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NFL mock draft: Will Raiders target defense in the first round?

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The NFL Draft is nearly three months away, but draft season is already in full swing. While underclassmen still have until March 1 to decide if they want to return to school or enter the draft, the Senior Bowl has already taken place and mock drafts are being pumped out at what is surely a record pace, so let’s jump in with our own predictions for the first round.

Las Vegas Sun staffers Case Keefer, Mike Grimala and Dave Mondt take turns selecting, with each offering their take on what the Raiders will do with the 17th overall selection.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Let’s kick this off with a hot take: I’m not entirely convinced Lawrence is far and away the best quarterback option in this draft and think an argument could be made for Justin Fields or Zach Wilson. But it’s clear the Jaguars don’t share that view; they’re taking Lawrence. — Case

2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

The Jets might blow up this entire exercise by trading for Deshaun Watson, but for now they’re staying put and taking Wilson, who can throw accurately from the pocket and on the move. — Mike

3. Miami Dolphins: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was disappointed with his performance as a rookie. Giving him an elite downfield prospect — and a guy who was the leading man on the same team as record-setting rookie Justin Jefferson — gives Miami a chance to field an offense as good as its defense. — Dave

4. Atlanta Falcons: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Atlanta ignores cries to bring Fields home and goes with the best player on the board. The Falcons could be a contender in the NFC South if they catch some breaks, and Sewell helps reach that goal quicker than the hometown quarterback prospect. — Case

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama

It seems like yesterday that the Bengals swung and missed on speed receiver John Ross in the top 10, but that won’t stop Cincy from taking Smith here as they continue to build around Joe Burrow. Adding the Heisman winner to a receiving corps that includes Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd is setting up their franchise QB for success. — Mike

6. Philadelphia Eagles: Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama

The Eagles defense ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in completion percentage and yards per completion allowed, and their best cornerback, Darius Slay, is 30 years old. Surtain is big, fast and athletic, and would start from Day One. — Dave

7. Detroit Lions: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

The rugged Parsons is almost too perfect a pick for a team whose focus is kicking teeth and biting kneecaps. That is the Lions’ focus, right? — Case

8. Carolina Panthers: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

It will be viewed as a slide if Fields lasts this long on draft day, but his virtual green room experience ends now, as there’s no way the Panthers pass on nabbing their quarterback of the future. — Mike

9. Denver Broncos: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

If trades were allowed, the Broncos would surely have put together a package to move up a few spots for Fields. Lance is no consolation prize, though, having accounted for 3,886 yards and 42 touchdowns with zero interceptions in his one full season as a starter in 2019. — Dave

10. Dallas Cowboys: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

The Cowboys desperately need another playmaker in their defensive backfield to pair with the promising Trevon Diggs, a second-round pick at cornerback from a year ago. They’d probably love to reunite Diggs with Surtain, but with the former Alabama teammate off the board, Farley could work in the role. — Case

11. New York Giants: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan

The Giants could use another pass catcher, but Paye’s potential as a pass rusher is too much to pass up. — Mike

12. San Francisco 49ers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

The defensive backs room is almost empty now, with eight players entering free agency. But left tackle is a more pressing need, as starter Trent Williams, 33, is also an unrestricted free agent. Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offensive genius is wasted if his quarterback can’t stay healthy. — Dave

13. Los Angeles Chargers: Sam Cosmi, OT, Texas

The Chargers’ offense could catapult into the league’s top 10 next season if they fix some of their issues up front. Cosmi could provide immediate help in the area. — Case

14. Minnesota Vikings: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Kirk Cousins is set to make $45 million in 2022, but the Vikings can save $35 million by trading (or releasing) him and replacing him with Jones. Minnesota will draft the “next Cousins” here and develop him for a year before handing over the reins. — Mike

15. New England Patriots: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

The Patriots drafted two tight ends last year and got a combined five catches out of them. If any team knows how to run multiple-TE sets to power an offense, though, it’s the Patriots. They won’t pass on a uniquely freakish athlete such as Pitts. — Dave

16. Arizona Cardinals: Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State

With Patrick Peterson appearing to be on his way out via free agency, the Cardinals are likely to address their defensive backfield early in the draft. That might lead to talking themselves into the upside of Wade, who had a disappointing season with the Buckeyes but has the tools to be an NFL difference-maker. — Case

17. Las Vegas Raiders: Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami

The Raiders need help everywhere on defense, so any number of players would be acceptable here and little will truly be known about the direction of the pick until free agency. A free safety is and has been a desperate need for a long time, but given how young the secondary is already, a veteran ballhawk would be wiser to bring in and patrol center field in new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s preferred Cover-3 scheme. An elite interior defensive lineman, such as Christian Barmore of Alabama, would make everyone else’s job easier on defense, and the Raiders could lose both starters Maliek Collins and Jonathan Hankins, who are unrestricted free agents. But elite pass rushers are coveted commodities in the NFL, and the 6-foot-7, 253-pound Rousseau has the goods to be a special one. Despite having played just one year on the defensive line in high school, Rousseau showed polish there in his one full season at Miami. Adding him to the rotation can only help the Raiders’ secondary as it aims to improve on its third-down defense, where opponents converted 48.8 percent of their attempts last year. — Dave

17. Las Vegas Raiders: Azeez Ojulari, LB/DE, Georgia

If the Raiders don’t pick a defensive player here, it should be a seen as a failure. Heck, if they don’t find a defensive player who proves to make an immediate impact here, it should be seen as a failure. A defensive back might be the wisest direction to go in, but there’s more talent available in the edge-rushing ranks with the way this mock has gone so far. Las Vegas is telegraphing that edge-rushing is where it wants to go anyway with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley pledging to build his unit around getting to opposing quarterbacks. Rousseau is considered a better prospect than Ojulari, but that’s exactly why I’m not quick to slot the Hurricane to the Raiders. Do the Raiders ever go with conventional wisdom at their desired position? Instead, it seems like general manager Mike Mayock has kept up a time-honored tradition of the franchise homing in on their guy and taking him even if he could likely trade down and secure him later. Ojulari could be their guy as a quick, playmaking pass-rusher who would fit well with Bradley’s plans. — Case

17. Las Vegas Raiders: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State

Everyone expects the Raiders to go defense with their first-round pick, clearly, and there are plenty of holes on that side of the ball that require fixing. But I bet when Jon Gruden goes to bed each night, the thing that keeps him up is Las Vegas’ running game. The team finished 20th in yards per rush (4.2) and though Josh Jacobs made the Pro Bowl, he regressed big-time from his rookie-year production (4.8 yards per attempt in 2019 to 3.9 in 2020). Enter Jenkins, who at 6-foot-6, 320 pounds was considered the best run-blocking tackle in college football this season. Jenkins can start immediately at right tackle, which serves the dual purpose of allowing Vegas to bid farewell to high-priced bust Trent Brown and giving the Raiders two young bookends on the offensive line for the next decade. The team can then use the money saved on Brown’s contract to bring in that much-needed defensive help via free agency. — Mike

18. Miami Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

There are more than a few draftniks who believe Waddle is a superior NFL prospect to his college teammate, Devonta Smith. The Dolphins add another dangerous weapon for Tua Tagovailoa, who in this mock scenario now has Waddle and Ja’Marr Chase split out wide. Wow. — Mike

19. Washington Football Team: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

The Football Team, having missed out on the first-round quarterback prospects, instead turns its attention to protecting whomever that quarterback turns out to be. All of the team’s quarterbacks suffered injuries at some point or another last season, so adding Darrisaw, whose 2020 season graded out by Pro Football Focus the same as Penei Sewell’s 2019 season, fits the bill. — Dave

20. Chicago Bears: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

The Crimson Tide’s big night continues as the national champions see a sixth player go in the draft’s top 20. The Bears have a choice of several offensive linemen that would make sense here, but none are as proven as Leatherwood. — Case

21. Indianapolis Colts: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

Quarterback? Left tackle? Why try to fill those important positions when the Colts can snag the receiver who has gone viral for his ability to change direction, separate and break tackles. — Mike

22. Tennessee Titans: Zaven Collins, OLB, Tulsa

Collins is one of my favorite players in this draft. He’s always around the ball, and makes plays as a pass rusher, in coverage and against the run. Marrying him to a 3-4 team like the Titans, who are desperate for playmaking defenders, is a natural fit. — Dave

23. New York Jets: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Having already taken Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick, the Jets turn their focus to giving the quarterback more weapons to work with. Bateman could continue in the current line of rookie receivers who contribute significantly right away. — Case

24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Wyatt Davis, OG, Ohio State

Offensive tackle is a need but there aren’t any left worth drafting in the first round, so the Steelers pluck Davis here and stick him right in the starting lineup on the interior of the line. — Mike

25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Christian Barmore, DT, Jacksonville

With the first pick, the Jaguars got the centerpiece of their offense for the next 10 years or more. With this, they get the centerpiece of their defense, a unit that was gashed by opposing running backs to the tune of 153 yards a game and 23 touchdowns last year — and faces Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor in its division. — Dave

26. Cleveland Browns: Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn State

Despite Myles Garrett putting together the best all-around season of his career, Cleveland still ranked 20th in sack rate this year. The Browns need a worthy complement for their franchise edge-rusher, and Oweh could be the guy. — Case

27. Baltimore Ravens: Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami

Baltimore is desperate to add receiving talent, but the first wave of wideouts has already evaporated. The Ravens pivot nicely though, taking Phillips to slide in as a potential long-term replacement for free agent pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue. — Mike

28. New Orleans Saints: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

The Saints’ roster is loaded, and they shouldn’t lose much other than future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees this offseason. That gives them the freedom to draft the best player available, which in this case happens to be the son of former Saints Pro Bowl receiver Joe Horn. — Dave

29. Green Bay Packers: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

Motivated by Mike’s, I mean, the simulated Ravens’ belief that all the best receivers were already off the board, Moore stays healthy and has a terrific rookie season catching passes from Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay won’t ignore its need for another receiver for another year in the draft. — Case

30. Buffalo Bills: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

If the Bills want to juice up their running game — and they should — they’d probably be better off taking the best interior lineman on the board. But it’s hard to pass up Harris, who rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior. — Mike

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

The Bucs will be hard-pressed to pay both Shaquil Barrett and Lavonte David this offseason. If Owusu-Koramoah can add a little weight to his listed 6-foot-1, 216-pound frame — only two linebackers under 220 pounds have been drafted at all in the past 20 years, and they went in the fifth and seventh rounds — they could have themselves another Derrick Brooks, who at the time he was drafted was also considered undersized. — Dave

32. Kansas City Chiefs: Jevon Holland, S, Oregon

The Chiefs erred by not going defense with their first-round pick a year ago. They won’t err again, especially not with a promising, versatile prospect like Holland still available to close the first round. — Case

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