The Las Vegas Raiders draft class last season finished on an underwhelming note. However, in 2019 they hit on several picks, finding a few key starters. So who are the under-the-radar draft prospects in 2021?
Building through the draft is often the recipe for long-term success in the NFL. While pursuing veteran players in free agency is another team-building tactic, nothing quite compares to hitting on draft picks and having them on “team-friendly contracts” for the first four to five seasons of their career. Better yet, if the Raiders draft class can provide impact players in the late-rounds, it helps the franchise’s cap space flexibility with young playmakers on rookie contracts.
Two years ago the Raiders found extraordinary value on day three of the NFL Draft, selecting Maxx Crosby and Hunter Renfrow. Last year, the Raiders only made two draft selections on day three, picking offensive guard John Simpson and cornerback Amik Robertson — both of which played minor roles in their rookie campaigns.
This year, the Raiders are set to make four picks in rounds 4-7. So which under-the-radar prospects should the Raiders target on day three of the 2021 NFL Draft?
DE Cameron Sample, Tulane
The Raiders 2019 draft provided them with edge-rushers Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby. Both players have established themselves as starters in the league, but the Raiders still need a more impactful presence that can apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. On day three of the NFL Draft, most players are the developmental type. Nonetheless, Las Vegas has a lot of question marks at the depth of their defensive end position behind Ferrell and Crosby.
Tulane’s Cameron Sample stacked together four superior years in the American Conference. One aspect that has weighed down his draft stock was the competition in which Sample faced during his time at Tulane.
As Sample put the finishing stamp on his final college season, his efforts awarded him a Senior Bowl invitation. At the event, he held his own against several Power 5 offensive linemen — checking off a part of Sample’s uncertainties that will follow him during the draft process. His evolution from the college ranks to the NFL still feels like a project in the works. Although by drafting Sample, he provides the ability to find a hidden gem on the final day of the 2021 NFL Draft with his potential in the near future.
On Tuesday’s Silver and Black Today on Raider Nation Radio, Sports Illustrated’s Ric Serritella joined the show and spoke in great length about many late-round prospects.
“Not your prototypical body type — 6’1″ about 270 but can play up and down that defensive line, really held his own there down in Mobile,” Serritella said when talking about Sample’s week at the Senior Bowl. Cameron Sample was a guy I really thought made himself some money.”
CB Thomas Graham Jr., Oregon
The Raiders have set their foundation at cornerback in the previous two draft classes, selecting Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette. While both cornerbacks have displayed their highly aggressive style of play and hopeful future, developmental needs still remain. Outside of Mullen and Arnette, the Raiders don’t have any cornerbacks on the current roster who are locks to make the team for the 2021 season.
Oregon’s Thomas Graham Jr. took the field for the first time in almost a year at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl after he opted out of the 2020-2021 NCAA Football season. Graham busted his way onto the PAC-12 map as a freshman, totaling three interceptions. From that point on, Graham steadily improved as he recorded 28 pass break-ups and five interceptions over his final two seasons at Oregon.
Graham’s draft stock has taken a hit after not playing last season. However, there’s no indication that his game won’t translate. As a day three pick in this year’s 2021 NFL Draft, Graham has a steady floor who can provide depth for secondary-needy teams like the Raiders.
WR Whop Philyor, Indiana
The Raiders are no stranger to drafting wide receivers. Las Vegas selected two in last year’s draft and one in 2019. While they’ve set their core pass-catchers by drafting Henry Ruggs III and Hunter Renfrow to go along with tight end Darren Waller, the Raiders could presumably lose Nelson Agholor to free agency. Agholor had 48 catches, 896 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s a lot of production to replace for an offense that finished the season as a top 10 unit.
Indiana’s Whop Philyor put together his breakout season in 2019, recording 70 receptions, over 1,00 yards and five touchdowns. Philyor is Indiana’s all-time leader in double-digit catch games (7), ranks fourth in receptions (180), ninth in total yardage (2,067) and tied for 16th in touchdowns (12). He rounded out his college career in 2020 averaging just over nine yards per catch.
Philyor’s skill set in the NFL is suited to play slot receiver. Renfrow essentially has that position tied up, but Philyor can be used as a gadget weapon in Jon Gruden’s offense, lining up in a multitude of ways with the ability to return kicks and punts as well.
RB Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech
The Raiders have their primary rusher in Josh Jacobs. However, what they don’t have on the current roster is depth at the running back position. Last season Devontae Booker and Jalen Richard provided moderate contributions, but with Booker being a pending free-agent and Richard being more of a pass-catching running back, the Raiders draft needs presumably include adding a multi-dimension rusher to the mix.
Virginia Tech’s Khalil Herbert is a playmaker with a high potential despite his day three draft stock. Herbert flashed early in his college career at Kansas, working in a backfield by committee. Ultimately, he transferred to Virginia Tech for his final season, and that decision looks to pay large dividends for his NFL Draft stock.
After inserting himself into the Hokies backfield in 2020, Herbert set forth a quality resumé of what he can do as the No. 1 rusher in a team’s backfield. His vision through traffic and balance propelled him with 1,300 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns while averaging over 7.5 yards per carry.
Herbert was another player that Serritella highlighted on Raider Nation Radio: “I’m looking at Khalil Herbert from Virginia Tech. I saw him last year when he was at Kansas. 35-point underdogs, they come into Pittsburgh … and here comes Khalil Herbert rushing for 200-300 yards, putting the team on his back. They win the game outright because Khalil Herbert carries the team.”