How does the Oakland Raiders 2016 NFL Draft class look three years later?
The Oakland Raiders were feeling good about their franchise heading into the 2016 NFL Draft, as they had gone 7-9 in their first season with Jack Del Rio at the helm in 2015. Derek Carr was entering year No. 3 as a starter and was fresh off a Pro Bowl season. In addition, Khalil Mack was named a First-Team All-Pro in his second year in the league, while Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree combined for nearly 2,000 yards receiving.
The stage was set for the Raiders to take a big step forward in 2016, as they made some big moves prior the 2016 NFL Draft, bringing in both Kelechi Osemele and Bruce Irvin. Holding the No. 14 overall pick in round one, it appeared the team needed only a couple more pieces to be a playoff contender, a label they had not had in over 10 years.
Sports Illustrated loved this draft class for the Raiders, as Karl Joseph was seen as a nice get at No. 14 overall. Joseph had injury issues at West Virginia, but he had a reputation as being a hard-hitting safety, which was a piece this team was missing heading into 2016. Shilique Calhoun and Jihad Ward were two players who were expected to help the defense, and running back DeAndre Washington was supposed to bring versatility to the position group. Finally, Connor Cook was brought in to be the backup to Derek Carr.
FanSided was not as bullish on the draft class, although they did like the selections of both Joseph and Calhoun, who they believed could be steal in the third round. Cook was a solid quarterback at Michigan State, and Ward was a guy who was expected to make an impact.
Round 1 (No. 14)
Safety, West Virginia
Current Team: Oakland Raiders
The Raiders needed help in their secondary heading into the draft back in 2016, so it would make sense that they would add Joseph. While he was taken higher than most expected, he was supposed to be cut out of the mold of those old Raiders safeties—players who were not afraid to come up and make the big hit. Head coach Jack Del Rio was a defensive-minded guy, so Joseph made sense in the first round.
Unfortunately, it has taken him quite a while to become a legitimate starter for Oakland, as he took a big step forward in 2018. Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal was taken three picks later by the Atlanta Falcons, and while he would have helped the Raiders sooner, the story is still out as to whether or not Joseph will be an actually better player down the road.
Joseph has started 32 of his 40 NFL games so far through three seasons and is still only 25-years old. There is a lot of good football left in him, and the hope is that second-year defensive coordinator Paul Guenther can continue to mold him into an elite safety.
Round 2 (No. 44)
Current Team: Indianapolis Colts
Ward was the first of two defensive ends taken by the Raiders in 2016, and he was given a chance to be an impact player early on for the Silver and Black. Ward started 13 of the Raiders 16 games in 2016 and appeared in all of them, but an ankle injury would seriously injure him in year two. The team decided to trade him to the Dallas Cowboys for wide receiver Ryan Switzer prior to the 2018 NFL season, and he was eventually cut by the team.
He signed on with the Indianapolis Colts for the 2018 campaign, but the injury bug struck again and he was placed on injured reserve. For the Raiders, Ward was a bit of a gamble, as he was coming off a knee injury in college. Had they went with a wideout in this round, Oakland could have gotten Pro Bowler Michael Thomas, who was taken three picks later.
Round 3 (No. 75)
DL, Michigan State
Current Team: Free Agent
Shilique Calhoun was selected by the Raiders in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and to this day, his career has yet to take off. In fact, he has landed on season-ending injured reserve twice already, including the 2018 NFL season, where he appeared in only seven games. Over his three-year career in the Silver and Black, Calhoun has yet to start a game and has appeared in only 26 out of a possible 48 games. Oakland needed to address the cornerback spot in 2016, and they should have went with Kendall Fuller, who was picked a few selections later.
Round 4 (No. 100)
QB, Michigan State
Current Team: Detroit Lions
For the second time in consecutive rounds, the Raiders selected a member of the Michigan State football program. This time, they added a piece to the offensive side of the ball, although it was quite a head-scratcher. With the No. 100 overall pick, Oakland tapped Connor Cook, who had a strong arm during his time with the Spartans, but had really no chance to improve this roster.
Utilizing a fourth round pick for a guy you know is going to be a backup is not good business, and while Cook did start the playoff game for the Raiders when Derek Carr went down due to injury, it would be the only start of Cook’s career. The Raiders released Cook when they traded for A.J. McCarron last summer, ending his run with the team and possibly his NFL career.
Round 5 (No. 143)
RB, Texas Tech
Current Team: Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders needed some depth at the running back position heading into the 2016 NFL Draft, and they got some in the person of DeAndre Washington. The speedy running back from Texas Tech has made his mark on the franchise since coming to the team, and he was well worth the No. 143 overall selection that April.
Washington has helped Oakland in both the return game and out of the backfield, though he was not used as much when Jon Gruden took over as head coach in 2018. The Raiders have major decisions to make about running back heading into 2019, and Washington could end up being the odd man out. To make matters worse, Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard was picked seven picks later.
Round 6 (No. 194)
LB, Colorado State
Current Team: Free Agent
Late in the 2016 NFL Draft, Oakland made Colorado State linebacker Cory James their sixth round pick, and head coach Jack Del Rio gave him every chance to shine as a rookie. James appeared in all 16 games for the Silver and Black, making five starts, and played a key role on the defense for a lot of the season.
Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury in year two, and when he failed a physical designation in 2018, he was released by the team. James was once considered the Raiders answer to their issues at linebacker, but he has not played in the NFL since the 2017 season.
Round 7 (No. 234)
Current Team: Free Agent
Vadal Alexander should have been an absolute steal in the seventh round, as he was originally projected as a second or third round pick. Alexander did not perform well at the Combine, which is likely why he dropped to the seventh round, and while he played a bit early on, his career in Oakland ended unceremoniously. Alexander was suspended for testing positive for PEDs in May of 2018, and when he did not show up for training camp in July, Jon Gruden and company released him. In the end, it was a waste of a pick.
Truth be told, after hitting home runs in 2014 and 2015, the 2016 NFL Draft for the Raiders was one of the worst in team history. While Joseph has become a starter for the team at safety, only he, Calhoun, and Washington remain on the roster, and none of them have made significan contributions to the organization. There were some solid players selected after the Raiders made their picks in multiple rounds, and using a fourth on Cook still baffles me. This was supposed to be the draft that helped this franchise take it to the next level, and while the team did go to the playoffs after the 2016 NFL season, this group has not accounted for a single Pro Bowl.
While the experts felt this was a solid draft class immediately following the draft, this haul has turned into a negative cloud hanging over this franchise over the last three seasons. There has not been a single standout player from this group—only supporting cast-type guys—and only three are still a member of the franchise. General manager Reggie McKenzie and his staff have to take a big loss when it comes to this class.