Tomorrow morning, I – along with the rest of the Raiders.com staff – will be traveling to Indianapolis for the 2019 NFL Combine, and I couldn't be more excited.
Draft evaluation fires me up, and to get a better sense of what we can expect in the coming week, NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah hopped on a conference call with the national media Monday to field questions about this year's draft class.
The top five prospects – which includes talented pass rushers Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, and Quinnen Williams – have been under the microscope for some time now, and for the most part we know what there is to know about their talent level. According to Jeremiah, this is a deep class in terms of defensive linemen, but the inside linebacker position is thin; however, the linebackers that are projected to go in the first round are high-quality playmakers.
Defensively, the Raiders need to upgrade both positions, but defensive line is the priority.
Jeremiah took the time to break down a couple players he could see as good fits for the Silver and Black late in the first round.
"There's so many defensive linemen I think that would fit and make sense for them," he said during the call. "We've talked about the top-end guys at the beginning of the first round, you know the Raiders have those picks, and the bottom of the first round. So, if they don't take one early, I still think there are some real intriguing players for them to keep an eye on late in the 20s. One name I'll throw out to you is L.J. Collier from TCU, who I think you're going to see continue to kind of get more notoriety and attention as we go through the process."
Collier caught my attention at the Senior Bowl last month, playing on the Raiders North squad, and his play was a bright spot throughout the week of practice. Just based on his reputation and watching him on television, Collier had an idea of what to expect from Head Coach Jon Gruden, and he would welcome the idea of playing for him.
"I knew from his background that he was a hell of a coach, and he expects a lot out of us, so I was trying to give him my best today, and work hard for him today, and give him everything I got," Collier said after practice at the Senior Bowl. "I'd really love to play for the Oakland Raiders, and they're rebuilding right now, and I'd love to be a part of that rebuild."
Collier – like many other players in the draft – fits the bill in terms of power, toughness, and defensive prowess, and Jeremiah sees him being a good piece in the Raiders' scheme.
"In terms of what Mike [Mayock] would be looking for, I know how much he values strength, toughness, power, effort," Jeremiah said about his former NFL Network colleague, and now Raiders General Manager. "Those are the things Mike's always talked about for a long time, as long as I've known him. You see L.J. Collier, he's got a nasty little shake-bull move, he's got quick hands, he can convert speed to power. He can play a little bit inside, he can play outside, he's got some versatility that way. So, he would be one I think in the bottom of [the first round]."
He also noted another talented pass rusher in this year's draft.
"Jaylon Ferguson is another one with real heavy hands, who to me is a poor man's Chandler Jones," Jeremiah explained." He's got unbelievable production when you look at it. I think he led the nation in sacks, so he's another one I think you should keep an eye on there in the end of the first round where they've got some options."
With three picks in the first round, Gruden and Mayock have a lot of flexibility, so it's anyone's guess how the first round officially plays out.
Jeremiah believes anything could happen and nothing is out of the question for the Raiders.
"They can go a lot of different ways early on with that first pick," he said. "You know somehow, someway, we've seen it happen before. I remember having Leonard Williams as a top player in that year's draft, and he fell to six. Who knows, maybe Mike hits the lottery and Nick Bosa falls right in their lap."
A lot of players will see their draft stock rise and fall after the Combine is all said and done, so monitoring who becomes a realistic option for the Raiders will be interesting.