Jaylon Smith is the Raiders’ man

With the 14th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, the Oakland Raiders select Jaylon Smith, linebacker, Notre Dame.

That’s what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should say in Chicago later this spring. And if he does, if Smith is still available after a brutal knee injury suffered in early January, the Raiders will have hit on three of three first round picks.

Smith was a top five pick, with almost nothing in the way of that. Then he tore his ACL during a bowl game just a few days ago, and now it’s possible that he fall to the Raiders.

That is, of course, if the junior declares for the draft, something that was all but certain before his injury.

The 6-foot-2, 235 pounder finished the 2015 season with 115 tackles, nine tackles for loss and a sack. His biggest strength, though, is one that is difficult to quantify.

Smith’s quickness and agility make him one of the best linebacking prospects of the last decade or more, showing a unique ability to move sideline to sideline like a defensive back yet lay the wood as if he were a steam train.

His college tape shows little weakness, and he shows up within 10 yards of the ball on roughly 90 percent of plays. He’s a mix of Luke Kuechly and Dee Ford, with the best aspects of his coverage skills complimenting the superior run defender Smith is.

The biggest question with Smith is where to put him — he appears to cover well enough to match up against any NFL tight end at SAM linebacker, but projects well in the middle, too.

This all hinges on a proper recovery, though, and the odds that Smith will be available after 13 picks is a toss up.

10 of the first 13 teams picking have a clear need at linebacker, and one of those teams in San Diego, picking second. The New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys also have needs there, and Smith is the clear best, with UCLA linebacker Myles Jack gaining ground as the healthier option.

The Raiders will likely need to nail their top two picks this year to make it to the postseason in 2016, but if Smith is there, he has to be the guy they get.

Quick Draft Notes

The aforementioned Jack is a solid secondary option, and like Smith, one of the better linebacking prospects in the last 10 years. He’s not as fluid as Smith, but Jack flashes on tape and is about as safe of a pick as any.

The Raiders might decide to fortify their offensive line in the draft, specifically at right guard. Stanford bulldozer Joshua Garnett fits about everything the Raiders seem to look for.

He can pull well, and is often on the screen downfield when Cardinals running back Christian McCaffrey breaks off a big gain.

Garnett is 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, and should be highly coveted by all teams due to his diverse skillset and premium ability to run block.

Guards can be had in the later rounds, but in 2015 we saw three drafted in the first round with two going in the first nine picks.

It’s difficult to fathom the additions of Smith or Jack, and Garnett, not being major upgrades by week six of 2016 for the Raiders.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.