Raiders head to NFL Combine looking for defense, RBs, depth

Raiders head to NFL Combine looking for defense, RBs, depth

The Raiders are headed for this week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis looking to refine and strengthen opinions on NFL draft prospects they’ve been studying all year.

General manager Reggie McKenzie has eight selections in this year’s NFL draft, starting with the 24th overall pick. That marks his latest start since 2012, when he didn’t have a first or second round pick.

Those selections were traded away. The No. 24 overall pick was earned with a 12-4 record in 2016 and the team’s first playoff berth since 2002.

When selecting that late, it’s hard to target a specific position. McKenzie would say he’ll take the best player available over a specific need every year, but that’s often required after the draft crop has been picked over. That’s also easier given the Raiders currently under contract. The 2017 roster is already strong, though there are areas to fortify this offseason.

McKenzie made it clear last month the Raiders defense must improve at every level. The Raiders need help on the interior defensive line, especially rushing the passer. They need assistance in the secondary, with immediate needs at cornerback and long-term assistance at safety. They need one interior linebacker solid in tackling and coverage, possibly two.

There are options possibly available at No. 24 who could help the Raiders in those areas.

Most mock drafts have the Raiders targeting defense in the first round with cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey (Alabama) and Tre’Davious White (LSU) getting regular mentions. Though it also must be mentioned nobody had the Raiders taking safety Karl Joseph No. 14 overall last year, and they pulled the trigger without hesitation.

Cornerback still could and likely should be a focus for the Raiders at this scouting combine.

“Then as far as a corner situation is concerned, this is a great corner class,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Monday in a conference call. “If you don't get one in the first round, you can come back in the second or third round and really help yourself.”

The Raiders spent big on Sean Smith and extended David Amerson, but adding young depth can increase options moving forward and strengthen a pass defense that wasn’t good enough. There’s playing time available in the slot next season, with DJ Hayden set to hit free agency.

Latavius Murray is also on course to hit the open market, which comes as no surprise. McKenzie prefers to use the market as a tool, and let it decide whether a player meets his valuation. That will be the case with Murray, who could price himself out of Oakland.

This is known as a deep draft class for running backs. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is an intriguing prospect head coach Jack Del Rio knows well – McCaffrey and Del Rio’s son Luke played prep football together – and might be a good fit.

The Raiders have proven adept plucking rushers from late rounds. Murray was taken in the sixth round. DeAndre Washington was a fifth-rounder and Jalen Richard was an undrafted diamond. The Raiders could use a bigger back to round out 2017’s run game, and there are options late.

Roster strength should also allow the Raiders to draft for depth that can become starters in time. They might need help at offensive tackle, free safety and receiver, positions with at least one older veteran.

While combine coverage will focus on top prospects, the scouting combine is a great resource to collect medical information and meet with a maximum of 60 college prospects. The tangible data collected at the combine is valuable, but is just one piece of a larger evaluation process. Game tape is of great value, and the combine helps cement opinions gather during a long scouting process.

The Raiders have proven to be solid talent evaluators, and will use this part of the pre-draft process to round out opinions of some players and figure out which options best suit their franchise heading into the future.

Lynch outcome should determine whether Raiders draft a running back

Lynch outcome should determine whether Raiders draft a running back

It’s officially NFL draft week. Marshawn Lynch still isn’t a Raider.

A contract impasse remained as of Sunday morning, a few days before general manager Reggie McKenzie’s desire for a by-Thursday resolution.

Deadlines, even soft ones, prompt deals. But Marshawn is unique, adding a level of uncertainty to procedings. 

The Raiders would prefer Lynch agree to terms on a new contract so they can acquire his rights from Seattle -- that’s the easier part – and know where they stand heading into the NFL Draft.

McKenzie left several doors cracked during a Friday pre-draft presser, saying Lynch’s presence wouldn’t stop him from drafting a rusher, not having the Oakland native wouldn’t guarantee it, and that there’s always a chance Lynch could come later no matter what happens during amateur selection.

Those things could be true. Or, you know, not. McKenzie prefers mystery this time of year.

Bottom line: The Raiders need a bigger back to pair with smaller, yet elusive runners DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.

The Raiders want Lynch to fill the void. Ditto for Raider Nation, especially the Oakland state. A few free-agent options remain, including LaGarrette Blount. Or the Raiders could draft a back, something the Raiders have done well in later rounds.

They got Latavius Murray in the sixth round four years back, and he provided quality before changing uniforms this offseason. They got Washington in the fifth last time and pulled Richard from undrafted free agency. They could mine talent again this year. Waiting seems more likely if Lynch is around. 

Quality abounds in this draft class, with several worthy of early selections and talent easily found late. Let’s inspect McKenzie’s draft options at running back, should he need one:

Good fits: It’s hard to see the Raiders looking at a rusher in the first round, considering the draft’s depth at the position and major defensive needs. A first-round talent might be considered in the second. If controversial former Oklahoma rusher Joe Mixon is available following a free fall due to off-field issues described in detail here, a running back might come early.

Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara could be another Day 2 option, an explosive talent who analysts say has wiggle and power to create coveted yards after contact. He could be a three-down back thanks to quality as a receiver.

Odds are, however, the Raiders will look deeper into the draft. Wyoming’s Brian Hill was an excellent college producer who runs strong and might fit well into the Raiders rotation. Round projections vary, but he should be available on Day 3.

Pittsburgh’s James Conner offers great power at 233 pounds. He could run through tacklers and wear down defenses for the Raiders’ shift backs. He's also well known for drive and work ethic. He is projected as a fifth or sixth round pick.

Brigham Young’s Jamaal Williams might offer value and power rushing later in the draft. Clemson’s Wayne Gallman has tackle-breaking ability, but analysts say he isn’t a strong pass protector.

 

Healthy Edwards, NFL Draft could help Raiders improve interior pass rush

Healthy Edwards, NFL Draft could help Raiders improve interior pass rush

The Raiders had an NFL-worst 25 sacks last season, and that’s with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin in their employ. That duo had 18 sacks (and 11 forced fumbles) between them. That left only seven for everyone else. Stacy McGee and Denico Autry had 2.5 each, and McGee isn’t here anymore.

Mario Edwards Jr. was certainly missed last season, when he missed 14 games with a preseason hip injury. The versatile defensive lineman is a solid edge run defender and internal pass rusher in the sub package.

If he’s healthy, Edwards Jr. could pose a real threat rushing the passer next to Irvin or Mack.

“Having Mario healthy will make us a better defense, and that’s not just as a pass rusher,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said in March. “He’s a solid run player. We’ve just got to have him healthy.

“But we’ll continue to add there, too.”

McKenzie subtracted one Tuesday, releasing Dan Williams to free salary cap space. He hasn’t yet added a defensive tackle in free agency, but could certainly do so in next week’s NFL draft.

There’s some quality interior pass rushers in this class. Let’s take a look at some options the Raiders could select and when:

Good fits: The Raiders select 24th overall in this draft, far lower than years past. Some quality defensive tackles might be a proper fit there, especially with depth at positions of need.

They could use some versatility, players like Edwards Jr. who can play multiple techniques. Michigan State’s Malik McDowell is an strong, athletic freak who analysts believe needs to improve his effort and technique. McDowell could develop into a top talent and be viewed as a steal at No. 24, or not realize full potential.

Michigan’s Chris Wormley is a versatile player in the Edwards Jr. mold, a player who seems to fit Raiders needs. Analysts says inconsistency is troubling but has the leadership quality and character the Raiders love. He can be a base end and move inside when required. He also has the size at 6-foot-5, 298 pounds and could develop well at the NFL level while making an immediate impact.

Florida’s Caleb Brantley is also an intriguing prospect adept at reaching the offensive backfield. Analysts say he’s a powerful player with quickness and an ability to work through blocks despite being slightly undersized. Brantley is potential to be a quality NFL pass rusher, and is confident in his ability. He didn’t play a high snap count at Florida, but the Raiders might use him in sub packages as a rookie and fill an important role right away. He’s viewed as a second round pick, and the Silver and Black might cross fingers he’s available at No. 56.

Auburn’s Montravius Adams could help if the Raiders are looking for more of a run stuffer. Clemson’s Carlos Watkins could also play multiple spots and could be available later in the middle rounds. Old Dominion’s Rashaad Coward also fits that mold and would be available in later rounds, though he hasn’t had much pass-rush production.