Dave Ziegler, Josh McDaniels Las Vegas Raiders free agency

Raiders big board: Top-6 free agents for the Las Vegas Raiders

Most of the big-names in this year’s open market have found a home, but free agency is never truly finished. Holes remain on the Las Vegas Raiders’ roster, and general manager Dave Ziegler is still searching for answers. As Ziegler notes, the team’s core is more-or-less set, but there’s still work to be done.

Sights are set on the draft, but there’s still a lot of time between now and then – an entire month, in fact. There’s still time to add talent before the annual draft comes around, and here are the top-six moves Ziegler and company can make.

Raiders big board: Top-6 players for the Silver and Black

1. Rock Ya-Sin, CB

There are too many reasons why Ya-Sin sits atop the Raiders’ big board. For starters. it’s hard to swallow trading Yannick Ngakoue for 11 games of Rock Ya-Sin. More importantly, the plan at outside corner seems to be Duke Shelley and Nate Hobbs. In case you missed it, Hobbs did not play well in 2022, logging 500 snaps as an outside corner with only 106 snaps in the slot. This resulted in Hobbs allowing 72.7% of passes being completed (second-highest among CBs on team, min. 3 targets), and a QB rating of 108.1 when targeted.

It’s good to note Shelley is an excellent man-coverage corner. As it just so happens, so is Ya-Sin. Both players allowed a completion percentage of only 40% when playing man last season. While Shelley was responsible for a 51.0 passer rating when targeted, Ya-Sin was at 51.3. Shelley posted a forced incompletions percentage of 33%, and Ya-Sin was close behind at 25%. Two studs in man coverage. Pair them together and look out.

2. Zach Cunningham, LB

A former second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Cunningham is exactly what the weak Raiders’ linebacker core needs. The now-former Titan played just six contests in 2022, but had only missed four combined games between ’17 and ’21; an average of one game per season.

In 2021, Cunningham earned the fourth-highest run defense grade among all linebackers, posting a fantastic mark of 85.1. During his ’19 campaign, this grade was even higher, reaching 89.2 at the season’s end. Outside of 2022, where he missed 11 contests, a year hasn’t gone by where Cunningham failed to earn a run defense grade above 72. An elite presence against the run – just like Denzel Perryman, who left the Raiders to play in Houston.

Both [projected] starting DTs failed to reach a grade of at least 49 vs. the run

3. Kyle Van Noy, LB
An argument can be made for Van Noy to leap Cunningham – for the Raiders specifically – but Cunningham is simply too good against the run. Van Noy isn’t as good at any one particular aspect of his game, but he is much more versatile. Really, it’s hard to name a more versatile linebacker than Van Noy.

The former Patriot has played in 3-4s, 4-3s, in the middle, on the outside, as a pass rusher, as a run stuffer, and as a linebacker who sits in coverage; Van Noy has truly done it all and done it all well. In his last six seasons, the versatile LB has totaled 31.5 sacks, 42 tackles for loss, two interceptions, 26 pass breakups, nine forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries. This one is pretty simple: Patrick Graham preaches versatility, and Kyle Van Noy lives it. He’s also a player who Ziegler is familiar with.

4. Shelby Harris

The Raiders lost Andrew Billings to free agency but retained Jerry Tillery to start alongside Bilal Nichols. There’s two problems here: One, not much depth, and two, no answer for the run. Shelby Harris, who played with the team in ’14 and ’15, checks both of those boxes.

Last season, Harris earned a run defense grade of 76.9. This is very par-the-course for Harris; since 2017, there’s only been one season where he’s been credited with a run defense grade under 69. For reference, 46.2 is the highest grade Tillery has ever posted against the run. Outside of Nichols’ rookie year in 2018, his highest is 62.6. With the Raiders last season, neither of these two reached a grade over 49.

Harris has also totaled 16.5 sacks in his last four seasons. Time to come home, Shelby.

More moves for Dave Ziegler, Raiders

5. Tony Jefferson, S

You know that do-it-all safety Patrick Graham has been lacking? That’s Tony Jefferson.

Jefferson has spent time as both a utility safety and coverage safety, posting a coverage grade north of 76 in both ’22 and ’21. As a full-time strong safety (’16-’18), Jefferson’s run defense grade surpassed 73.0 each season, leading all safeties with a 90.9 grade in 2016. The former Raven has also shown off his pass-rushing skills, tallying 9.5 sacks during his career. These days, there’s things such as age and a recent season-ending injury to consider. It doesn’t matter too much, though, as Jefferson would be a rotational safety along with Isaiah Pola-Mao. Veteran leadership in the safety unit, similar to what Duron Harmon provided last season.

6. Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE

Ngakoue doesn’t deserve to be the sixth-best possible signing for the Raiders, but there are too many things pushing his stock down in Las Vegas. For one, there are two solidified starters on the edge, albeit little to no depth. Furthermore, there are plentiful options, and Yannick is likely one of the more pricey ones. Lastly, Tyree Wilson might be available at seven-overall, and the team would be foolish to pass on the Texas A&M edge rusher.

Combine these things, and Ngakoue slips to six.

It’s hard to find a player around the league at any position who’s been as consistent as Ngakoue. Since coming into the league in 2016, the soon-to-be 28-year-old hasn’t gone a single season without posting 8+ sacks. He’s also been a master at creating turnovers, forcing 21 fumbles across seven seasons and leading the league in forced fumbles with six in 2017.

Yannick played for the Raiders once, and Raider Nation would surely welcome a reunion. All things considered, from [expected] price to Ziegler wanting to build through the draft, the pairing seems unlikely. Still, he lands as the sixth-best possible signing.

A player such as Markus Golden serves as a cheaper substitute. Jon Gruden made a run at Golden a few years back, but ultimately didn’t land him.

*Top Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Raiders mailbag: Defense, WRs, and plan of attack in 2023 NFL Draft

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