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ALAMEDA – Draft classes shouldn’t be judged for a few seasons at least. In that vein, the regular-season opener is far too soon to evaluate. These kids haven’t played a meaningful snap yet.
A baseline for success should be every draftee making the roster. The Raiders are in prime position to see early returns from the 2014 draft class, which features three key starters, a major role player and a punt returner among eight selections.
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This is less about the Raiders misgivings and more about how these players performed in the preseason. It’s obviously uncertain how these players will fare in the regular season – there could be flops in the group – but it’s an encouraging sign for a Raiders team in desperate need of foundation pieces that so many young players are in position to produce early on.
“That’s a testament to our scouting department and what [General Manager] Reggie [McKenzie] has been able to do in the offseason,” head coach Dennis Allen said. “…I know I saw a stat where we’re the oldest team in football, but I think we’ve got some young guys that have a chance to develop and be cornerstone type of players for us.”
Here’s the 2014 draft class, and their expected roles this season:
OLB Khalil Mack (First round, No. 5 overall): Starting strongside linebacker, down lineman in nickel package and wildcard player in Raiders pass rush.
QB Derek Carr (Second round, No. 36 overall): Raiders starting quarterback, after beating out veteran Matt Schaub in the preseason.
LG Gabe Jackson (Third round, No. 81 overall): Starting left guard who should be a major factor in the run game.
DT Justin Ellis (Fourth round, No. 107 overall): Part of the rotation at defensive tackle, and should factor heavily into run defense.
CB Keith McGill (Fourth round, No. 116 overall): A developmental project. He should help on special teams. Not ready to be a contributor at cornerback.
CB TJ Carrie (Seventh round, No. 219 overall): In the running to be the No. 3 or No. 4 cornerback, but will be the primary punt returner.
DL Shelby Harris (Seventh round, No. 235 overall): More of a power rusher who can play some inside. He needs refinement.
SS Jonathan Dowling (Seventh round, No. 247 overall): The Raiders see potential, but he needs to bulk up and develop before being asked to produce defensively.