Last year, the Las Vegas Raiders traded away their first- and second-round picks for Davante Adams. While they still made a number of picks that you can evaluate, 2023 is the first year we are able to examine how Dave Ziegler navigates a draft with a full complement of picks.
And the early returns? Not too bad.
But not great either, personally speaking. There were no massive reaches or laughable picks, something Raiders fans have become accustomed to in recent years. The only head-scratcher came in the third round with the selection of Tre Tucker. Personally, I thought it was a bit high for him, both based on need and Tucker as a prospect.
But late in the third round and after is when you make moves like that. So much effort and analysis is put into the first- and second-round prospects, and so much more is known about not only who those guys are but what others think about who those guys are. Once you get to the end of the third and later, things become far more amorphous. Still, that’s when a team starts to target guys they’ve fallen in love with, even if they might be had later in the draft.
You also can’t give too much scrutiny to late-round picks. Anyone who pays close attention to the NFL Draft knows even the best talent evaluators are wrong all the time about the players who have the most information and are easiest to scout. And those same evaluators will have even worse hit rates the later you get in the draft.
2023 NFL Draft: How did Dave Ziegler and the Raiders fare in the later rounds?
Of their late-round picks, there’s much to like about the Aidan O’Connell pick. In the lead-up to the draft, I talked about O’Connell as a guy I thought Josh McDaniels would target because he fits what he’s trying to do. He’s a quarterback who likes to target the same areas Jimmy Garoppolo does and who will lean on the same types of weapons that Garoppolo does. Right now, there’s not much upside as a starter, but he looks like a good fit as a solid backup in McDaniels’ scheme. Not bad value for the fourth round if he ends up taking over one day.
Of the three high value picks the Raiders made, two were nothing to write home about. One, however, was a different matter.
Raiders nailed the Michael Mayer selection…
First, the positive: Michael Mayer was a great pick. Tight end was far from the biggest need for the Raiders, but that didn’t stop Dave Ziegler from taking advantage of a great situation: landing Mayer in the second round.
Mayer was the top tight end in this year’s class for many analysts, and he is a perfect fit for what it appears McDaniels wants to do on offense. The moves made in this free agency make it pretty obvious that McDaniels really is going for the “Patriots West.” He’s loaded up on pass catchers who eat on underneath routes and routes over the middle, and a quarterback who plays his best when targeting those areas.
In Mayer, the Raiders have a guy who not only knows how to make a living in the areas “Jimmy G” likes to target, but he also brings a nasty demeanor to the blocking game. He isn’t a freak athlete like some of the pass catchers in today’s NFL. Fortunately, the Raiders don’t need him to be. For McDaniels’ offense, he’s the perfect fit and a guy I never would have thought could be had at the top of the second round. He can play all three downs and offer value as a pass catcher or inline blocker. That’s exactly what his new coach wants in his offense. We can fully expect Mayer to be a Day 1 starter. He’ll bring a ton of value to the offense this year and for years to come.
What about Tyree Wilson and Byron Young?
And now the not-so-exciting: there’s just not much love for the Tyree Wilson and Byron Young selections. Both picks are solid, safe picks. But they’re not the kinds of picks you can get overly excited about. Both Wilson and Young have high floors and will be starters for the Raiders, but I am not sure either will ever be special.
I know Wilson has measurables that are pretty freakish, but he doesn’t have great bend, and he rarely shows a ton of explosion off the snap. Those are two things I will typically point to as reasons to think a prospect has the potential to develop into an elite pass rusher.
That being said, there was a draft prospect in the 2012 draft who had similar pros and cons to Wilson (an athlete with long arms who was underdeveloped as a pass rusher and run defender who had issues getting off the snap with consistency). But because of the cons similar to what Wilson has, that guy wasn’t drafted until late in the first round at pick number 21. Many even felt that was too high to take him.
And while Chandler Jones didn’t play very well for the Raiders last season, it’s safe to say he proved his pre-draft doubters wrong and would have lived up to the billing had he been taken in the top ten. There are some good reasons people compare Wilson to Jones. For me personally, Jones was better off the snap and had a better bend than Wilson. Comps aside, if that’s who Wilson turns into, the pick was well worth it.
Should Dave Ziegler and the Raiders have taken Christian Gonzalez?
If I were in charge, Christian Gonzalez would’ve been the pick. He would have filled a major need, made a bigger Day 1 impact than Wilson, and has great upside. Jalen Carter over Wilson would’ve been a plausible scenario, in all honesty. He had, hands down, the biggest upside left on the board. All off-the-field issues aside, who cares? The upside is insane and would’ve filled a major need.
At the end of the day, the Raiders went with a guy who will be a good player for them and has the potential to be great. Still, there were better options available.
There’s a similarity with Young as well. He’s a guy who has a good floor, can help in the run game right away, and showed improvement as a pass rusher in college.
If he continues to improve as a pass rusher, he can develop into a good three-down defensive tackle. I just don’t think he will ever be more than an adequate pass rusher, and the Raiders need an interior pass rush far more than they need interior run defenders. Run-defending defensive tackles are just not that hard to come by. Pass-rushing defensive tackles, on the other hand, are incredibly valuable in part because they just aren’t that easy to find. The Raiders should’ve gone after a guy with more pass-rush upside like Jaquelin Roy.
But again, Young is a solid player who is an upgrade at a position of need for the Raiders. If he can continue to develop as a pass rusher, he’ll definitely live up to where he was taken in the draft.
So, how did Dave Ziegler do?
All in all, there was nothing about the Raiders draft that caused concern or left fans hoping and praying the Raiders front office was right about some off-the-wall pick. All of the guys taken look like solid players who have value to offer. There were not a lot of guys that jumped off the page as potentially being elite. Nevertheless, there are worse things than ending up with a handful of solid starters from your draft class. There’s a decent chance that’s the worst-case scenario for this class. For the Raiders, that would be one of the better results from a draft class in over a decade.
*Top Photo: Raiders Official YouTube channel