The 2015 Super Bowl matchup has yet to be set, but the offseason has already begun for the Oakland Raiders. The team has hired a new head coach, signing Jack Del Rio to a four-year contract, and putting themselves in a position to get ready for the 2015 season.
NFL free agency begins on March 10, and the NFL Scouting Combine starts on Feb. 17. The draft will be key for Del Rio in his first year, as he looks to lead Oakland to more than four wins for the first time since 2011.
After going just 3-13 in 2014, Oakland will be able to take one of the top players in the 2015 draft, selecting No.4 overall. The franchise has misfired on several of their first-round picks in recent years, drafting the likes of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Rolando McClain and, most notably, JaMarcus Russell.
Even though two high-profile quarterbacks will be entering the draft, both could be gone within the first two picks, and the Raiders are likely to stick with Derek Carr as their starter next season. Oakland has multiple areas of need, and they’ll have several options on draft day.
With the deadline passing for underclassmen to declare for the draft, a few college football players standout as potential first-round picks for the Raiders.
Amari Cooper, Alabama
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will draw most of the attention because they play quarterback, but Cooper has a good chance to become the best NFL player in the 2015 class. He was the nation’s top receiver in 2014, leading the country with 124 receptions and finishing second with 1,727 yards. Playing in the SEC West against some of the country’s best defensive backs, Cooper remained consistent, recording at least eight catches and 83 receiving yards in all but one conference game.
Oakland has their quarterback for the near future in Carr, but he has few weapons around him. None of the team’s receivers reached 700 yards this season, and no player on the team has ever even had a 900-yard season in their careers. Carr will need more talent around him if he hopes to have any type of sustained success.
Leonard Williams, USC
The USC product has a good chance to be the first defensive player taken in the draft. After recording 26 total sacks in his first two years with the team, Williams had seven sacks and 80 total tackles in 2014. Williams but up big numbers in 2013, despite playing with a torn labrum, and he battled through an ankle injury this past season.
Oakland is in desperate need of a pass rusher. Their 22 sacks were tied for second-to-last in the NFL, and Justin Tuck was the team leader with just five sacks. Del Rio knows the importance of getting to the quarterback, coaching a defense that ranked ninth in sacks in 2014. He also played at USC, where Williams made his name as one of the country's best defenders.
Randy Gregory, Nebraska
Del Rio was a linebacker in the NFL, and he could target a linebacker with Oakland’s first-round pick. The team drafted Khalil Mack in 2014, who went on to make the Pro Football Writers Association all-rookie team. Gregory, who’s capable of playing defensive end and linebacker, could do that for the Raiders next season.
In two seasons with Nebraska, Gregory totaled 16.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for a loss. He transferred from Arizona Western College, and didn’t play in 2012 because of a broken leg. Gregory might be too talented for the Raiders to overlook.