Raiders 2023 Draft Was A Mix Of Celebration And Confusion
Tyree Wilson, Raiders
Apr 27, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson reacts after being selected by the Las Vegas Raiders seventh overall in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing fires up a Las Vegas Raiders fan more than the draft — and I don’t always mean positively. Yes, we’re used to drafting high, but unfortunately, we’re also used to whiffing with those premium draft picks, and so when the 2023 NFL Draft kicked off on Thursday there was a sense of apprehension in the air.

To be honest, it’s like those guys (and apparently girls) who compete in the ridiculous sport of slap fighting: you know the pain is coming, the only questions are when and how much. Raiders fans knew there would be the drafting equivalent of a swift kick to the groin, the only question was when.

The good news? It wasn’t that early.

Tyree Wilson, Roger Goodell, Raiders
Apr 27, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Las Vegas Raiders seventh overall in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Round 1 (7): Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech

Everyone knew who the Panthers were taking No. 1, but the five picks between them and the Raiders were a certified mystery. By the time the Raiders found themselves on the clock, the top three quarterbacks, EDGE rusher Will Anderson Jr., cornerback Devon Witherspoon and offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. were also off the board. That meant the Raiders had options: Christian Gonzalez, the other elite corner in this class; Jalen Carter, the super talent with off-the-field concerns; and Peter Skoronski, another highly related offensive lineman, would all have been defensible selections, and yet the Raiders went with the high-end EDGE rusher in Wilson.

At 6’6″, 271 pounds, and with an 86″ wingspan (that’s one inch shorter than Giannis Antetokounmpo in case you’re wondering), Wilson has the physical structure of a create-a-player in Madden. That’s not to say he’s the perfect prospect, but I think he had the highest ceiling of any pass-rusher in the draft (including Anderson), and he’s dropping into the perfect learning situation if he hopes to get there with Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby as teachers.

Grade: A

EDGE wasn’t the greatest position of need on the Las Vegas roster, but it’s arguably the second most valuable position on the field, and so the Raiders did well to maximize the pick value here. By Week 6, Wilson is going to be making a name for himself in the silver and black.

Michael Mayer, Raiders
Oct 8, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Michael Mayer (87) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Brigham Young Cougars during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Round 2 (35): Michael Mayer, TE, Norte Dame

The Raiders moved up three spots to grab Mayer after a guy many considered to be the best tight end in the draft (and a sure-fire first-round pick) fell to Day 2. With the departure of Darren Waller, there was a need to fill this position long-term — even with the additions of OJ Howard and Austin Hooper — and so adding Mayer was another home run pick for Dave Ziegler and Co.

If you go back to when the New England Patriots had one of the best offenses in the league under Josh McDaniels, the tight end position was always prominently featured — and so Mayer was a name I had circled when the second round began. Not only can he catch the ball, but he was widely regarded as the most well-rounded tight end from a blocking perspective as well, ala a Mark Andrews type. In fact, Ziegler said afterward that Mayer was one of the top 15 players on their draft board — so this was a great marriage of value and need.

Grade: A

This was an example of the Raiders letting the draft come to them a little bit, and then getting aggressive when they needed to in order to get their guy. The cost to move up three spots was pick No. 141, which is nothing when you consider they essentially added a second first-round pick in making the move. He may not be Darren Waller athletically, but he’s probably a more natural fit for what McDaniels is hoping to do.

Byron Young, Raiders
Sep 24, 2022; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Byron Young (47) pressures Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback AJ Swann (13) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama won 55-3. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Round 3 (70): Byron Young, DT, Alabama

Aaaaand here’s where things started to get off the rails a little bit (with all due respect to Young). The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had Young as the No. 113 player on his big board, calling him a “rotational depth piece”, while ESPN’s Todd McShay had him as the No. 114 player and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah had him at No. 109 — just to give you a sense of the consensus on Young.

Among the players still on the board at this point were Trenton Simpson (LB, Clemson), Riley Moss (CB, Iowa) and Daiyan Henley (LB, Washington State) — all of whom would have filled a huge need on the Raiders roster.

Grade: C

I like the idea of grabbing an interior defensive lineman, but Young wasn’t the guy (and this wasn’t the value) I was hoping for. Grabbing a defensive end and tight end in the first two rounds made sense because of how the board fell, but at some point, the Raiders needed to add a starting-caliber linebacker, cornerback or offensive lineman — and this felt like that spot.

Tre Tucker, Raiders
Nov 19, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats wide receiver Tre Tucker (1) celebrates his touchdown catch against the Temple Owls during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Round 3 (100): Tre Tucker, WR, Cincinnati

Foot, meet groin.

What in the world are we doing here?! The Raiders were doing so well! Sure, Young was disappointing — but the position was defensible, and he went to Alabama, so fine. But…a slot receiver in round three?!?

At the time of the pick, this was the biggest reach of any selection in the entire draft compared to the ESPN ranking (+122 spots) — and even that alone isn’t my biggest issue with this pick.

The Raiders didn’t need to reach, and they definitely didn’t need to reach for a 5’9″ slot receiver when Hunter Renfrow is already on the roster (alongside Jakobi Meyers, Davante Adams and second-round pick Michael Mayer). The worst part for me was hearing Ziegler talk about the pick afterward, and specifically how quickly he talked about Tucker’s ability on special teams as a gunner. I joked on Twitter: if this comment comes 90 seconds into a scouting report on a third-round pick, fine — but not 10 seconds like in this case.

Grade: F-

The Raiders traded Darren Waller for a guy who was graded as a Day 3 prospect (at best) at a position that may have been last on my list of roster needs. Ridiculous.


Round 4 (104): Jakorian Bennett, CB, Maryland

When you get to Day 3, the standards I’m comparing folks to have fallen off a cliff. Day 1 and 2 guys need to be starters within 12-18 months of being drafted, whereas guys selected in the fourth round or later I’m just hoping will make the roster and make an impact one way or another. The good news here is that the Raiders finally addressed their massive need at corner with one of the fastest players in the draft — so this one grades out well for his position alone.

Grade: B+

I’m not sure Bennett is a surefire starter, but he’s basically guaranteed a roster spot given the situation he is walking into. They chose him over guys like Kelee Ringo and Clark Phillips, so this will be an interesting one to see how that group compares as time goes on.

Aidan O'Connell, Raiders

Round 4 (135): Aidan O’Connell, QB, Purdue

We knew the Raiders were going to draft a quarterback at some point, and apparently, O’Connell was the guy they liked best after the top five were taken. When you read O’Connell’s scouting report he sounds like a bootleg version of Mac Jones: smart and accurate, but unathletic and lacking elite arm strength. If O’Connell is the backup for the next 4 years, then this pick will be considered a success.

Grade: B

Positionally this was a need, and I didn’t feel super strongly about any of the quarterbacks left on the board when this pick was made, so…sure. I’d still have preferred another corner, or a linebacker or a guard here, but that’s just nitpicking.

Christopher Smith, Raiders
Oct 3, 2020; Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart talks to defensive back Christopher Smith (29) during the game against the Auburn Tigers during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Round 5 (170): Christopher Smith, S, Georgia

According to both Brugler and McShay’s rankings, this pick was good value (Jeremiah’s rankings only featured a top 150) — and once again, Ziegler drafted at a position of immense need. Add in the pedigree of a guy who started for the two-time National Champions, and there’s a lot to like about this pick.

Grade: A-

The reason Smith dropped was because he’s a bit undersized for a safety, but if he could make it work at Georgia there’s reason to believe he can make it work as a rotational safety for a team that is desperate for talent at that position.

Amari Burney, Raiders
Oct 29, 2022; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators linebacker Amari Burney (2) reacts after intercepting a pass against the Georgia Bulldogs during the second half at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Round 6 (203): Amari Burney, LB, Florida

Burney wasn’t even ranked most places, but the more I learn about him, the more intrigued I am. At 6’1″ and 233 pounds, Burney has bounced around throughout his college career — coming in as a defensive back before transitioning to more of a weak-side linebacker. This feels like the type of guy you stash on the practice squad for a year in hopes that through coaching and development, he becomes the type of guy who can find the field as a nickel linebacker.

Grade: B

Linebacker was a position of need, and while Burney doesn’t have the type of production that screams “contributor”, this is the type of prospect I like taking a shot on. If you squint a little bit, you can see the pieces needed to be a long-term part of the organization. 

Nesta Jade Silvera, NFL Draft, Raiders
Nov 25, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils defensive lineman Nesta Jade Silvera (4) against the Arizona Wildcats during the Territorial Cup at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Round 7 (231): Nesta Jade Silvera, DT, Arizona State

I got one!

If you followed my “Pick or Pass” series at all, the final piece was Mock Draft 2.0, and Silvera was a guy I had the Raiders taking (in the 6th round, in fact). I won’t pretend to know much about him, but he made the rankings of both Brugler and McShay and is yet another defensive lineman for the Raiders to throw into the mix. That position group has been a black hole (especially on the interior), and so the more swings they take, the better.

Grade: B+

The “plus” is for listening to me and using a pick on Silvera

Dave Ziegler, Raiders
Aug 26, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler reacts during the game against the New England Patriots at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports


For a day and a half, the Raiders were crushing this draft. Wilson and Mayer were both home run picks — guys who were elite talents at positions of relative need and who just so happened to fall to where the Raiders were picking. And ultimately, those two picks will go the longest way toward determining whether or not this year’s draft is a success.

That said, the two third-round picks which presented an opportunity to keep the positive momentum rolling ended up derailing the optimism altogether. Instead of adding two impact guys, it feels like they added two depth pieces — which isn’t ideal for top 100 picks. Day 3 was fine — nothing special, but they grabbed a bunch of guys who fit holes on the roster. If there’s one massive question that I leave the draft asking it’s this: where are the offensive linemen?

There were rumors the Raiders were considering Johnson with the No. 7 pick, but when Arizona moved up to get him, the Raiders understandably grabbed Wilson. To leave the draft with zero offensive linemen, however, seems like a miss.

Grade: B+

They nailed the two most valuable picks, making the 2023 Draft a success in totality, even if the joy didn’t last all weekend.