The 2023 NFL Draft is less than two weeks away, and Raider Nation is overwhelmed with anxiety and excitement for the team’s draft plans. Vegas is set to have four selections within the first 100 picks, giving general manager Dave Ziegler a prime opportunity to reshape the roster in his image.
This overture began earlier in the offseason when the front office cut long-time starter Derek Carr and traded away star tight end Darren Waller. Add in the decision to let Denzel Perryman walk, and one thing became clear — the Raiders are turning the page on the disappointing past regime.
Raiders 3-Round Mock Draft: Vegas Targets Versatility on Defense
Several players with ties to the Patriots found their way to Sin City, including Jakobi Meyers, Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Hoyer, and Phillip Dorsett. A few other additions provide depth to the roster, but the NFL Draft is where Ziegler and Co. hope to land a handful of instant contributors.
In one of the final mock drafts of this cycle, a majority of the picks go toward the lackluster defense. Can this 3-round mock draft fill the holes necessary for Vegas to compete in the loaded AFC West? Let’s start things off… with a trade!
An NFL Draft Day Trade Between the Raiders and Steelers!
•No. 7 Overall
•No. 141 Overall
•No. 17 Overall
•No. 32 Overall
Round 1, No. 17 (via PIT): Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
Ziegler fully commits to the slow build by moving down on day one and acquiring (essentially) an extra first-round pick. At No. 17 overall, the Raiders can take the best player available on their board, and in this mock draft, Nolan Smith is that guy.
After a storied career with the Georgia Bulldogs, including two national championship rings, Smith followed in the footsteps of his former teammates by dominating the NFL Combine. The tape matches the workout numbers, as Smith posted elite grades as a run defender and pass rusher (via PFF).
The concerns with Smith begin and end with his durability. At 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds, the superstar defender is small for a full-time pass rusher. Injuries have followed Smith throughout his playing days, most notably a torn pectoral that ended his college career early. His athleticism allows for some range in coverage, giving Smith an avenue to being an every-down player in the league.
Vegas could utilize him in several ways, as Patrick Graham covets versatile, athletic pass rushers in his scheme. Maxx Crosby is at the peak of his powers, but Chandler Jones began showing signs of age in his first season with the franchise. Smith gives the defense a youthful presence and presents the best value after a crafty trade down the board.
Round 2, No. 32 (via PIT): Kelee Ringo, DB, Georgia
Get used to seeing Georgia players because we are only just beginning. With the second pick of this mock draft, using the extra selection acquired from Pittsburgh, the Raiders snag another versatile Bulldog defender, this time in the secondary. Enter Kelee Ringo.
Ringo has witnessed a fall from grace throughout the NFL Draft process. Once a fixture in the top 10 of most mock drafts, he now finds himself falling out of the first round altogether. The primary reason is a lack of fluidity in Ringo’s movements. In man coverage, he is clunky and slow to flip his hips. In zone coverage, Ringo is infinitely more comfortable, but even then, he is susceptible to late reactions.
Ringo makes sense for Vegas because he can play on the boundary, as a big nickel, or as a safety. The Raiders have Nate Hobbs at slot corner right now, but the team desperately needs an impact player elsewhere in the secondary.
Ringo, although stiff at times, is a freaky athlete. His straight-line speed is remarkable, and this trait results in top-tier recovery ability in coverage. In run support, Ringo packs a punch. He has a nose for the football and consistently found his way to the pile on running plays. Most importantly, Ringo brings energy and juice to the entire unit. He is a tone-setter from day one.
Another Georgia Bulldog Heads to Raiders… This Time on Offense!
Round 2, No. 38: Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia
A third straight Georgia Bulldog? Am I crazy? The answer is probably yes, but not because of this run on Georgia stars. I mean, the team did win back-to-back National Championships, right? A player whose impact didn’t always show up in the box score is tight end Darnell Washington. He is the ideal heir apparent to the recently-traded Darren Waller.
Darnell Washington is built like a Roman God statue. He stands nearly 6-foot-7 and weighs over 260 pounds, essentially answering the question, “What would LeBron James look like in football pads?”. Like James, Washington is also a mystifying athlete. The 21-year-old prospect posted an absurd 4.64 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, solidifying his status as arguably the best athlete in the class.
As for his fit with the Raiders, Washington gives head coach Josh McDaniels everything he wants in a TE1. The gargantuan tight end is an exceptional blocker, using power and polished technique to impose his will on opposing defenders. As a pass catcher, Washington is still raw but will serve as a top red-zone option as a rookie.
Washington is a diligent worker who looks to improve each day at practice. He boosts the running game immediately and should catch several touchdowns early in his career. McDaniels will ease Washington in, as Austin Hooper is capable of leading the depth chart for a season, but make no mistake, the future of the position is here.
Round 3, No. 70: Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State
Linebacker is the most-pressing need on the roster after addressing other holes earlier in the mock draft. Denzel Perryman is now a Houston Texan and a depth signing like Robert Spillane does little to inspire optimism in the fan base. Daiyan Henley should be the choice to lead the positional group in 2023.
Henley is relatively new to the defensive side of the ball, having begun his career as a tight end/wide receiver at Nevada. Following his transfer to Washington State, Henley proved that linebacker is where he belonged.
With the Cougars, Henley flexed immense potential while manning the middle of the defense. He used superb sideline-to-sideline mobility to track down ball carriers and stick with receivers downfield. As a zone defender, Henley displayed natural instincts that he developed as a receiver himself, helping him get in the mind of the assignment and predict their next move.
Henley is more than capable as a gap stuffer and shows the ability to rush the passer on a limited basis. Another versatile chess piece will give Patrick Graham a chance to be creative with his defense in 2023. After being pigeonholed into certain sets last season, expect the second-year defensive coordinator to add more wrinkles with this influx of talent.
One More Defender to End Mock Draft
Round 3, No. 100 (via NYG): Karl Brooks, DL, Bowling Green
The Raiders added Nolan Smith, Kelee Ringo, and Daiyan Henley in this mock draft, hoping to see all three earn starting roles as rookies. How about one more piece capable of competing for regular snaps in 2023? Bowling Green’s Karl Brooks is ready for the challenge!
Brooks is stuck with a ‘tweener’ label by most NFL Draft pundits, but I see this as a superpower rather than a liability. Sure, it would be nice if Brooks was a tick faster off the edge or more powerful in a scrum on the interior, but there are other ways to win on Sundays.
What Brooks lacks physically, he makes up for with impeccable form as a pass rusher. His hand usage is picturesque, and it resulted in 20 sacks over the past two seasons. Brooks was graded as an elite run defender in 2022, with a sparkling 90.3 PFF grade.
With the Raiders, Brooks can slot in between Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones. The attention geared toward the pass-rushing duo should free Brooks up to make waves from the interior. When Jones goes to the bench, Vegas can mix in Nolan Smith and Karl Brooks off the edge.
The motto of this mock draft is versatility. If nothing else, the Raiders are considerably more versatile on defense with this collection of prospects.
Setbacks Aside, Raiders Owner Mark Davis Is Trying To Forge His Own Legacy
*Top Photo: AP Photo/Brett Davis