What the Las Vegas Raiders do in the first round of the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft merits the most attention. And for good reason.
The Silver and Black are slated to pick at No. 7 overall, and there are options. Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler may explore a trade up or trade down if he gets offers. At worst, the team stays at seven and picks a talented prospect in the top 10.
And previously, I wrote about the undervalued importance of mining gems on Day 3 (picks in the fourth through seventh rounds) of the draft, too.
One of the Raiders’ philosophies that’ll help the team overall in the upcoming draft is the desire to add versatile players to the roster that can contribute at other positions. This is an excellent way to go about things because it’ll have a reverberating impact on Las Vegas’ special teams unit — a group that needs attention, too.
Because while the Raiders first-round pick will have their day in the sun on Day 1, the second- and third-round picks will similarly get the spotlight on Day 2, regardless of draft stature and pedigree, no draft pick should be exempt from getting work in Tom McMahon’s unit. While the special teams boss’ specialist crew has its starters in place — kicker Daniel Carlson, punter AJ Cole III, and long snapper Jacob Bobenmoyer — the group as a whole needs an infusion of explosive talent just like the Raiders offense and defense do.
That means bolstered kickoff and punt return coverage units that feature some youth and speed across the board.
By the numbers…
Let’s look at tangible numbers: While Cole ranked fourth in the NFL with a robust 48.9-yard average per punt this past season, the Raiders coverage unit was middling, allowing the 14th most punt return yards (274 on 25 returns) and ranking 29th in average per return allowed (11 yards).
In comparison, Las Vegas’ kickoff coverage unit performed relatively well, ranking second in average allowed (19.4 yards per return) and 11th in least yards (582 on 30 returns).
Now let’s flip it and look at punt and kickoff returns.
The Raiders punt return group was tied for dead last with the Miami Dolphins in the league with a paltry 5.8-yard average per return (27 returns for 156 yards).
Kickoff return-wise, the Raiders were the seventh-worst team in average with 20.9 per return (32 returns for 668 yards with a long of 33 yards).
The coverage and return units that McMahon is helming need some serious juice, a jolt from an electrifying return man.
The good thing is this: The Raiders don’t necessarily need to target prospects strictly for special teams. The added youth and depth will create natural special teamers. Does that mean the team shouldn’t look into TCU wide receiver Derius Davis as a return specialist, for example? No. Of course not. To do so would be asinine.
How do the Raiders and Dave Ziegler approach this?
Yet, if Las Vegas adds edge rushers, linebackers, defensive backs, etc. in the middle to late rounds, those prospects tend to be readymade for the special teams grind while learning the ropes on defense. Ditto for offense, with tailbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, and offensive linemen. Each can cut their teeth and earn their stripes in McMahon’s purview while growing into roles in McDaniels’ offense.
Prospects like Albama’s Cameron Latu (tight end), Stanford’s Michael Wilson (wide receiver), Vanderbilt’s Anfernee Orji (linebacker), Cal’s Daniel Scott (safety), and Georgia’s Robert Beal Jr. (edge rusher) are examples of solid athletic profiles, speed, and special teams experience the Raiders could look at.
Whoever the Raiders pick with the 12 selections at their disposal next week, they’re bound to get special teams snaps if they make the 53-man roster, especially if the first-round pick is a defender. And the Raiders will be better off because of it.
Las Vegas must have success in all three aspects of the game — offense, defense, and special teams — which means giving McMahon’s group equal shine will help the Raiders truly pillage and plunder.
For too long, there have been spills and blunders.
*Top Photo: AP Photo/AJ Mast
Outsiders Edge: Las Vegas Raiders Day 3 picks will be just as important as top selections