Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins

Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie planned on drafting a wide receiver. Really, he did. And if Sammy Watkins, rather than linebacker Khalil Mack, had been there at No. 5, the game-changing pass-catcher would have probably been the choice.

Alas, the Raiders were thrilled to have Mack for the taking even if, as the draft unfolded, no receivers to their liking remained on the board.

All of which brings us to Monday's announcement of the Raiders claiming three-year veteran receiver Greg Little.

Is he the game-breaking playmaker the Raiders need (when Denarius Moore is in hibernation)? Not particularly.

Is he a veteran in the mold of newly acquired James Jones? Not quite.

So how does Little fit, if at all, into the Raiders' receiving corps, especially with him carrying some baggage?

He's relatively young (he'll be 25 on May 30), he's physical (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and, as noted above, he has experience.

In three seasons, Little has played in all 48 games, starting 41, and has caught 155 passes for 1,821 yards and eight touchdowns. And, of course, he has a huge chip on his shoulder, like so many of the Raiders' other offseason pickups, after being cut by the Cleveland Browns last week.

"October 26, 2014 is definitely circled beleedat!" Little tweeted Monday afternoon, obviously referring to the Raiders' game that day at Cleveland.

Little, a converted running back drafted in the second round out of North Carolina in 2011, has shown flashes of talent with bouts of inconsistency.

"He shows you he can jump up and make the one-handed catch, he shows you he can break a tackle, the question then is can he repeatedly do that over and over again," Browns general manager Ray Farmer said last week. "That's the difference between being average or marginal and good or great."

Little led the Browns in receptions in 2011 and 2012 with 61 and 53, respectively, but also had numerous drops.

Off the field, he had a car crash in which he was drag racing and wrecked while going 127 mph. At North Carolina, he was reportedly issued 93 parking tickets on vehicles with nine different license plate numbers.

Little was suspended in 2010 along with other teammates for receiving improper benefits that included cash and travel accommodations. In November, the school sent him, and other former Tar Heels, a letter of "permanent disassociation" for their role that led to NCAA penalties and even criminal charges against five people for violating a North Carolina law governing sports agents.

Oakland's signing would seem to be a low-risk, high-reward proposition for the team, whose locker room was fortified with so many purported high-character veteran additions this offseason. You saw it in the later rounds of the draft and now, it's apparent with the Little signing.
Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie wants to draft for the future, but he also needs an impact player with that first pick at No. 5 overall tonight who can step in and contribute immediately.

Basically, the opposite of McKenzie's first two drafts. In 2012 he did not have a pick until the final selection of the third round, which he used to draft Tony Bergstrom and his nine career games. In 2013, when McKenzie traded back from No. 3 to No. 12, he took the injured D.J. Hayden, who would appear in just eight games.

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If Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and Sammy Watkins are all gone by the time Oakland's first-round turn comes up at No. 5, which of these things should the Raiders do?

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The advice from this corner? With a seeming wish list topped by purported consensus No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, the South Carolina defensive end, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, the Raiders should simply pick whichever one is still on the board when it is their turn.

Hey, it happened in our ESPN NFL Nation mock draft, Watkins fell into Oakland's lap.

But what if the three playmakers are gone in the first four selections?

The feeling here is the Raiders should try to trade back a few spots to acquire draft picks -- Oakland is without selections in the fifth and sixth rounds and have three picks in the seventh round -- and target someone like Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald or Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.

Still, there's no guarantee a trade partner could be found. And if not, what then?

It's been apparent for weeks the Raiders are not much interested in using the No. 5 pick on a quarterback. Still. you have to wonder if McKenzie has something up his sleeve.

Vote for what you think the Raiders should do at No. 5 if Clowney, Mack and Watkins are all gone.
Now that the dust has settled over the ESPN NFL Nation mock draft and, playing the part of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, I was able to select Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins at No. 5 overall, let’s take a look at other possibilities.

I have suggested that if both Watkins and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack are gone by the Raiders’ turn, as well as consensus No. 1 selection Jadeveon Clowney, the Raiders look at trading back and targeting the likes of Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald or Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.

But what if there are no takers in such a trade scenario?

There should still be value in one of the top three offensive tackles, and if the Raiders had re-signed Jared Veldheer, there would most likely be no need for this discussion. But I digress.

Auburn’s Greg Robinson is considered the top tackle prospect in the draft and is followed closely by Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, while Michigan’s Taylor Lewan may have more upside than either of them, provided he clears up any legal issues.

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas, using STATS, broke down the threesome in terms of pass protection.

Lewan allowed two sacks and 10 pressures on 371 pass plays for the Wolverines last season.

Robinson, meanwhile, surrendered four sacks and eight pressures on 273 Tigers passes.

And Matthews, with his strong NFL lineage, gave up six sacks and 21 pressures for the pass-happy Aggies, who threw the ball 473 times, or 52.7 percent of their time with Johnny Manziel at quarterback. Matthews’ father, Bruce, is a Hall of Fame guard, his uncle, Clay, a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker and his cousin, Clay, a standout linebacker with the Green Bay Packers

Heading into the draft, the Raiders’ starting offensive line looks like this: LT Donald Penn, LG Kevin Boothe, C Stefen Wisniewski, RG Austin Howard, RT Menelik Watson, with reserves Khalif Barnes, Tony Bergstrom, Matt McCants and Lamar Mady.

Should the Raiders sit tight and take a tackle at No. 5, especially if Clowney, Mack and Watkins are all gone?
Reggie McKenzieBob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsOakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie needs to find a playmaker with his first-round pick.
And with the fifth pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Oakland Raiders select ...

Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins? Reggie McKenzie can only hope.

Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack? McKenzie can only dream.

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney? Let's not get crazy now.

This much is true, though: In advance of the draft getting underway Thursday at Radio City Music Hall in New York, McKenzie needs to get his first pick right, and the Raiders general manager has no excuses this time around.

McKenzie's initial draft in Oakland saw him without a selection until the end of the third round, No. 95 overall, which he used on offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom, who has played in nine games. Total.

Last year, McKenzie had the No. 3 overall pick and was so enamored by injured cornerback D.J. Hayden that he would have taken him third had he not found a willing trade partner in the Miami Dolphins to move back to No. 12, where Hayden was still available. Forget for a second, if you can, that Hayden had undergone heart surgery the previous November after a practice collision nearly killed him. In pure football terms, the Raiders' biggest need was seemingly on the interior of the defensive line and Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd were available.

Hayden played catch-up all season and appeared in just eight games before going on injured reserve with a groin injury. But even if Hayden turns into the second coming of Mike Haynes and the Raiders figured Season 1 of Hayden's four-year rookie contract was a wash when they drafted him, it would be a strange philosophy for a franchise in Year 2 of a two-year "deconstruction," no? Think of it this way: What team would essentially surrender the first quarter of a football game, banking on the final three quarters?

Now, this is not to suggest that McKenzie’s job is on the line with this draft -- coach Dennis Allen's seat figures to get warmer first -- but he has a lot of work to do to re-establish trust from a leery fan base after a pair of 4-12 seasons. Even if owner Mark Davis knew how tough the first two years were going to be.

If the Raiders are to get a jump-start on Year 1 of their "reconstruction," it begins with their first pick in this draft.

So, yeah, if either Watkins or Mack is still on the board when the Raiders' turn comes up at No. 5, the choice is obvious -- it's whichever playmaker is there. Oakland has so many holes on defense, and with both McKenzie and Allen being defense-minded guys, Mack probably would be the call.

But if Mack is gone and Watkins is still there, the Raiders would be ecstatic with a game-changing receiver who would help make new quarterback Matt Schaub's transition smoother.

But what if both are gone in the first four picks?

That decision should be just as easy -- trade back; even if one of the top offensive tackles is still there, as they should be. Because while either Auburn's Greg Robinson (physical freak), Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews (product of a pro lineage) or Michigan’s Taylor Lewan (nasty disposition but with potential legal baggage) would add to the O-line mix to help deal with the departure of Jared Veldheer, McKenzie did enough to address the offensive line in free agency. At least for the immediate future.

Of course, trading back is easier said than done.

Consider: The Raiders are not all that interested in Johnny Manziel the football player. The ticket-selling circus? Maybe. But drafting Manziel at No. 5 would torpedo the Schaub move. While Oakland has gone all-in with the former Houston Texans Pro Bowler, the first time Schaub throws an interception, the fans would don their silver and black apparel, pitchforks and torches and march to the Coliseum for Johnny Football and Schaub, in need of a fresh start and renewed confidence, would be looking over his shoulder. The Raiders just endured that last season with the Matt Flynn-Terrelle Pryor-Matt McGloin-Tyler Wilson fiasco.

McKenzie and his staff may not have garnered a lot of trust in their QB evaluating abilities, but at least McKenzie’s vision is clear. He wants a veteran at quarterback and should draft another drama-free old soul who was a college winner in, say, the fourth round, because the Raiders are currently without picks in the fifth and sixth rounds to learn at the knee of Schaub. Not a polarizing rock star. So think Alabama's AJ McCarron. Or Pitt's Tom Savage. Or even San Jose State's David Fales. Unless Fresno State's Derek Carr is still there in the second round when the Raiders go at No. 36 overall, pending any trades, of course. Then all bets would be off.

Now, the Raiders can't trade that far back from No. 5, not if they still want an immediate difference-maker.

The Detroit Lions at No. 10 could be motivated to move up in front of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who draft seventh, in a race to get Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans. And at 10, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald should still be on the board for the Raiders.

Then again, the 6-foot-5, 231-pound Evans might make a solid value pick for the Raiders as an Andre Johnson 2.0 for Schaub.

"It's," McKenzie said slowly last week, "a chess match."

For his sake, you just hope he's the one yelling, "checkmate."
With one week to go until the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie will meet with the media at team headquarters today at 3:30 p.m. ET (12:30 p.m. PT).

No, McKenzie will not announce his draft plans, per se, but he will no doubt be asked his draft philosophy with the Raiders holding the No. 5 overall pick, as well as selections in the second (No. 36 overall), third (67), fourth (107) and seventh rounds (219, 235 and 247).

McKenzie has said the Raiders, as they begin Year 1 of the team's "reconstruction" and also face the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL, need playmakers on both sides of the ball.

As such, a conventional Oakland wish list would look like this: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack and a trio of offensive tackles in Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Auburn's Greg Robinson.

Trading back a few spots could also yield the likes of Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald or Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.

The McKenzie media conference will be streamed live at Raiders.com with reaction here on this blog and on my Twitter timeline, @PGutierrezESPN.
It is becoming clearer by the day the Oakland Raiders' wish list in the NFL draft goes something like this: defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, receiver Sammy Watkins, linebacker Khalil Mack, offensive tackle Greg Robinson.

But what if, as is a very good possibility, all four of those players are gone when it comes time for the Raiders to pick at No. 5?

According to ESPN NFL Insider Todd McShay, there are four "elite" players in this draft -- yes, Clowney, Watkins, Mack and Robinson -- before a slight drop-off begins.

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTeams in need of an offensive tackle may be eager to trade up with the Raiders to select Texas A&M's Jake Matthews.
Sure, Oakland could stay put and stay "safe" with Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews. But the Raiders are also intrigued by Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald and there have been rumblings about Oakland liking Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan more than Robinson. Still, are either of those guys, or even Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans, worthy of the fifth overall pick?

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie loves his draft picks, and while he now has seven at his disposal, he does not have one in either the fifth or sixth rounds, though he does have three in the seventh.

Trading back in the first round, as Oakland did last year in going from No. 3 to No. 12, could again be in the offing for McKenzie.

But who makes an appealing trade partner?

The way McShay sees it, any of the four teams slated to pick immediately after the Raiders -- the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills -- could be, as well as the New York Giants, at No. 12.

"If some of the rumors you hear about Tampa legitimately wanting Johnny Manziel [are true and] he's there at 5, I guess that could be a possibility," McShay said in a conference call Thursday.

But McShay is not necessarily a fan of the top quarterbacks in this draft.

"There are four elite players and I think it would be a mistake to draft any of these quarterbacks over those four players," said McShay, referencing Clowney, Watkins, Mack and Robinson again as his "elite" players.

As for the Vikings, who pick eighth, McShay thinks they could get antsy if they want a quarterback.

"If it's Blake Bortles, if it's Johnny Manziel, whoever it is, if [the Vikings] were to look and say, ‘You know what, we need to move up three spots and just get our guy,'" McShay said, then Minnesota might make a good trade partner.

And Atlanta?

"Let's say Greg Robinson goes in the first four picks," McShay said, "Atlanta's going there at 6, and they're highly concerned about not getting, I think, Jake Matthews. Just my opinion. They could want to move up one spot just to solidify to make sure no other team moves up and goes and gets Jake Matthews, because I think he fits better in terms of what they're looking to do."

All of which could start a domino effect for the Bills or even the Giants, who select 12th.

"I would look at Atlanta as a threat," to trade with the Raiders at No. 5, McShay said, "if I need an offensive tackle."

As far as extra picks go, the Vikings have two third-rounders, at No. 72 and No. 96 overall, the Falcons have two fourths (No. 103 and No. 139, though the latter is a non-tradable compensatory pick) and the Giants have two in the fifth round (No. 152 and No. 174, a comp).

Analyzing McShay mock 4.0: Raiders 

April, 10, 2014
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Holding the No. 5 overall selection in the upcoming NFL draft could be seen as a both a blessing and a curse for the Oakland Raiders. After all, to get such a prime pick, the Raiders had to have a down season the year before ... and going 4-12 qualifies as such, meaning they have many needs. Even after signing 11 free agents from other teams, plus four of their own, and acquiring quarterback Matt Schaub in a trade since free agency opened March 11.

In his fourth mock draft , which is on ESPN Insider today, Todd McShay addresses a couple of needs for the Raiders, which should satisfy fans and Oakland's front office -- if it does indeed go this way.

The Oakland Raiders hold the No. 5 overall pick in the draft after going 4-12 last season. And as Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said, his team has needs -- with an "s" -- and he wants a playmaker.

In his latest Grade A mock draft, Mel Kiper put on his GM hat for us and went through the draft selecting players for every team as if he were the one making the picks, rather than predicting the selections. His choice for the Raiders will raise more than a few eyebrows.


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If Sammy Watkins is a target of the Oakland Raiders, who hold the No. 5 pick in May's NFL draft, that might be news to the former Clemson receiver.

Watkins, the top wideout in the draft who could go as high as No. 2 overall, told ESPN affiliate 95.7 The Game on Tuesday that he did not recall meeting with the Raiders at last month's combine in Indianapolis.

Watkins
That's not to say, though, that Watkins is feeling shunned. As he put it, he has love for all 32 teams.

“I have some freakish talents and ability to make plays,” he said. “I can jump, run catch, make somebody miss. That's my game.”

It's a game and playmaking skill set badly needed by the rebuilding Raiders, who added veteran possession pass-catcher James Jones in free agency and return Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, Denarius Moore, Brice Butler and Juron Criner.

Watkins, though, plays bigger and faster than his listed 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, and many see him as Denarius Moore 2.0.

“I'm able to transition myself and work through tough conditions,” Watkins said. “I understand football and the preparation, so for me, it's getting in with the team I'm with and learn that playbook. That's all I need to do is really learn that playbook, and after that, just adjusting to the speed of the game and how cornerbacks play in the NFL.

“That would be the next step. I think after the first few games I'll be definitely fine.”

Watkins said he patterned his game after many different NFL receivers, listing Julio Jones, Torrey Smith, DeAndre Hopkins, Alshon Jeffery and Larry Fitzgerald. He was also asked where his skill set would best be put to use on an NFL field.

“If you want to make a lot of plays and help your team, I think ‘Z' would definitely be the position, because if they flip the coverage to your side, you definitely got one-on-one back side,” he said of what is commonly known as the flanker. “I think for me to spread the field and getting down the field and have space, the ‘Z' would be a nice position for me.”

And his favorite route to run?

“I would probably say a dig, probably a speed dig or a regular dig,” Watkins said. “You can't really stop those.”

Analyzing Kiper 3.0: Raiders

March, 13, 2014
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Apparently, the Rodger Saffold fiasco and the Oakland Raiders losing out on an offensive lineman had no bearing on Mel Kiper’s Mock Draft 3.0.

No, he did not stay with his pick for the Raiders at No. 5 overall -- he went with Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins both times before.

The way Kiper sees things shaking out , Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will fall to Oakland, and the Raiders will scoop him up. Makes sense in the way that Oakland needs a franchise quarterback and, as many observers note, Bridgewater is the closest thing to an NFL-ready QB in this draft.

But are the Raiders ready to hand over the keys to the franchise to a rookie? Depends upon what else they do in free agency.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Raiders

March, 13, 2014
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In his first two mock drafts, ESPN’s Mel Kiper selected a playmaker for the Oakland Raiders, sending Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins to the East Bay both times with the No. 5 overall selection.

The pick echoed what Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said in January, that he wanted, well, a playmaker. Now, in the wake of the Rodger Saffold fiasco -- in which the offensive lineman failed a physical by Raiders standards after agreeing to a five-year, $42.5 million contract, with $21 million guaranteed, but was healthy enough to go back to the St. Louis Rams -- have needs changed?

Is an offensive lineman more of a priority in the draft, or maybe even a quarterback. Or is Watkins still Kiper’s guy? Stay tuned ...

McShay Mock 3.0 reax: Raiders

March, 6, 2014
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Sticking with the Oakland-needs-a-playmaker storyline, ESPN NFL Insider draft guru Todd McShay has unveiled his Mock Draft 3.0 Insider and adhered to such thinking when it comes to the Oakland Raiders.

McShay has the Raiders selecting Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins at No. 5 overall now, after having Oakland go with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in his second mock and selecting Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles in his initial mock.

The selection of Watkins, who caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, did come with a caveat, though.

“I think that if Bortles or (Louisville QB Teddy) Bridgewater drops to the Raiders at No. 5 they’d be very happy,” McShay wrote, “but if not they’d love to trade back (I’m not sure that Manziel is what they're looking for at QB). This is a team with holes all over the roster, so being able to trade back and pick up a guy like WR Mike Evans, CB Justin Gilbert or OT Zack Martin later while also stockpiling extra picks would be ideal.”

Makes sense. A year ago the Raiders fell in love with Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden and traded back from No. 3 overall to No. 12 and still got their man. Now, whether Hayden should have been that selection is another topic for another day.

Rookie glance: WR Brice Butler

February, 25, 2014
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How acquired: Seventh-round draft pick (No. 209 overall) out of San Diego State

2013 season: Considered somewhat of a reach pick so late in the draft, Butler had NFL bloodlines as his father Bobby was a first-round pick and 12-year veteran as a defensive back with the Atlanta Falcons from 1981 through 1992. But Raiders receivers coach Ted Gilmore had the younger Butler at USC (Butler transferred to SDSU for his last season) and obviously liked him. Butler played in 10 games, starting two. He was active in the Raiders’ first seven games, and caught a pass in his first six NFL games, but none after Oct. 13. For the season, Butler caught nine passes for 103 yards, averaging 11.4 yards per catch.

Looking ahead: A “tweener” as a receiver -- he’s not a big possession guy, nor is he a prototypical burner. Being inactive for four of Oakland’s last five games, including the final three, might not bode well for his future with the Raiders, especially if they draft Sammy Watkins. But Butler has nice hands, he does appear to be ahead of 2012 draft pick Juron Criner on the depth chart, and veteran Jacoby Ford will be an unrestricted free agent.

The Raiders’ other 2013 rookies that finished the season on the roster: DT Stacy McGee, TE Mychal Rivera, RB Latavius Murray, TE Nick Kasa, LB Sio Moore, OT Menelik Watson, CB D.J. Hayden, DE Ryan Robinson, CB Chance Casey, S Shelton Johnson, WR Greg Jenkins, OG Lamar Mady, and QB Matt McGloin.

Raiders Twitter Mailbag

February, 15, 2014
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Let’s get right to the mailbag, shall we?

 
Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has made it clear he wants a playmaker, possibly with the No. 5 overall draft pick.

Apparently, our ESPN draft experts, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay , have listened and agree.

In their latest mock drafts, Kiper has the Raiders selecting Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, who was also his pick for Oakland in his first mock draft, while McShay sees Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel going to the Raiders. McShay had the Raiders taking Central Florida QB Blake Bortles in his first mock draft, when Oakland was in position to select third overall.

No doubt Watkins and Manziel are playmakers, and Kiper hedged his bet a bit.

“I think taking a QB is certainly in play here,” Kiper wrote, “but if the board breaks this way, the Raiders also could look to take the best wide receiver in the draft with Watkins, an electrifying talent who can make any QB look better with his blend of competitive pass-catching and exceptional running skills with the ball in his hands.”

McShay, meanwhile, said the Raiders need to upgrade at quarterback from Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin, which is understood, even if, as McShay points out, he has a “late-first-round grade” on Manziel.

McShay: “The NFL evaluators who have concerns about Manziel focus on his on- and off-field decision-making and lack of size (not his height, but whether his small frame can hold up over 16-game seasons, given his style of play), but the ones who love him focus on his special improvisational skills, creativity and running ability.”

If both players were still on the board, whom would you take?

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