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Previewing The 2017 Oakland Raiders’ Draft Class

Which rookies will shine this season?

After the early stages of free agency were complete, the Oakland Raiders looked to the 2017 NFL Draft to add depth and address their remaining needs before the upcoming season. While general manager Reggie McKenzie has been acclaimed by many fans in the past for multiple big time draft moves (including the selections of Derek CarrAmari Cooper and Khalil Mack among others), this year’s draft class was much more low key in nature. However, it’s not without long term potential either. Here are previews for all nine of the Raiders’ draft picks for 2017, along with some notable undrafted rookies.

Round 1, Pick 24: Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

It was a shock to see Conley come off the board as high as he did, though not because of his performance on the field at Columbus. Many analysts considered him a borderline top-10 prospect before a rape accusation put his stock into question. The Raiders surprisingly took him in the middle of the first round in spite of this, confident in his potential and their background research, which was ultimately vindicated when the investigation into the rape charge was dropped late in July. A bout of shin splints has kept Conley out of all training camp activity, but he’s expected to step into the slot corner role as soon as he returns.

Round 2, Pick 56: Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut

In contrast to Conley, Melifonwu took a bit of an unexpected fall during the draft. Part of that might be because of his tweener status; while listed as a safety at UConn, he also lined up as a slot corner for a significant portion of his snaps. Early indications are that the Raiders plan to utilize Melifonwu in a similar role, eyeing him as their top tight end defender, something that the team has struggled with for the past few seasons.

Round 3, Pick 88: Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA

Vanderdoes has a great deal of potential as both a pass rusher and a run stuffer, though he comes in with a history of injuries and weight troubles. The UCLA product weighed as much as 350 lbs last season. However, he has worked to shed those pounds, slimming down to 305 by the start of training camp. He’s currently slated to start next to Justin Ellis in the defensive interior.

Round 4, Pick 130: David Sharpe, OT, Florida

Sharpe had a quietly successful run in Gainesville, working as the blindside protector for Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio‘s son Luke. The team views him as a potential long-term solution at right tackle. Depending on how left tackle Donald Penn‘s holdout is resolved, Sharpe could find himself in the lineup sooner than later. It’s worth noting that there were concerns about the vision in Sharpe’s right eye, though he quickly shot those down before minicamp.

Round 5, Pick 168: Marquel Lee, MLB, Wake Forest

Middle linebacker was among the team’s top needs entering the offseason, so it was a little puzzling to see them wait until the fifth round to address it. Lee’s no slouch, however. He was in the top 10 for run stops at Wake Forest, dropping in the draft for size concerns. He’s already found himself at the top of the depth chart as the starter in the middle, which is a tough assignment for a rookie.

Round 7, Pick 221: Shalom Luani, S, Washington State

Luani has an interesting story; he was a star soccer player for American Samoa, competing in both the 2012 Olympic qualifiers and the 2014 FIFA World Cup while simultaneously carving out a decent career at Washington State. The Raiders presumably took a chance on him for his athletic prowess; he could be a great replacement for departed special teams ace Brynden Trawick.

Round 7, Pick 231: Jylan Ware, OT, Alabama State

It’s become a habit for Oakland to take at least one small school prospect late in the draft. They made a similar pick in 2015 with Anthony Morris from Tennessee State. Morris wasn’t able to make the team (or the practice squad for that matter), but maybe things will be different with Ware. He’s huge at 6’8″ and 295 lbs. With a crowded group at offensive tackle, Ware might have to go to the practice squad in order to stick around.

Round 7, Pick 242: Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina

In a deep running back class, it wasn’t shocking to see Hood, a talented runner, fall to the last round. That shouldn’t discourage him, however. His style has drawn comparisons to newly signed running back Marshawn Lynch, so playing his way onto the final roster isn’t out of the cards.

Round 7 Pick 244: Treyvon Hester, DT, Toledo

Hester has the potential to be a late round gem. He was ranked 12th out of all interior defensive linemen for Pro Football Focus during his time at Toledo. The Raiders don’t have much in the way of defensive tackles, so Hester has a great opportunity to settle into a rotational role.

Notable undrafted players

Breon Borders, CB, Duke: Borders surprisingly ascended to the first team slot corner position for a couple of days during training camp after veteran Sean Smith was briefly demoted. The first depth chart reversed course, but it could be an indication that the coaching staff thinks highly of the former All-ACC player. If Borders can impress during his preseason reps and make an impact on special teams, he may sneak past the cut down to 53 players.

Fadol Brown, DE, Ole Miss: Brown was highly regarded coming out of high school, but injuries and program dysfunction during college neutered his potential somewhat. He has a tough hill to climb if he wants to make the final roster, though a practice squad spot is certainly in the cards.

Pharaoh Brown, TE, Oregon: The former All-Pac-12 player had a bright future after his first two years at Oregon before a horrific knee injury derailed his progress (it was so bad that doctors feared amputation). However, he was able to bounce back and carve out a solid senior season. The Raiders are currently stacked at tight end, so Brown is most likely a high priority practice squad candidate.

Jordan Simmons, G, USC: Simmons is penciled in as the backup right guard, mostly out of circumstance. If he turns in a worthwhile performance, he should have a spot on the practice squad.

Isaac Whitney, WR, USC: Out of the three undrafted receivers on the team, the blazing fast Whitney has been the most impressive during training camp. It’s not out of the realm for him to make the final roster, especially if he shows up on special teams, but he’s more likely to be a prime practice squad prospect.

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