Mayock: Plenty of draft options to help Raiders' interior pass rush

Mayock: Plenty of draft options to help Raiders' interior pass rush

The Raiders want a better interior pass rush. That’s no secret, especially after they finished 2016 with a league-low 25 sacks despite getting 18 combined from edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

Head coach Jack Del Rio said that was an issue at season’s end, and general manager Reggie McKenzie mentioned a desire to improve at every level of his defense.

He has a reputation for building a bully up front as he did on the offensive line. He can add players through free agency, but quality veterans cost a pretty penny during a time when prioritizing extensions for Derek Carr and Khalil Mack . The NFL Draft might provide an opportunity to strengthen the interior defensive front.

Respected NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said in a Monday conference call that there are plenty of interior options in a deep defensive draft. He says quality can be found when the Raiders pick first at No. 24 overall, or later in the selection process.

“I think there is really good depth in the first three or four rounds for the interior D-line,” Mayock said.

That’s good news for the Raiders. They’ll get a closer look at interior linemen during this week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, when prospects go under the microscope in workouts and meetings during a pivotal pre-draft gathering.

Florida’s Caleb Brantley and Michigan State’s Malik McDowell have been mentioned as possible late first-round options who might entice the Raiders at No. 24.

Mayock believes Brantley could help the Raiders inside, especially as a pass rusher.

“I think he's intriguing,” Mayock said. “He's a quick, one-gap guy. I don't think you want him playing three downs every snap. But as far as an ability to rush the quarterback and get an edge on interior offensive linemen, I think he's got that burst that you're looking for.”

The Raiders aren’t necessarily looking for a three-down player. They have some run-stopping specialists under contract next season, especially Justin Ellis. It’s possible Dan Williams gets released to create more cap room, but the Raiders could survive adding someone who can get after the passer inside.

McDowell is an intriguing prospect as well. He has immense natural talent and physical size – McKenzie prefers drafting big guys up front – though he needs refinement. Like Raiders 2015 second-round pick Mario Edwards Jr., McDowell was a five-star recruit out of high school who had some injury issues last season. He’s a versatile piece with a high ceiling at just 20 years old, and could work well with the line rotation and create havoc inside.

Edwards Jr. is capable of doing that when healthy. He missed most of last season with a hip injury, which left too much responsibility on raw rookie Jihad Ward and other unfit to getting a steady pass rush.

“I think he's one of those guys that can kick inside in sub packages,” Mayock said. “I think he's got that kind of size and versatility to play inside and out, and they really missed him.”

Mayock also mentioned interior options outside the first round, including Charlotte’s Larry Ogunjobi. He considers Ogunjobi a second-round pick with pass-rush ability and potential in the run game.

“There are some guys out there that can help even through the third round,” Mayock said.

The analyst mentioned UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes, Tulane’s Tanzel Smart, Auburn’s Montravius Adams and Iowa’s Jaleel Johnson as options through the third round.

There are other options at No. 24 overall, especially if quality interior defensive linemen are available in later rounds. The Raiders need help at interior linebacker and in the secondary. Latavius Murray could leave in free agency, and while there’s plenty of depth in that position group a Stanford product could interest the Raiders at No. 24.

“Who is going to help them? Is Christian McCaffrey on the clock at that point? Who could help the Oakland Raiders at No. 24?” Mayock said. “I think the running back situation is interesting. I'm not sure there are going to be any tackles at that point. I think they also have to look at linebackers and at 24, I think there are some interesting guys off the line linebackers also.”

McKenzie, Del Rio ‘unified since Day 1,’ ushering Raiders into next phase

McKenzie, Del Rio ‘unified since Day 1,’ ushering Raiders into next phase

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio have done three pre-draft press conferences now. They’ve got the routine down, knowing when to deflect questions, when to put people off the scent and, more importantly, how to seem unpredictable.

They were in lockstep again Friday, less than a week before the 2017 NFL Draft.

During their first, McKenzie offered one criticism of his head coach.

“Can you guys get Jack out of my office?” McKenzie said in 2015, with tongue firmly in cheek.

The rhetorical question was answered with a laugh. McKenzie was acknowledging how much Del Rio and staff wanted to support the scouting process. McKenzie ultimately pulls the trigger on draft day, but Del Rio has a loud voice in the room as he looks for players who fit his locker room and his schemes.

McKenzie has open ears, taking advice from the entire coaching staff while arranging his draft board. This time of year especially, coaches and scouts are working together.

“It’s been unified since Day 1,” Del Rio said. “Reggie and I are very unified and much on the same mission and that is to bring a world championship home to this organization. Everything we’re doing is attacking that, adding these impact players where we can.”

The pair was focused on improving a lackluster roster that featured Derek Carr and Khalil Mack but finished 3-13 the year before. Now their partnership is entering Phase II.

They must decide which players to add, and decide which previously drafted players to keep. There are some obvious extensions in the works, with Carr, Mack and Gabe Jackson. They had to let some homegrown talent go in free agency as they attempt to upgrade depth and build a championship roster that can build on last year’s success.

“There’s a whole different phase that we’re about to go through as an organization as you begin to mature, some of those players have to be re-signed or not. Those are decisions you have to make in all of this. This is year three for us working together and I feel like the relationship with the scouts and the coaches and the sharing of information is excellent. We want to continue to work that way.”

Locals among cornerbacks who can help Raiders early in NFL Draft

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AP

Locals among cornerbacks who can help Raiders early in NFL Draft

The Raiders have an opening in their secondary.

Finding a slot cornerback is a top priority with DJ Hayden now in Detroit. TJ Carrie is an option there, but the Raiders could add a young, versatile talent capable of taking a more prominent role down the line.

That’s true despite the fact Sean Smith signed a free-agent deal through 2019 last year and David Amerson received a contract extension through the 2020 season. Those contracts, however, become pay-as-you-go deals after this season.

The dead money goes away, freeing the Raiders to look for long-term upgrades if they see fit.

Head coach Jack Del Rio loves creating competition and depth, especially at such an important position in today’s NFL. The Raiders like larger, physical cornerbacks with ball skills, and there are plenty in this year’s draft.

Many analysts have the Raiders taking a cornerback at No. 24 overall, and that’s a realistic possibility. They could certainly look to help last year’s No. 24-ranked secondary in the early rounds.

Let’s take a look at some top options available in this week’s draft:

Good fits:There are quite a few quality cornerbacks who could be available at No. 24 overall, even if there’s an early run on the position.

Oakland native and Washington alum Kevin King visited the Raiders during the pre-draft process, and certainly fits what the Raiders like in a cornerback. He’s confident and aggressive, unafraid to use great physical traits to make plays on the ball. He’s tall and long and isn’t afraid to tackle.

USC’s Adoree Jackson has the quality ball skills the Raiders like, and is adept high-pointing the ball. Analysts say he can play several coverage techniques and has the agility to make up for mistakes. He can work in the slot, but at 5-foot-10 isn’t as tall as the Raiders like. They’d have to take him in the first round. He may not last beyond that.

San Jose native and Colorado product Chidobe Awuzie is another interesting local defensive back ready to turn pro. He can play outside or in the slot, and analysts say he has excellent one-on-one coverage skills but needs tackling work. He was a solid slot blitzer at Colorado, and could fill an immediate need crucial against so many three and four receiver sets.

Louisiana State’s Tre’Davious White has experience playing the slot, and could help right away there before transferring outside if asked. He can cover extremely well, though analysts say he isn’t much of a tackler. He might be a tweener as far as the Raiders are concerned, not worthy of the No. 24 pick but long gone before the Raiders pick in the second round.

Central Florida’s Shaquill Griffin visited the Raiders this spring, and rightfully so. A willing run defender with good ball skills and tackling ability who could be available in the third round should intrigue them.