Raiders GM Dave Ziegler has a few underrated moves this offseason

4 Underrated Offseason Moves By Las Vegas Raiders GM Dave Ziegler

The Raiders sent mixed signals to the fanbase this offseason with several head-scratching moves. From cutting franchise stalwart Derek Carr to letting Pro Bowl linebacker Denzel Perryman walk, the list goes on and on. But it hasn’t all been bad for Dave Ziegler since the regular season concluded.

Dave Ziegler Keeps Raiders’ Fans On Their Toes

Whether it be free agency or the NFL Draft, the team’s general manager has been busy reshaping the roster in his image. Do I agree with every move made thus far? Of course not. However, there are a handful of acquisitions that breed optimism. First up, a rookie safety with the talent to steal snaps from the veterans ahead of him:

No. 1: Drafting DB Christopher Smith II in the fifth round

It is not often that a general manager finds a player in the fifth round who is capable of immediate contributions in year one. Georgia’s Christopher Smith II is a rare diamond in the rough found by Ziegler. Smith brings extensive starting experience to the league. He logged 1,824 snaps as a safety for the Bulldogs, serving as a needle mover for the secondary.

In his time on campus, the rangy defensive back terrorized opposing quarterbacks. Smith boasts some absurd ball skills, highlighted by six interceptions since 2021. He allowed a career-low 57.1 completion percentage on passes thrown his way in 2022. Going further, the UGA standout also posted a career-high run defense grade in 2022 (85.9) — via Pro Football Focus.

Smith Could Be A Diamond In The Rough For Vegas

So, how does he fit with Patrick Graham and the Raiders? Trevon Moehrig will likely hold on to a starting role to open the new campaign, but veteran Marcus Epps may just be a placeholder until the young safety is ready to take over. What makes Smith’s path to snaps so feasible is his versatility. He has all the traits to play in the box or deep.

Even if Smith fails to crack the starting lineup by the season’s end, he will be the favorite to start in 2024. It is a long game, but Ziegler’s decision to take the versatile defender will pay dividends at some point for Vegas, hopefully in year one.

No. 2: Locking WR Jakobi Meyers into a reasonable deal via free agency

The next move was somewhat puzzling at the time but has grown on me. Jakobi Meyers caught 150 passes his past two seasons in New England, including the 2021 career-best campaign with McDaniels calling plays.

The reason Meyers’ acquisition stirred up controversy has nothing to do with his talent. It has everything to do with Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow eating up a chunk of cap space. But it makes plenty of sense when looking at the structure of this deal.

If the former Patriot fails to make a difference for the Raiders, they can cut ties next offseason with only a $3.6 million dead cap charge. However, I don’t foresee this being an issue. It wouldn’t surprise me if Meyers sees 100+ targets from Jimmy Garoppolo in 2023.

Meyers Should Be A Vital Piece For Raiders In 2023

Life is significantly easier being the No. 2 option behind Adams as opposed to being the top target in New England. Ideally, Josh Jacobs returns to the lineup because Meyers would see plenty of one-on-one assignments while teams focus on Vegas’ other weapons. With virtually zero risk and substantial upside, this move will go down as a home run for the Silver and Black.

No. 3: Signing CB Duke Shelley away from the Vikings

The Vikings found something in former sixth-round pick Duke Shelley. After his release by the division rival Chicago Bears, Shelley landed in Minnesota and posted one of the best coverage grades in the NFL. He became the full-time starter from Weeks 12-18, logging 242 coverage snaps in that span.

Shelley’s 84.9 coverage grade ranked third in the entire league (minimum 200 coverage snaps). For reference, only Patrick Surtain II and Sauce Gardner placed higher. The Kansas State alum broke up an astonishing ten passes in 2022, including his lone interception in the final contest vs. his former team — the Bears.

Shelley Has The Chops To Be A Starting CB

Perhaps even more impressively, Shelley only allowed 48.8 percent of passes to find the intended target. Considering he only played for half of the year at this level, it would be a jump of the gun to call the 26-year-old a lockdown cornerback. But for that seven-game stretch with the Vikings, he absolutely was one.

Expecting Shelley to blossom into an All-Pro for the Raiders would be shortsighted. But there is no reason he can’t be a quality player on the boundary. As promising as a few players are at cornerback, the roster lacks a true shutdown defender outside. Shelley will be the closest version that Vegas has in 2023.

No. 4: Bringing TE Austin Hooper’s veteran guidance to the Raiders’ locker room

The last section features tight end, Austin Hooper. The seven-year veteran is as reliable as they come in the NFL. He has caught at least 41 passes in five of the past six years, including a 787-yard campaign with Atlanta in 2019. Hooper uses soft hands and elite body control to serve as a chain mover for quarterbacks.

On top of his pass-catching prowess, the journeyman tight end is typically a willing blocker. I say “typically” because his most recent season saw Hooper post the worst blocking grades of his career. Hopefully, he regains form in Vegas.

Regardless of what Hooper gives the team on the field, his biggest impact will come in the locker room. Not only will he serve as a locker room voice, but he also is the ideal mentor for second-round pick Michael Mayer.

Ziegler Brings In The Ideal Mentor For Mayer

Mayer, the best tight end in the 2023 NFL Draft, found his way to the organization this offseason. He profiles as an every-down player capable of being an elite performer as a blocker and pass catcher. But tight ends usually face a steep learning curve as rookies.

Thanks to the presence of Hooper, Mayer will have the luxury of learning at his own pace. The former Notre Dame star can pick the brain of his veteran leader before ultimately taking the mantle following the 2023 season. Adding Hooper is worth every penny if he contributes to the development of Mayer. Ziegler is not perfect, but this addition sure was.

*Top Photo: Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

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