NFL Mock Draft: Raiders GM Dave Ziegler builds his D-line

Raiders Have Quite The Draft Conundrum: Defense Or QB?

The 2023 NFL Draft will be a defining moment in Las Vegas Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler’s career. There is a short time frame, specifically for superstars Maxx Crosby and Davante Adams, who are at the peak of their physical primes, but they will not be in “Sin City” forever. The defense needs playmakers, but Adams also needs an above-average quarterback to be properly utilized. It goes like this: the Raiders have quite the dilemma on their hands: with the seventh overall pick, should they draft a quarterback or the best defensive player available?

Do the Raiders have enough at QB with Jimmy Garoppolo?

After moving on from Derek Carr this offseason, the Raiders acquired Jimmy Garoppolo. “Jimmy G” is not a top-10 quarterback (ranked 21st by Pro Football Focus), and in San Francisco he had the luxury of being backed up by a top-tier defensive unit. This was a luxury Carr was never afforded.

Garoppolo has been in the NFL for nine seasons but has only managed one full season (2019). At the same time, Garoppolo brings more playoff experience than Carr, who only played in one playoff game and never had a win. Garoppolo, unfortunately, is not known for his durability or high touchdown percentage. Garoppolo has only two seasons with 20 or more touchdown throws. In comparison, Carr only had one season out of nine where he did not throw less than 20 touchdowns.

A side note: Garoppolo is the same quarterback who somehow holds a 10-2 record in starts with zero touchdown passes thrown.

Regardless, Garoppolo will not be working with a high-powered defense to complement any offensive deficiencies in 2023.

C.J. Stroud or Anthony Richardson?

Speaking of offensive deficiencies, should the Raiders be content with Garoppolo? The fact is, Ziegler might have an opportunity to select an upper-tier quarterback prospect. Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud or Florida’s Anthony Richardson could fall out of the top two overall picks.

Richardson is an athletic phenom, and his potential is through the roof. Stroud comes from a college football powerhouse and brings accuracy, experience, and, similar to Richardson, a cannon for an arm. Stroud or Richardson may not be immediate starters in the NFL. However, if they were locked into a quarterback competition with Garoppolo, it would benefit their future with the Raiders.

Stroud or Richardson would bring energy to the team and the fans of the Silver and Black. Taking a signal-caller in the first round could theoretically show Adams that they are investing in him not just financially but by bringing in their quarterback of the future.

There is a real chance the Houston Texans do not take a quarterback with the second overall pick. This could place the Raiders in a position to move up and trade with the Arizona Cardinals for the third pick to select Stroud. Of course, that’s all hypotheticals. The issue that stands is that even if the Raiders draft a quarterback in the first round, what good will it do if the defense is still below average?

Should Raiders GM Dave Ziegler prioritize his defense in 2023?

The 2022 season was a rough one for the Raiders, specifically the defense. That defense held the following positions in the rankings:

  • 26th ranked defense overall
  • 29th ranked passing defense
  • 19th ranked rushing defense
  • 30th in sacks with 27 total
  • 28th in tackles for loss (TFL’s) with 68 total
  • 32nd (last) in interceptions with six

Digesting those statistics is enough to convince even the most casual fans that the Raiders need to select the best defensive player available in the first round of the draft. The Raiders could have quite the pick of prospects at No. 7. There is a real possibility that defensive tackle Jalen Carter could be available, as well as one of the two best cornerbacks in the draft, Devon Witherspoon or Christian Gonzalez. Let’s be honest: the Raiders need a significant amount of help on the defensive line as well as in the secondary.

The Raiders lost a historic number of games with a double-digit lead at halftime. The Raiders accomplished this unfortunate feat by collapsing in the second half against the Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars, L.A. Rams, and worst of all, the Kansas City Chiefs. A portion of these losses can be attributed to the offense failing to keep their foot on the pedal and continuing to score points.

The Raiders have a chance to select an instant starter on the defensive side of the ball in the draft, and they may not have to trade up to do it. Witherspoon and Gonzalez would bring some talent to the secondary that has been long absent. If Carter is not available, there could be several interior disruptors that the Raiders could trade down for.

The million-dollar question: who do you take in the first round?

When Ziegler traded the Raiders’ first-round pick in 2022 in order to acquire Adams, no one was upset with that move. This is the first draft where Ziegler will be able to actually select a player with this pick (No. 7). Ziegler has a true opportunity to simultaneously win over the fan base if the pick is a hit and to start to turn this team into a consistently competitive unit. The Raiders will need a quarterback of the future, and while it isn’t Garoppolo, the Raiders defense has been below average for so long. This is an incredibly tough decision to make. Needless to say, for better or for worse, this pick will decide the future of both Ziegler and the team.

*Top Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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