Raiders Draft Grade: Las Vegas Remains Predictable, Draft Alex Leatherwood
Alex Leatherwood, Raiders, NFL Draft
Apr 29, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Alex Leatherwood (Alabama) with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell over video call after being selected by the Las Vegas Raiders as the number 17 overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft at First Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I mean, what do you expect Las Vegas Raiders fans?

Of all the teams in the league who seemed the easiest to peg in the run-up to the 2021 NFL Draft, none was easier than the Raiders it seems.

So predictable.

Predictably unpredictable that is.

Of the 32 players selected in the first round on Thursday, 31 of them could have been found in a mock draft somewhere. The 32nd belonged — once again — to the Raiders.

It was almost three years to the day from when they reached for Kolton Miller — a projected first-round pick who nobody expected to be off the board at No. 15. Two years to the day from when they grabbed Clelin Ferrell at No. 4, despite his projections landing somewhere in the mid-to-late teens. Heck, even one year ago they surprised everyone by making Henry Ruggs III the first receiver drafted and then added Damon Arnette — a mostly second-round projection — at No. 19. To spare any Raider fans reading this, I’ll stop there and not mention the reaches found beyond the first round.

Now if you want to be an optimist — and I generally do — then you’d look at that list and point to how well Miller has panned out. In fact, you could argue now that he’d go far higher than 15th in a redraft situation. And hey, the Raiders’ new first-round pick — Alex Leatherwood — is also an offensive tackle! Maybe that is the secret sauce!

But regardless of this all, the point remains: unless the Raiders hit more of these reaches out of the park (Arnette and Ruggs still have time to prove Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden right), the question about whether or not the understand value will remain.

I laughed at this tweet from Vincent Bonsignore, a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and a guy many see as an organizational advocate:

When I read it I wondered: Do the Raiders really believe that their board is just as out-of-sync with the likes of Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay, Daniel Jeremiah, and Dane Brugler as everyone else in the league? In a way, I wouldn’t be surprised with the lack of self-awareness, but the reality is that only one team’s board had a disconnect with the media — and that was their own.

Alex Leatherwood, Raiders
Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood (70) celebrates with the CFP National Championship trophy after beating the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Grading the Pick: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

I’ll say this for the Raiders: at least they got the position right.

As I sat stunned watching the draft, a friend asked if this was a worst-case scenario — and maybe it was the years of tortured draft watching, I’m not sure — but I was defiant in my “no”. It could have been a wide receiver, or even a linebacker — at least, I thought, they grabbed the offensive tackle they so desperately needed.

And to be fair to Leatherwood, the senior from the University of Alabama, he is expected to be a solid player. While you hope for better than “solid” at No. 17, we’re not talking about a guy who isn’t expected to make it in the league — we’re just talking about a guy who many believed fit better in the middle of the second round.

Going back to high school, Leatherwood was a five-star recruit who found the field as a freshman in 2017 before taking over as a starting guard in 2018. In 2019, he shifted to left tackle, where he blocked for both Tua Tagavailoa and Mac Jones — earning all-conference honors both years, while also sharing the title of the SEC’s top offensive lineman with teammate Landon Dickerson. He was also named a unanimous First-Team All-American in 2020.

On paper, he has everything you want in a right tackle — he has long arms (34 3/8″) and a huge wingspan — not to mention his 6’5″, 312-pound frame — along with some elite athleticism. His 35″ vertical placed him in the 96th percentile of offensive lineman, his 118″ broad jump placed him in the 99th percentile and his 4.96 40 placed him in the 90th percentile. Of course, for the Raiders the Alabama pedigree doesn’t hurt either.

One other thing to note about Leatherwood that shouldn’t go overlooked: He didn’t miss a game the past three seasons, starting all 41 games that Alabama played dating back to 2018.

Overall Grade: C-

I’ll give the Raiders a passing grade simply because they were so desperate for an offensive tackle — and they got one. The problem for me is the value. Christian Darrisaw, who I had No. 8 on my big board, was still available — as was Teven Jenkins from Oklahoma State, who I had No. 17 on my big board (and who remains undrafted thus far).

I hope Leatherwood has the Kolton Miller moment for himself in the coming years, and everyone with a barely passing grade gets laughed at — and he definitely has the tools necessary to make that possible. I just wish that one day the Raiders would make life easy for themselves and take the guy everyone’s telling them to.