The Oakland Raiders Should Draft Vita Vea
The 2018 NFL Draft is right around the corner, and after a disappointing 2017 season, the Oakland Raiders find themselves picking inside the top ten for the eighth time since 2000. While Raider Nation would prefer that the Silver and Black pick at 32 every year, last year’s pain is this year’s gain.
Inside the top ten, the Oakland Raiders can grab an elite draft prospect who can come in and make an impact immediately. This year, I believe that prospect is defensive tackle, Vita Vea.
The State of the Defense
Let’s be completely honest, there’s no way the Oakland Raiders are drafting anything but defense with this pick. The offense should be fine, especially with Jon Gruden bringing in players like Derek Carrier and Keith Smith to support his love of power runs and spider 2Y banana, but the defense needs help.
The unit was bad last year, no doubt about it, and while it’s true that a big part of their struggles can be attributed to poor coaching, the defense also lacks depth. Khalil Mack is the only dominant player on the squad, and while there are good starters, like Justin Ellis, Bruce Irvin, and Karl Joseph, this team has a ton of question marks. A fact that really sums up this team’s lack of depth is that even looking at the roster and knowing new defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther’s preferences, we’re still not entirely sure they’re running a 4-3 this year.
However, that’s not to say the unit is wholly terrible. Last year’s first and second round picks, defensive backs Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu, didn’t really get to make an impact last season thanks to injuries. And regardless of whether you blame Ken Norton Jr. or Jack Del Rio, the defensive scheme was pretty dreadful for most of the season. Who knows how good the defense could’ve been with some actual coaching. Not to mention, the unit has already made a few nice additions.
Reggie McKenzie was his normal, quiet self during day one of free agency, but on Thursday and Friday, he got busy. Ignoring the offensive additions, McKenzie was able to find a few decent defenders for a good price. He added safety Marcus Gilchrest, corners Rashaan Melvin and Shareece Wright, and lured in linebacker Tahir Whitehead. While this unit isn’t one that will give the 1985 Chicago Bears a run for their money, it should be better than the one fans suffered through last year.
These moves gave the Raiders some much-needed depth, and most importantly, gave them flexibility come the draft. Before Wright and Melvin signed, it felt like the Raiders almost had to draft a corner with their tenth pick because Gareon Conley was the only starting caliber back on the roster. But with corner and linebacker being addressed, the team could essentially draft the best player available.
The Other Guys
Four other names come to mind when you look at who the Raiders could select with the tenth overall pick. Corner Denzel Ward, safety Derwin James, and linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Roquan Smith have frequently been mocked to the Raiders. And being completely honest, all of those guys could be a huge help. The Raiders have some depth on defense, but outside of 2016’s Defensive Player of the Year, they don’t have a ton of star power.
Ward would not only give the Raiders a young corner to pair with Gareon Conley, but it would reunite Buckeye teammates. While Ward is a little small for the position, he makes up for it with incredible athleticism and great awareness when the ball is in the air. He could be a real asset to the team, but he’s not who I’d pick.
James is a big, athletic safety that could come in and play opposite of Karl Joseph very nicely. He’s versatile, a great locker room player, and a student of the game. Giving the Raiders a young, talented secondary tandem could scare some teams in the AFC West. He’s got incredible potential, but he’s not who I’d go with.
Tremaine Edmunds is unlike any linebacker prospect any of us have ever seen. He’s got incredible speed for his size, running a 4.54 at 6’5″, 253 pounds. He has the size, frame, and athleticism to line up just about anywhere for the Raiders, and you’ve got to know a creative coaching staff like Oakland’s would have a field day moving him around. He could do just about anything you ask, but again, he’s not who I’d pick.
If Tremaine Edmunds is the high-ceiling, raw monster of this draft, Georgia’s Roquan Smith is the high-floor, safe pick. That’s not always a bad thing, as many people preferred Kevin White’s upside to the polished Amari Cooper a couple of years back and we saw how that worked out. Smith has a great understanding of the game and is a fantastic athlete that could come in and be a starting inside linebacker day one for the Raiders. However, I’d pass.
Who I’d Pick
There’s a new trend in the NFL, where teams are moving away from edge rushers and looking towards interior pressure. When was the last time the Oakland Raiders had a dominant defensive tackle? Richard Seymour? Warren Sapp? It’s been a second. And honestly, it’s hurt the Raiders in the past. That should change this year with Washington’s Vita Vea.
Vea is a physical specimen, standing at 6’4″, 347 pounds. Despite being an all-you-can-eat buffet away from 400 pounds, he was able to register a 5.1 40 yard dash while still doing 41 reps on the bench. He’s a great athlete at his size and can fit in on a defense regardless of whether the team runs a 3-4 or a 4-3. He can come in, create interior pressure, and help stuff the run. But that’s not the best part of what he brings to the team. Because the person that benefits the most from drafting Vita Vea is Mack.
Unleash The Beast
Even the most passionate Raider haters cannot deny Mack’s greatness. The former Defensive Player of the Year has been a disruptive force since the moment he first put on the Silver and Black and has registered 40.5 sacks in just four seasons. He’s one of the most feared defenders in the NFL, and he’s been this dominant with little to no help on the defensive line and defensive schemes that were more vanilla than what many teams run in the preseason.
It looks like the Raiders are going to run a 4-3 this year, with Mack on one side and Bruce Irvin on the other. The Raiders re-signed Justin “Jelly” Ellis, so he’ll likely be one of the defensive tackles, but that leaves the other spot open. Right now, that would leave either Treyvon Hester, Eddie Vanderdoes or Mario Edwards Jr. inside. While both of those men have shown flashes over the years, it would be nice to add another disruptive tackle inside.
Just imagine a defensive line rotation featuring Mack, Irvin, Hester, Jelly, Vea, Edwards Jr., and Vanderdoes. Suddenly the line would become one of the team’s strengths as opposed to an area where it lacks depth. Not to mention the obvious, that teams would have to scheme against Vea as well as Mack and Irvin, giving everyone involved an easy road to the quarterback or ball-carrier.
Credit Where Credit is Due
Either way, McKenzie deserves a lot of credit. He didn’t go out and get Ndamukong Suh and Trumaine Johnson, but he signed enough pieces to make the defense relatively presentable. Instead of having to reach on a need, the Raiders have the ability to draft the best player available, and in my opinion, that’ll be Vea.
But what do you think? Let us know in the comment section below. Who do you think the Oakland Raiders should select with the tenth overall pick in the draft? Or, if you think we should trade it, who do you think we should trade up/down for?