A top-five draft pick is a wake-up call to any organization, especially one that has been mired in mediocrity for the last few seasons.
For the Oakland Raiders, garnering the third overall draft pick is something of a mandate for change. General manager Reggie McKenzie is in a tough situation. He can't afford to miss with the pick, but he needs to take a risk if the team is to get back on track.
In terms of evaluating the Raiders' needs, it's difficult to find a starting point.
Under center, Carson Palmer and Terrelle Pryor will compete for the starting job. Pryor didn't do an awful job in the team's final game of the season against the Chargers, but Palmer has the experience factor and the Raiders' lack of success this season wasn't his fault.
Matt Miller reported that the Raiders really like West Virginia signal caller Geno Smith, and if the quarterback falls past the Chiefs (a scenario looking more likely every day) Oakland could consider adding him.
That said, Smith isn't as good as his inflated numbers suggest. The field general amassed a good total of his yards on wide receiver screens to dynamic playmakers like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. A system quarterback with a system arm, Smith doesn't project out as much more than a journeyman fringe starter in the league.
If the Raiders end up picking Smith, it should be the final nail in the coffin for the team's current scouting regime.
The offensive line is another potential need, and it's interesting to see just how bad Oakland was in that department in 2012. According to Pro Football Focus' final 2012 grades, Stefen Wisniewski and Jared Veldheer were the only Raider linemen who had a positive impact, while Cooper Carlisle didn't have a bad year either.
Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel would be a solid pick at No. 3, but he's not going to immediately turn around the fortunes of this franchise.
Defensively, the Raiders have a host of deficiencies and could consider players like Dee Milliner, Damontre Moore and Star Lotulelei (if the latter even falls), but none are true gamechangers and, outside of Lotulelei, it's doubtful that any would make a significant difference.
A few seasons ago, the Cincinnati Bengals had similar issues. In fact, the situations are very close.
The chart below shows the Bengals' 2010 offensive starters before the team went with A.J. Green and Andy Dalton in the draft. For context, the team went 4-12 (just like the Raiders' 4-12 2012 season) lost Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens that offseason and offensive linemen Kyle Cook, Bobbie Williams and Andrew Whitworth all had significantly worse seasons in 2011.
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The next chart shows the Raiders' 2012 offensive starters; note the similarities.
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Both teams got a solid effort from Carson Palmer, had a mediocre season from their lead running back (yes, we're ignoring Marcel Reece for the sake of argument), garnered an average output from the wide receiver corps, had a terrible year from their tight end and had an up-and-down year on the offensive line.
The Bengals went into the 2011 draft with an ultimate mandate to revive their offense. In the first round, Cincinnati chose A.J. Green, the consensus best wide receiver on the board, with the fourth pick. The next round, the team went with noodle-armed winner Andy Dalton.
Two playoff appearances later, the moves have worked out well.
In this year's draft class, California's Keenan Allen looks to be the best receiver on the board. It's doubtful he's picked before the Raiders' first-round selection.
If Oakland takes Keenan Allen, they'll have a significantly upgraded receiving corps and could make noise through the air next season.
He's no A.J. Green, but Allen has enough physical gifts to be an above-average No. 1 target.
Nabbing Allen would be a true coup for the Raiders, and though it may be a reach, picking the receiver third overall would reaffirm Oakland's commitment to winning the game through the air.
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