Getting a bead on what the Oakland Raiders are thinking about doing with the fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft – three days and counting! – is a lot like trying to catch a greased pig – just when you think you have a handle on it, it slips right out of your fingers once again.
There are a million moving parts and a million rumors floating around out there. Trying to separate fact from fiction at this point is an exercise in futility, and one that is likely to lead to you to beat your head against the wall if you were to try.
At this point, it seems pretty clear that not even the Raiders’ brass knows exactly what they’re going to do with that fourth overall pick. In a piece that appeared on the Bleacher Report on Monday, Adam Lefkoe and NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller discussed the idea that there is an internal debate going on in Raiders’ HQ about their plans.
According to Miller, who is citing unnamed sources – is there really any other kind of source this time of year? – the coaching staff is really fired up about Amari Cooper and wants to use the fourth overall pick on him. Interestingly enough, Miller goes on to say that the team executives – though Miller didn’t say so, it’s presumably led by GM Reggie McKenzie – are fired up about Leonard Williams and want to use the fourth overall pick on him.
So it reportedly comes down to Cooper vs. Williams. Or you know, the same debate that’s been raging among the Raider faithful for weeks and weeks now.
When it comes down to it though, there only seems to be one truly logical choice. While Williams is a supremely talented player who would definitely add a few more teeth to the Raiders’ defense – plus, being that he’s a Raider fan, and a “hometown” USC guy, it would be a nice story – but he’s not going to have the same day one impact as Cooper would.
Now, before any of you go grab the torches and pitchforks, stop and think about it for a minute.
The Raiders have put together a very solid defensive front this offseason. With Justin Tuck, Dan Williams, Justin Ellis, Malcolm Smith, Curtis Lofton, and Sio Moore, Oakland got a lot more intimidating up front. And if Del Rio follows through with his plan to move Khalil Mack to the other DE position, it gets even more intimidating.
That is a front seven that can not only handle the run, but can put some serious pressure on the quarterback – something Oakland lacked last season. Add in C.J. Wilson and Benson Mayowa – both who played fairly well last season – as well as Stacy McGee and Denico Autry, and you have some rotational depth.
Given the players Oakland has along the defensive front already, Williams would almost be a luxury pick.
However, on the offensive side of the ball, the Raiders are still lacking true playmakers. While it would seem safe to say that Rod Streater will get back to the form he showed himself capable of in 2013, at this point we just don’t know what he is going to look like with any certainty. Other than that, Derek Carr‘s weapons are James Jones, Michael Crabtree, Andre Holmes, Brice Butler, and Kenbrell Thompkins. And based on the limited number of targets Butler and Thompkins got last season, them being on the roster opening day isn’t a lock.
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If Oakland truly wants to get some bang for their buck at four, they have to go with Cooper. He will give them an explosive dimension that their passing attack is currently lacking. Jones and Crabtree will be reliable targets, but neither is a home run hitter. Given that neither is explosive or come with outstanding speed, both are best utilized on shorter and intermediate routes. Streater, if he returns to form, can stretch the field, but this Oakland offense still needs more.
It needs a lot more pop, especially given the fact that Del Rio and OC Bill Musgrave plan to implement some of Chip Kelly’s up tempo, spread style attack into the Oakland offensive scheme. To do that successfully, they’re going to need receivers who can get to all levels of the field, and get there quickly. And nobody on this planet can say, with a straight face, that Holmes or Butler would be better suited to or capable of running that sort of scheme than Cooper.
In terms of day one value for the fourth pick, Cooper is a better choice than Williams. While Williams will be a nice component in an already pretty good defensive front, Cooper will be an upgrade to a receiving corps that still desperately needs one.
And we know, we know – this draft is very deep at the receiver spot. There are up to a dozen players who could be first round picks. We got that. But there is a reason that Cooper is the highest rated receiver in this year’s draft class – he is the most polished and NFL ready of any of them. That is not to say the other receivers in this draft class won’t be good, that’s just to say that Cooper has a couple of steps up on them.
If you have the capability of drafting the best, and it fills a need nicely, why would you not pull the trigger on him?
A previous article talked about the fact that you don’t need the NFL’s top ranked defense to win in this league. In fact, more often than not, the league’s top ranked defense doesn’t win. Last season, the Patriots won it all with the NFL’s 13th ranked defense. As presently constructed, the Raiders have the components in place to field a very solid, very competitive defense that could see them hovering inside the top 15 in the league.
But the one thing ever team still needs is the ability to score. As great as Williams is and may be in the NFL, he can’t help Oakland put points on the board. It’s something they didn’t do very well last season – fewer than 16 points per game – and something they need to get much, much better at if they hope to be competitive this year. Amari Cooper can step in on day one and help them do that.
In the end, the reported “divided house” in Oakland could just be one more smokescreen in a long running campaign of obfuscation. Of course, the Raiders don’t want to tip their hand. What they do at four will be based on what happens ahead of them. Williams could be gone at two to the Titans or three to the Jaguars – both of them do have need of his skills – rendering all of this hand wringing totally moot.
Oakland cannot go wrong if they take Williams at four, or if they take Cooper. Both would be the right choice. But given his day one value to the team, and his ability to help them put points on the board, Cooper is the choice that is a little more right with the fourth pick.