With Their First Pick, Raiders Should Draft A Linebacker With Pedigree

The draft is finally here and so it’s time to take a shot in the dark at Reggie McKenzie’s first pick.

History suggests that there are a couple rules to follow with McKenzie. First, he doesn’t put a great deal of emphasis on “positions of need”. In other words, just because the Raiders appear to have a huge need at linebacker, Reggie won’t stray far from his draft board to take a linebacker.

Secondly, McKenzie doesn’t draft inside linebackers. That’s an overstatement of course, but the highest draft pick Reggie has used on an inside linebacker since joining the Raiders in 2013 is round five (Ben Heeney).

For those reasons and others, the Raiders have been underwhelming (being kind) at middle linebacker and many are hoping Reggie’s stubborn streak soon comes to an end.

If he drops to the Raiders, it would be a heaven sent to see the Raiders plug in Alabama’s Reuben Foster at middle linebacker – arguably the team’s greatest position of need. If Foster has concerns off the field, the Raiders finally have a locker room that can provide a good measure of positive guidance.

If Foster is healthy and available, that should be the pick.

Under the more likely scenario that Foster isn’t available, it’s a little more complicated. A popular pick would be a cornerback, but McKenzie likes to throw curveballs on a 3-2 count so let’s sit on a curveball.

Reggie loves to trade down and add picks. Given there’s expected to be a run on quarterbacks (or offensive linemen) at some point around the Raiders pick at 24, smart money is probably on McKenzie vacating the pick. There are a number of teams in the early second round that would likely entertain the idea of jumping ahead of Houston (who picks at 25) to take a quarterback.

If the Raiders drop in the first round or even out of the first round, a player to watch is Wisconsin LB T.J. Watt.

Would Watt fill a need in Oakland? Not immediately, but Bruce Irvin turns 30 in November and the Raiders recorded a league-worst 25 sacks as a team last year. It’s also worth noting that Irvin carries a base salary of $8 million in 2018 and $9 million in 2019.

Like Packers LB Clay Matthews, who McKenzie drafted in Green Bay, Watt was a late bloomer in college, brings similar work ethic, and comes from a football pedigree.

Listen to J.J. Watt talking about his brother.

As a prospect, Watt’s wingspan is very similar to Khalil Mack’s (though Watt is a little taller) and they share a few of the same “fast-twitch” concerns that have never once affected Mack’s ability to tackle quarterbacks. Like his brother, T.J. has a tireless motor and would undoubtedly bring energy to a defense that needs more attitude.

Admittedly, there are players available that stand out a little more on film, but considering Watt only transitioned to the defensive side of the ball two years ago, his potential is all the more intriguing. At least one scout believes Watt is the best linebacker in the draft – giving him an even higher grade than his All Pro brother coming out of college.

“All he does is make plays. He’s Clay Matthews,” the scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Probably more explosive. I guess he’s learned pass-rush techniques from his brother. Uses his hands well.”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper believes the first round is “a little high” for Watt, but doesn’t rule out the idea. “He needs to work on dropping in coverage,” says Kiper. “But in a couple games I saw, he was really adequate. The thing I love about the kid, he varies his moves as a pass rusher. He can pressure inside or outside. Versus the run, he’ll get off the blocks, he’ll pursue.”

Beyond his skill set, Watt would also be a building block the Raiders can take to Las Vegas and be confident with his image off the field.

Nevertheless, most mock drafts have Watt going in the early second round or to Green Bay late in the first.

If he’s in position to spoil the hometown parade in Green Bay, Reggie shouldn’t be afraid to pounce.

Twitter: @raidersbeat