Now that the 2023 NFL Draft has come and gone, only one thing remains: digesting how it made you feel. How does one rank the draft without giving it grades? It is impossible to grade a draft without seeing at least three years of play. So, let’s take a look and breakdown just what exactly happened and how we should feel about the outcome for your Las Vegas Raiders and their general manager, Dave Ziegler.
An “Ungraded” Raiders Recap: Analyzing The Future
Pick No. 7: Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech (good pick)
Big guy with a metric ton of physical potential and the consensus best remaining edge defender at the seventh selection. Rob Leonard, the newly hired defensive line coach previously from Baltimore, is going to have a field day with him. Wilson should start immediately if healthy (he fully recovered from the Lisfranc injury without setback) and will provide the Raiders with a more dominant presence at the opposite edge of Maxx Crosby.
Pick No. 35: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame (excellent pick: pass on Hendon Hooker)
Mayer was considered by many to be the best tight end prospect in the draft and a first-round talent to boot. An absolute luxury as a blocker, once Mayer makes contact with his assignment, he becomes an impenetrable wall between the defender and the ball carrier. A red-zone nightmare, Mayer is a big, reliable target with strong and soft hands, capable of high-pointing the ball and securing the catch process all the way through. He’s more of a block and release kind of route runner; he’s not going to wow you with speed or athleticism. He will run through another player’s face. Over and over again.
By this time, Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, and Will Levis had all been selected. But not Hooker.
How about that third round, Raiders fans?
Pick No. 70: Byron Young, DL, Alabama (“Meh” Pick: greater need at LB…?)
Young is an interesting selection at this particular point. Once again, at the top of the third round, the Raiders passed on drafting a quarterback and instead went with a defensive lineman that wasn’t a mainstream name. Young is a run stuffer and a mid-pocket collapser; his 4.5 sacks were definitely solid, but that’s not his main job.
Young is a block eater and shedder. He can absolutely have a good impact on limiting the run game and could challenge to start on this football team.
“MEH” Factor: The Raiders have arguably the worst linebacking corps in the league right now, and not using a third-rounder on one of the best guys available is a head scratcher. Having drafted two rookie defensive tackles last year in the fourth and fifth rounds who didn’t have much meaningful playing time or impact raises questions about their ability to scout the position.
Pick No. 100: Tre Tucker, WR Cincinnati (A “Why” Pick)
In all honesty, when his name was called, I had no idea who he was or, more importantly, why the Raiders were drafting another receiver into an already crowded receiver room. With that being said, Tucker isn’t your average undersized wide receiver. Tucker is a former wrestler who brings a unique set of skills to the field. With tremendous speed and a mountain of heart and effort, there is a lot more to him than meets the eye.
However, linebacker is or was a huge need for this team, and there were opportunities to draft a linebacker of their choice who wouldn’t be the reach that Tucker appears to be.
Dave Ziegler drafts a cornerback, finally…
Pick No. 104: Jakorian Bennett, CB Maryland (Great Pick)
In 2022, Bennett, who is everything defensive coordinator Patrick Graham could possibly want at cornerback, didn’t allow a touchdown. Fast, physical, a ballhawk, and a straight-up junkyard dog, his 5’11” stature is easily overshadowed by his production. Bennett has posted 11 pass breakups in back-to-back seasons to go along with five interceptions combined.
On a team needing a starting-caliber corner with crazy speed, he certainly may be the guy to replace Anthony Averett. Fantastic pick.
Pick No. 135: Aidan O’Connell, QB, Purdue (sigh)
If my editor will allow me to break from AP Style for just a sentence, I ain’t even going to hold y’all. I was left scratching my head. There were a boatload of talented quarterbacks who all should have been drafted by the Raiders before O’Connell was actually picked.
O’Connell has a very quick release and a great touch at every level. In McDaniels’ offense, athleticism is not necessary for his quarterback. What is required is accuracy and identification of the correct read and corresponding options.
Pick No. 170: Chris Smith II, Safety, Georgia (home-run pick)
Dave Ziegler defined an “explosive player on defense” as this: a player who gets to the quarterback and/or gets to the football. By this definition, Smith is an explosive player.
He dropped due to a lack of elite top-end speed and a sub-six-foot frame. But Smith is pure electricity on the football field. He blows up tight ends out on pass routes, he makes tackles in the backfield on wide runs, and he possesses a real nose for the football.
Smith has been compared to Duron Harmon. At the same time, Smith has displayed the playmaking ability that Raider Nation has been expecting from Trevon Moehrig. In Graham’s multiple, sub-package defense, we would hope to see both on the field at the same time.
Pick No. 203: Amari Burney, LB Florida (project pick, big upside)
Burney is a converted safety who has been a utility player for two seasons, a linebacker for two seasons, and a listed defensive back in 2022. At the time of the draft, he was the size of a traditional strong safety: 6’3″ and 230 pounds.
Burney will most likely find his niche as a hybrid linebacker/safety, which is lucky for him. Why? Because that’s what the Raiders should ask of him. At one point, he had gotten up to 239 lbs., which is some welcome help for one of the most underwhelming units in the league.
Pick No. 231: Nesta Jade Silvera, DT, Arizona State (camp body pick)
Silvera is a space and block eater. At best, he is freeing up defenders to fill rush lanes and attack the ball carriers. Silvera is a bit stiff in his movements at times. Still, he’s used to powering through double teams. He will have to prove himself worthy in order to secure a spot on the roster.
So, how do you feel about Dave Ziegler and his decision-making this past weekend?
*Top Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports