The Oakland Raiders find themselves in a new position during the 2017 NFL Draft. Oakland is off a playoff berth, so they find themselves deeper in the draft order. Moreover, they will need to use their first-round pick to position themselves for a deep playoff run.
Which draft prospects helped themselves in the NFL Combine, and what prospects should the Raiders pay more attention to during Pro Days and individual workouts?
Zach Cunningham, Linebacker
Zach Cunningham was a highly productive player at Vanderbilt. Cunningham registered six forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, six sacks and 256 tackles over three seasons.
He checks off the boxes for a NFL linebacker in terms of size, length and explosiveness. However, he did not do himself a lot of favors with below-average showings in the 40-yard dash and bench press at the combine.
Thus, Oakland may have to look more into Cunningham’s tape to justify taking him at No. 24. Still, he definitely fills a need. The Raiders have needed an inside linebacker for years. Cunningham brings the versatility to play inside or outside backer.
Malik McDowell, Defensive Tackle
Malik McDowell dominated the NFL Combine by showing he has the speed and frame to be a dominant defensive tackle. However, that could also make him unavailable when the Raiders select at No. 24.
Either way, McDowell had a bit of a down season last year. He went from 13 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks in 2015 to seven tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks in 2016. Some of that difference can be attributed to the entire Michigan St. defense taking a step back last season.
Moreover, McDowell fits the athletic profile of the Raiders’ past two draft picks Jihad Ward and Mario Edwards Jr. Hence, McDowell’s hybrid defensive end and tackle profile may make him redundant on the Raiders defense. Then again, McDowell better project as a better professional player than Ward or Edwards Jr. if Oakland drafts him that high.
Buddha Baker, Safety
Budda Baker will not wow anyone with his size. However, he was a highly productive player at Washington. Baker registered five interceptions, four sacks and 199 tackles during his career at Washington.
Moreover, Baker makes up for his lack of size with instincts and speed. He may be able to play either safety positions in the NFL. Baker may also play as a third corner or third safety in passing situations.
For Oakland, Reggie Nelson is not getting any younger. Baker could be groomed to replace Nelson in another season or two. Plus, Baker could slide in the draft due to the depth at safety in this class. The Raiders could get a steal by drafting Baker in the second round.
Granted, it may be redundant to put Baker next to Karl Joseph. Both are undersized safeties, but the combination could actually be an interchangeable and versatile duo.
Ultimately, the Raiders will have a lot of decisions to make before the NFL Draft. They should take Budda Baker, Malik McDowell and Zach Cunningham into consideration as the offseason continues.