As expected, both running back Darren McFadden and receiverreturner Jacoby Ford have been ruled out of the Raiders' game at Minnesota on Sunday, along with quarterback Jason Campbell (collarbone) and cornerback Chris Johnson (hamstringgroin) Both explosive playmakers are nursing sprained feet and neither has practiced since incurring his respective injury -- McFadden suffered a right mid-foot sprain against Kansas City on Oct. 23 and Ford hurt his left foot at San Diego last Thursday.Michael Bush will start again at running back and rookie Taiwan Jones should replace Ford returning kickoffs.Also, defensive tackle Richard Seymour (knee) is listed as questionable after not practicing again (he has not practiced since the Chargers game) as is free safety Michael Huff (ankle), who also sat out after suffering a setback.Still, coach Hue Jackson said he anticipates both Seymour, who was bothered by a sore ankle last week, and Huff, who has already missed the first two games of his career due to injury this season, being able to play Sunday."I'm probably like you," Jackson told reporters following practice Friday, "I was surprised (Seymour) wasn't able to go today, but that's part of it. Again, were going to make sure were going to caution on the side of health for this football team."And on Huff's chances, Jackson said, "We've got another couple of days, and I think we'll get there."Placekicker Sebastian Janikowski, meanwhile, was upgraded and practiced limited on Friday. Jackson said Janikowski was "about 97.2" percent healthy after straining his hamstring days before the Kansas City game.The rest of the Raiders' injury report for Friday, then:Did not practice, out: RB Darren MFadden (foot), WRKR Jacoby Ford (foot), QB Jason Campbell (collarbone),CB Chris Johnson (hamstringgroin).Did not practice, questionable: FS Michael Huff (ankle), DT Richard Seymour (knee).Practiced limited, questionable: S Mike Mitchell (ankle), FB Manase Tonga (knee), CB DeMarcus Van Dyke (hamstring).Practiced limited, probable: PK Sebastian Janikowski (hamstring), C Samson Satele (knee).Practiced full, probable: TE Kevin Boss (knee), S Matt Giordano (quadricep).
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.”
The Raiders were pretty darn good last season. A 12-4 record proved that point. There was plenty of talent on a team with a penchant for high-wire acts in victory that masked the fact there were holes on the roster.
They need to be filled for the Raiders to improve in 2017, and new players will be imported through free agency and the draft.
Left tackle Donald Penn is excited to see who gets added, but said there’s no doubt talent is coming to Oakland. He speaks for Raiders players, who have faith that general manager Reggie McKenzie will make the right moves.
“Things that Reggie has done in past drafts have been great, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he brings back towards us,” Penn said recently during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network. “We can’t wait to get back out there healthy. We’re ready to hit the football world with a storm.”
While new guys are coming, a few might head out. The Raiders have several unrestricted free agents. Penn wants to keep his guys around – he mentioned running back Latavius Murray by name -- though he has some ideas for McKenzie’s checklist.
The Raiders don’t need much with most key players under contract – the Raiders should be less active in free agency over past offseasons – but a few key components could put this team over the top.
“If we stick to Reggie’s plan, we’ll be great,” Penn said. “I know he’s going to have a great draft, add a couple little pieces here and there – maybe somebody in the secondary to help out a little bit.
"On offense, you could always use a weapon. Maybe we get another receiver to take (pressure off Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper), but we have a good nucleus right now.”