The 2023 NFL Draft delivered three unpredictable days of intrigue, shocking trades, head-scratching selections, and the inevitable post-draft grades before a single selection had even taken a professional snap. Of course, the Las Vegas Raiders were no exception to this.
While no one is immune to the allure of calling a draft class terrible as soon as Mr. Irrelevant is off the board, it’s important to remember how much of a dice roll the entire process can truly be. The Seattle Seahawks built a Super Bowl winner around their 2012 class, but the grades immediately following their picks were not kind. Meanwhile, teams like the Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals, and Detroit Lions were lauded for a draft haul that netted just one Pro Bowler out of nineteen players (Alshon Jeffery).
General manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels kept a measured approach. They followed their board and selected prospects they felt would help the Raiders immediately and in the long run. Time will tell if those selections meet expectations. Still, with nothing but time to kill until rookie camp, let’s look back at the draft board and see if Las Vegas left any money on the table.
Will the Raiders regret passing on a certain Georgia defensive lineman?
Rd. 1, Pick No. 7: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
The Raiders used their seventh overall pick on a pass rush reinforcement. Ziegler opted to go with Texas Tech linebacker Tyree Wilson. Las Vegas decided to overlook concerns around a foot injury that cut the Red Raiders’ season short in hopes that the 6’6″ Wilson will eventually forge a formidable duo over time with mainstay Maxx Crosby, even if it doesn’t happen in week one of the regular season. Passing on perhaps the most talented player in this year’s draft class is a choice that’s rarely understood, but Jalen Carter recently settled some serious reckless driving charges that may have given the Raiders flashbacks to a recent first-round selection.
Many have said that the Georgia product needs to be insulated by a strong organization with proven locker room leaders to thrive at the next level. While the Raiders do have the names in the locker room to help Carter improve off the field, one could question if the organization as a whole would be best for him. All of these factors aside, Carter is literally everything the Raiders defensive line needs: a monster on the interior that can hold his own in the run and collapse the pocket in the passing game.
What about the crucial Day 2?
Rd. 3, Pick No. 70: Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington St.
Las Vegas used the first of two third-round picks on Byron Young, a defensive tackle that may end up lost in the rotation of linemen already on the roster. Instead, they could’ve nabbed a Day 1 starter in linebacker Daiyan Henley. The Washington St. product is what you need an every-down linebacker to be these days in the NFL, and while he’s far from a finished product, he has all the tools and toughness to be the type of chess piece defensive coordinator Patrick Graham clamors for.
Rd. 4, Pick No. 104: Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
Philadelphia isn’t the only franchise that can stack up Bulldogs. Rather than taking Jakorian Bennett, let’s give the Raiders a bigger body corner with just as much speed. Few prospects saw their stock drop as rapidly as Ringo did during the pre-draft process. Even if the Second-Team All-SEC selection doesn’t stick on the boundary, he could turn into an amazing safety on the backend of a defense.
Rd. 4, Pick No. 135: Antonio Johnson, S, Texas A&M
Dave Ziegler traded into this spot in order to snag Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell. Needless to say, this may have been a bit of a reach by the Raiders’ brain trust. Let’s use this selection to bring in a big-bodied safety prospect with a proven track record in Antonio Johnson. The Texas A&M product can play the big nickel but is more than tough enough to play in the box. Clearly, getting bigger and more athletic is something that could do this secondary some good.
There were promising offensive players left on the board by the Raiders…
Rd. 5, Pick No. 170: A.T. Perry, WR, Wake Forest
There’s a trend developing here. Since Ziegler took a safety with pick No. 135, Christopher Smith II isn’t a necessity. How about a lottery ticket in his place? A.T. Perry has all the tools to become a major threat at the next level. The Wake Forest product has enough size, physicality, and speed to be a red zone threat at the very least.
Rd. 6, Pick No. 203: Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas St.
Given the Raiders need for a consistent pass-catching back, it was a bit surprising to see McDaniels resist the urge to draft Deuce Vaughn. The Darren Sproles comps will come early and often. Still, the Kansas State product did more than enough on the collegiate level to live on his own merit. The thought of pairing Vaughn with Pro Bowler Josh Jacobs makes this pick a no-brainer at this point in the draft.
*Top Photo: AP Photo/Young Kwak
The most underrated position group on the Raiders’ roster: the cornerback room