We're nearly a week away from the start of free agency, and the start of the league year will give Las Vegas Raiders General Manager Mike Mayock and Head Coach Jon Gruden the opportunity to address several of the team's needs before the 2020 NFL Draft in late-April.
As of now, we know the Silver and Black need to add more depth on defense, specifically at linebacker and defensive back, as well as playmakers at wide receiver. For the most part, this crop of upcoming free agents features primarily defensive players, despite wide receivers Amari Cooper – who I can't imagine would ever wear a Raiders jersey again – and A.J. Green being the top commodities at the position.
At the start of the year, NFL Network analyst Gregg Rosenthal compiled his list of the top 25 free agents preparing to hit the market; let's take a look at who a few of those players are and why they'd be a good fit for the Raiders.
Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue
In the top five, Chris Jones, Jadeveon Clowney, and Shaq Barrett are the premier talents at the defensive end position, but they're understandably going to garner a lot of attention and a hefty price tag. Chances are, Gruden and Mayock won't go after a defensive end that's going to demand a Brinks truck, especially after impressive rookie seasons from Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell. Instead, I'm hopeful they'll add someone like Ngakoue who is a versatile edge rusher and would provide some leadership along a relatively youthful Raiders defensive line. While 2019 wasn't the former Pro Bowler's best season in terms of sacks, he still managed to tackle the quarterback eight times, included one interception, six passes defensed, and four forced fumbles.
Safety Justin Simmons
Prying away a player from a division rival is easier said than done, but when it comes to this former Broncos defenseman, I think it's worth a try.
Simmons had his best season in 2019, starting all 16 games, totaling four interceptions and 15 passes defensed, which are both career highs. With the Karl Joseph situation still in limbo, and Jonathan Abram returning from a shoulder injury, the Raiders need to add another body at safety who can cover the field, keep pace with speedy receivers like Tyreek Hill, and get physical with big tight ends like Travis Kelce.
Cornerback Byron Jones
Jones made his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2018 after he notched 14 passes defensed – the second time in his career he's totaled double digits in that statistical category – and has proven through the years to be a capable tackler as a cornerback, which is surprisingly hard to come by nowadays.
Trayvon Mullen exceeded expectations in his first year with the Raiders, taking over the reins for Gareon Conley after being traded to Houston. Mullen became the team's defacto lockdown corner and lined up opposite from Daryl Worley, who is an unrestricted free agent. Again, with another member of the Raiders defense sitting in free agency limbo, the team needs to add more depth at defensive back.
Linebacker Matthew Judon
Matthew Judon was one of the biggest rocks on the Baltimore Ravens last season and reached statistical highs in nearly every category. The outside linebacker tallied nine-and-a-half sacks and is as physical as they come at the position. Like Ngakoue, Judon is a versatile player with the ability to rush the passer and drop in coverage. Linebacker is a major area of need for the Raiders, if not the biggest area of need.
Now, as a reminder, I don't have any idea what Gruden and Mayock may or may not do in free agency, but I think any of these players listed will be great pieces for the defense.
You can view Rosenthal's full list, here.
View the top 25 free agents according to NFL.com analysts Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling. (Last updated Monday, March 29th)