Grading an NFL draft class shortly after the selection process is a fool’s errand. They’re based on potential, not NFL production. It often takes time for young players to develop into steady producers or failed experiments, which is why teams say it takes 2-3 years to judge a draft class.
The Raiders’ group from 2013 is right in that sweet spot. This is a make-or-break year, after which boom or bust labels can be applied.
While considerable focus is aimed at first-round selection DJ Hayden, there are some good players in this class. Yes, that includes the cornerback from Houston. It’s important that he and his classmates blossom into productive players this season and help secure a young foundation anchored by a 2014 group that includes quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack.
Let’s take a closer look at the 2013 draft class and what needs to happen for this group to stand out.
CB DJ Hayden, Houston (No. 12 overall)
5-foot-11, 190 pounds
Taking the next step: Thus far, Hayden’s NFL career has been defined by injury issues. He missed most of his rookie camp, the last eight games of 2013 and the first six games of his second year with a different ailment. Hayden finally jumped into the starting lineup after that, and was decent.
Plain and simple: Hayden is expected to be the No. 1 cornerback this season. He spent some time on the second team during the offseason program, but I don’t think that’s cause for serious alarm. He can prove himself in training camp. If he loses his spot or struggles in 2015, the “bust” label might get attached for good.
RT Menelik Watson, Florida State (No. 42 overall)
6-foot-5, 310 pounds
Taking the next step: Watson is an athletic, powerful lineman who has developed as a professional. Injuries were an issue in 2013, and he lost a training camp battle to Khalif Barnes at the start of last season. That can’t happen again this time, when he’ll fight Austin Howard for a starting spot. Watson struggled some as a pass blocker in eight starts last year, and can show his development with improved play in 2015. If Howard takes the spot, Watson could be a solid swing tackle. Given his draft status, will that satisfy the masses? One thing is certain: he’ll continue to work hard either way. He really cares about his craft.
LB Sio Moore, Connecticut (No. 66 overall)
6-foot-1, 245 pounds
Taking the next step: Moore has had two solid seasons at different positions. He played well as a rookie on the strong side, and showed versatility by moving to the weak side in his second season. He fared well there, and it’ll be interesting to see how he’s used in the Raiders’ new defense. He has coverage skills and can rush the passer. Moore must secure a starting job and own his snaps, especially with a deeper linebacker corps.
RB Latavius Murray, Central Florida (No. 181 overall)
6-foot-2, 223 pounds
Taking the next step: Murray flashed great potential near last season’s end, when he exceeded 5 yards per carry in 82 tries. He enters 2015 anticipating a much larger workload, likely as the Raiders’ primary back. Murray needs to show he can handle such responsibility and stay healthy doing it. If that’s the case, he’d been an absolute steal as a sixth-round pick.
TE Mychal Rivera (No. 184 overall)
6-foot-3, 242 pounds
Taking the next step: Rivera has had a pair of productive years as a receiving tight end, with 96 catches for 941 yards and eight touchdowns as a pro. Rivera needs to improve as a blocker to stay on the field more often. Rookie Clive Walford has received praise for a solid offseason program, but don’t expect Rivera to wither under pressure. Rivera must step up in training camp and earn a strong role in this offense. Despite making 10 starts last year, snaps won’t be given to him.
DT Stacy McGee, Oklahoma (No. 205 overall)
6-foot-3, 310 pounds
Taking the next step: McGee played less as a second-year pro than he did as a rookie. He was inconsistent, and had better competition around him. That’s the case again this season, and McGee must earn his place on this roster. If he can be a solid complimentary piece to this run defense, that’s a quality return for a sixth-round pick.
WR Brice Butler, San Diego State (No. 209 overall)
6-foot-3, 214 pounds
Taking the next step: Butler has shown potential as a receiver, but remains near the bottom of the depth chart. He’ll have to fight for his spot in a vastly improved position group, and he’ll win one with consistent play. Butler still has a chance to establish himself, but he must have a big-time summer to do so.
NOTE: There are already some busts from this draft class that weren't mentioned above because they aren't on the team anymore. That includes QB Tyler Wilson (fourth-round; practice squad player as a rookie, now a FA), TE Nick Kasa (sixth round; cut due to injury) and DE David Bass (seventh round; released at end of 2013 preseason).