rusher and an interior lineman on passing downs. He was always good against the run, but worked hard to improve against the pass.
Next steps: Edwards suffered a significant neck injury near season’s end, and it remains uncertain whether he’ll return to full strength in time for the offseason program. If he does, Edwards could become a real impact player.
TE Clive Walford, Miami (Third round, No. 68 overall)
Stats: 28 receptions, 329 yards (11.8 avg.) and three touchdowns
First impressions: Walford was lauded as the best all-around tight end in the draft, a steal in the third round. His progress was slowed by hamstring and knee injuries in the preseason, but he got into the flow near midseason and really took off. He’s a solid receiving option with a ability to get open and make big catches. He’s a solid fit for the current scheme, which craves versatility at tight end.
Next steps: Walford needs some help in the blocking realm, having missed some key blocks in key moments. That should come with continued growth, because talent isn’t at issue.
OG Jon Feliciano, Miami (Fourth round, No. 28 overall)
Stats: Six games, three starts at right guard
First impressions: Feliciano was allowed to compete for a role high on the depth chart, but fell behind and ended up inactive most weeks. He was a third-team option at center and guard. He got some valuable experience near season’s end, with three starts to close out the year. He made some rookie mistakes, especially in pass protection, but proved tough against the run.
Next steps: Feliciano will have to earn promotions next year, either against incumbent starter J’Marcus Webb or new talent. There’s potential there, but significant development to be made.
LB Ben Heeney, Kansas (Fifth round, No. 140 overall)
Stats: 39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, four quarterback pressures, one force fumble
First impressions: Heeney was considered undersized, and at times overzealous in pursuit as a collegian. He still made a strong impression in the preseason and then was stuck on special teams for a time. He worked his way into the defensive rotation late in the year and played well over the last four games.
Next steps: Heeney will have a chance to earn a spot at interior linebacker next year if he continues to improve and consistently tackle well, and must continue to progress and play well on special teams. Even if Heeney becomes quality depth, that will help this defense grow.
LB Neiron Ball, Florida (Fifth round, No. 4 overall)
Stats: nine tackles, one sack, one quarterback pressure
First impressions: Ball had significant injuries and health issues in college and was seen as a risk, one worth making in the fifth round. He seemed like one linebacker too many in this draft, but flashed athleticism during brief cameos and one extended stretch before a knee issue kept him out the final nine games.
Next steps: Ball must recover well despite injuring a knee that previously required micro fracture surgery. Coaches like this kid, another developmental prospect with promise.
CB Dexter McDonald, Kansas (Seventh round, No. 242 overall)
Stats: Four tackles
First impressions: McDonald seemed like a solid reach late in the seventh round. He had solid size as a press cornerback and showed enough potential to stay on the 53-man roster all season. He was active for six games, and played a little defense in emergency situations. He’ll have room to grow during the offseason program.
Next steps: McDonald has the physical tools to be an NFL corner, though he’ll have to keep up at a position expected to get a major overhaul this offseason.
Swings and Misses
DE/OLB Max Valles, Virginia (Sixth round, No. 179 overall): Developmental prospect spent most of the year on the practice squad, and was signed of that roster by the Buffalo Bills. Raiders lost rights to a raw speed rusher.
OL Anthony Morris, Tennessee State (Seventh round, No. 218 overall):Morris never stood out, and was cut prior to the regular season.
WR/KR Andre Debose, Florida (Seventh round, No. 229): Raiders hoped Debose would be their primary return mak=n, but he tore an Achilles tendon during the offseason program.
CB SaQwan Edwards: Spent the year on the practice squad, promoted for the season finale.
TE Gabe Holmes: Raiders saw enough promise to avoid letting him sign elsewhere. They signed him off the practice squad, though he was never active. Holmes is a hulking tight end with promise.
S Tevin McDonald: Emergency defensive back was typically the first player off the practice squad.
DT Leon Orr: Tough, stout defensive lineman was signed off the practice squad, and could be a rotational run stopper next season.