The Oakland Raiders have some needs – coming off a 6-10 campaign in 2017 that's no surprise – but if all goes to plan for Head Coach Jon Gruden, the Silver and Black won't have to look far to address those problem areas on the roster.
Yes, the Raiders need a little help in the secondary, and the linebacker situation is certainly an area that needs addressing sooner than later, but ask Coach Gruden, and the cupboards aren't bare.
"Obviously, defensively, there are some glaring needs, at this time," said Gruden Wednesday. "Free agency hasn't started yet, but our linebacking corps, we have a lot of unknowns there. NaVorro Bowman is a free agent, looking for an inside pass rusher to step up. Our secondary, we have to clean that up. I think most importantly with the Raiders, just looking at our last, three drafts, we need some young people to emerge and start playing, a lot for this football team."
While the Raiders 2014 draft class was nothing short of brilliant – I see you Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Gabe Jackson – since that group, the Silver and Black have had their fair share of challenges in selecting players who have paid immediate dividends.
Karl Joseph had an improved sophomore season last year, but excluding him, there hasn't really been a single, standout performer from the past three classes, aside from the guy who currently wears No. 89.
"We have a lot of work to do, and we need some talent to rise within this organization, I'll say that," Gruden explained. "Our last three drafts, I'm looking at it, and other than Amari Cooper, we need some of these young players to really explode on the scene. It starts there. We need some young people in the organization, right now, to emerge, and a lot of them have been injured. Jihad Ward, I don't know what happened to him. Obi Melifonwu, Gareon Conley, we need these guys to play, big time, so I'm going to start with that, and we do have some, free agents out there. We have some needs that are obvious. You don't need to be a football genius, and we have a lot of work to do."
Conley and Melifonwu – the first two members of the Raiders 2017 draft class – played a combined seven games last year, a far cry from what you'd like to see from players drafted that high, but as far as Conley is concerned, Gruden is looking to have him ready to get to work when the team opens the Offseason Workout Program later this spring.
"He's going to be ready to start the offseason program," Gruden said when asked about Conley's availability. "Everybody liked Conley at Ohio State. He had an excellent training camp. When I studied the training camp film, he was inside playing the nickel position. When the season started he was out at right corner. He's a young player. We're counting on him and Obi Melifonwu to play, and we need them to. We're really excited to start working with him."
April's draft will be critical in replenishing the reserves on the Raiders roster, but keep an eye on the young players on the team, and look for them to step in and fill a much-needed void.
Coach Gruden is waiting to see the same thing.