The Oakland Raiders concentrated on improving their offense in the 2015 NFL Draft, taking wide receiver Amari Cooper in the first round and selecting tight end Clive Walford in the third round. Oakland is hoping that the picks will help improve what was the NFL’s worst offense a year ago.
As the Raiders missed the playoffs for a 12th straight year and finished with just three wins, the team ranked last in the league with just 282.2 yards per game. That should change in the upcoming season, since the draft will give second-year quarterback Derek Carr more weapons than he had in 2014.
Carr showed some promise for the Raiders, throwing 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a rookie. But 18 quarterbacks managed to throw for more than his 3,270 yards, in part because Carr's receiving options were so limited. Andre Holmes led the team with 693 receiving yards, and no player on the roster had ever had a 1,000-yard season.
Cooper has never caught an NFL pass, but he’ll immediately become the team’s top playmaker. The feeling among many draft experts was that Oakland would take defensive end Leonard Williams with the No.4 overall pick, but Cooper was too good for the Raiders to pass up.
Three players were taken ahead of Cooper, but he might be the most NFL-ready player in the draft. Having played in Alabama’s pro-style offense, Cooper was the best receiver in college football. He led all players with 124 receptions, and his 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns ranked second in the nation. Cooper was incredibly consistent, catching at least eight passes in 12-of-14 games.
“If I were Derek Carr I’d be doing cartwheels over this pick,” former Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown told ESPN.com. “Cooper can turn a five-yard reception into a 50-yard touchdown. I’d be super-excited if I were Derek Carr .... The Raiders have someone who can do it all.”
Though he isn’t flashy and might not have the same speed as a receiver like Kevin White, who went No.7 to the Chicago Bears, Cooper is viewed as "a sure thing." Considering Oakland hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Randy Moss was on the team a decade ago, a playmaker of Cooper's caliber is long overdue.
Walford won't put up numbers similar to Cooper, but the addition of the tight end should also bolster the team’s offense. He was a standout performer at Miami, being named a third-team All-American last year. In 11 games for the Hurricanes, he caught 44 passes for 676 yards and seven touchdowns.
There were seven tight ends drafted within the first three rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft and only one made much of an impact in receiving yards. Jace Amaro, a second-round pick by the New York Jets, had 38 receptions for 345 yards. Three other rookies finished in the top 50 in receiving yards amongst tight ends, but only Amaro finished with over 250 receiving yards.
Tight end wasn’t as big of an area of need as wide receiver was for Oakland. Mychal Rivera was more than serviceable last year, catching 58 passes for 534 yards. But even if Walford isn’t the full-time starter, adding offensive depth will certainly help Oakland.
“I’m going to go out to Oakland and just compete,” Walford said, via raiders.com. “I’m not looking to go start right away. I’m going out there to learn from the veterans and take some of their advice, but you know I’m going to compete at the same time. If I win that starting spot, then that’s all on God.”
The best part of Walford’s game might be his ability as a blocker. Oakland could use his help in their rushing attack, since the team had the league’s worst rushing offense in 2014.
The Raiders also selected wide receiver Andre Debose in the seventh round. Battling through two ACL tears, Debose spent six years at Florida, and he was primarily used as a kick returner last year.