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Jon Gruden, Raiders, Derek Carr


5 under the radar free agency targets for the Oakland Raiders

At the NFL Combine, the Oakland Raiders revealed a little bit more about their strategy for free agency which begins next week.

Raiders GM Mike Mayock said he and the coaching staff spent time breaking down free agents. He said he is looking for players to fill holes as they move to Vegas.

Mayock also said he wants young players to come in fill holes, compete and move with them to Vegas. Previously, head coach Jon Gruden also said he wants blossoming young players.

Where can the Raiders find valuable, young players with their more than $70 million in cap space? How can they address so many holes in the roster? Here are under the radar free agents that make sense for the Raiders.

5. Preston Smith

Preston Smith, Redskins

Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

The edge class is stacked with players like Dee Ford, Frank Clark, Jadeveon Clowney, Trey Flowers and DeMarcus Lawrence who all hope to break the bank in free agency. That means a player like Preston Smith could easily fall into the bargain range of free agency.

Of course, Smith doesn’t have the Pro Bowls or sacks to find himself in that category. Still, he’s been one of the most durable and consistent players for the Washington Redskins over the past few seasons.

Smith hasn’t missed a game in his career and he’s been a starter every game since the beginning of the 2016 season. Smith has 24.5 sacks, four interceptions and four forced fumbles over his four-year career.

The 26-year-old can play as a defensive end or linebacker. However, the Raiders would make sense if he wants to try his luck as a full-time end and pass rusher. Smith fits the archetype of the Raiders defense as he is nearly the same size both Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap who played at a high-level under current Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther when he was in Cincinnati.

Thus, Smith could thrive with the Raiders and he’d be a reasonable fit. He also fits the character of being a young and blossoming player who could grow with the team as they move to Vegas.

Oakland could Za’darius Smith or Aaron Lynch who would bring similar age and versatility to the Raiders.

4. Denzel Perryman

Denzel Perryman

Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Speaking of depth, the linebacker position also offers tons of free agency options for the Raiders. Over the past few years, the Raiders have relied on stop-gap players towards the end of free agency. This is the year they should look at someone who could be a longer-term Raider.

Denzel Perryman makes sense for a number of reasons. Perryman has never played a full season and last year he only played nine games due to a knee injury. That should make the 26-year-old a bargain in free agency, despite the fact that he registered 226 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions over 42 career games.

Assuming Perryman is fully healthy, he can provide an upgrade over everyone the Raiders currently have at middle linebacker. Perryman is a thumper, run stuffer and brings both 4-3 and 3-4 experience who could help the Raiders address issues stopping the run.

Here’s the kicker with Perryman. He knows the AFC West due to his career with the Chargers. Not to mention, he should bring valuable insights on the Bolts’ offense too as L.A.C. is poised for another solid season.

Otherwise, Oakland could also consider Kwon Alexander who is also coming off an injury or Preston Brown who is coming off a down season.

3. Jay Ajayi

Jay Ajayi, Eagles

Jay Ajayi seems to be the forgotten player among this year’s running back free agents.

Pro Bowlers like Le’Veon Bell and Mark Ingram head the group. Tevon Coleman should also get a nice check. However, Ajayi helped Philadelphia secure a Super Bowl in 2017 and made a Pro Bowl with the Dolphins in 2017.

Ajayi missed most of last season with a torn ACL but he still averages over 4.5 yards per carry. 2016 was really his only season with extensive action as the feature back and he had over 1,200 rushing yards in 15 games.

The former Boise St. player would bring a combination of speed and power that easily fits into the Raiders scheme. In the pros, Ajayi never topped more than 27 catches. Still, he had 50 catches for over 500 yards in his last season at Boise. At the worst, Ajayi could bring an upgrade on third down.

Ajayi should be a bargain due to him coming off an injury as well as his fallout with the Dolphins in 2017. The 25-year-old is from London too which makes sense for the Raiders given their global appeal.

Other under the radar running backs for the Raiders consideration include T.J. Yeldon, Bilal Powell, Jacquizz Rodgers, Mike Davis, Ameer Abdullah or Chancandrick West.

2. Jimmie Ward

Jimmie Ward, 49ers

Next, the Raiders need to add some help to their secondary.

Jimmie Ward also only played in 16 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. However, the 28-year-old played every secondary position in his five-year career with the 49ers.

Ward’s numbers aren’t super impressive considering he only registered two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries over his career. Nonetheless, he could compete for playing time at safety, inside corner or outside corner for Oakland. He’d be a jack of all trades and a nice depth player for the Raiders to play with.

Don’t forget, Ward comes from San Francisco which means he won’t necessarily need to relocate to join the Silver and Black. That might help the Raiders secure a discount on signing Ward.

Otherwise, the Raiders may consider E.J. Gaines, Philip Gaines, Kayvon Webster, Sam Shields, Justin Bethel, Bashaud Breeland or Ron Parker for various roles in the secondary.

1. Jamison Crowder

jamison crowder

As for receiver, there is a variety of under the radar free agents that make sense for the Raiders.

Names like DeMaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb, Donte Moncrief, Pierre Garcon, Golden Tate, John Brown, Jermaine Kearse, Terrance Williams, Kevin White, Cole Beasley, Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Chris Conley, Tyrell Williams, Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess could all fill various roles for the Raiders receiving corps.

In fact, Oakland may need to sign more than one receiver as there isn’t a marquee guy at the position.

Still, Jamison Crowder makes sense for the Raiders for various reasons. First, Crowder brings scheme familiarity as the Redskins operate a similar offense to the Raiders since Jay Gruden is the younger brother of Jon. Additionally, Crowder brings speed to help the Raiders stretch the field but he is best at working the short to intermediate routes with his acceleration.

Crowder is an undersized receiver and he’s only started more than half the season once. The 25-year-old only appeared in seven games last year due to injury. He finished the year with 29 receptions, 388 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Either way, he’d be able to compete for an expanded role in the Raiders offense.

In the end, the Raiders have too many holes on their roster to invest heavily in any one player.

Instead, they’d be best pursuing under the radar free agents like Crowder and others on the open market.