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.

Penn still haunted by only sack allowed in 2016; 'That play sticks with me'

Penn still haunted by only sack allowed in 2016; 'That play sticks with me'

Editor's Note: The above video is from Dec. 24, 2016.

Donald Penn was nothing short of awesome last season. The veteran Raiders left tackle proved impenetrable, allowing just one sack and 27 quarterback pressures in 676 pass-blocking snaps.

He ranked high among the NFL’s best left tackles at 33, engulfed a career renaissance that began after joining the Raiders three years ago. Penn made the Pro Bowl. He was a vital piece of a 12-4 team that helped the Raiders reach the playoffs.

He hasn’t reveled much in that. Penn’s driven by opportunities missed, and one mishap that haunts him still.

Penn locked horns with Indianapolis linebacker Trent Cole off the left edge during a Week 16 contest against the Colts, and slipped as he was tracking his man away from the pocket. Penn’s feet got tangled and the big man fell. Cole remained upright, darted in and sacked quarterback Derek Carr.

It was Penn’s only sack allowed all season. And Carr got hurt. He suffered a broken fibula that ended his season and realistic hopes of a Raiders playoff run.

Nearly five months have passed since that fluke play. Carr is healthy and a full participant in the Raiders offseason program. The Raiders offensive line might be better after allowing a league-low 18 sacks last season.

There’s plenty to be excited about as the Raiders enter OTAs and a mandatory minicamp. Penn can’t help but lament that isolated incident when Carr went down.

“You have to be an athlete. You try not to think about it too much,” Penn said Tuesday. “You wish you could go back and get it back. I’ve taken that same set I don’t know how many times, on the same field and never just slipped out of nowhere. I’m not going to put it on myself. I should have been able to do something better. You know me, I’m never going to blame the slip for happening. I should have blocked him and held on to him and taken him down with me. That play sticks with me.”

That isn’t all bad. It fuels Penn to continue growing as a player, even at 34 coming off an excellent Pro Bowl season.

“I’m going to try to do what I can do better and make sure it never happens again,” Penn said. “I’ve never gotten a quarterback hurt in my life since I’ve been playing. That was a first. That’s something I take pride in. I’m going to try my hardest to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Penn wants a different ending to this season. Last year the Raiders lost the AFC West crown and a shot to win the team’s first playoff game. Penn suffered a knee injury the following week that kept him from playing in the postseason.

The goal is to realize vast potential now that the Raiders offense is back healthy again.

“I’m all about karma and stuff like that,” Penn said. “Maybe (God is) trying to tell us that this is our year. We have to put in the work to get it. I know D.C. is happy, I’m dang sure happy to get him back. We’re growing and masterminding this offense trying to make it as explosive as possible.”

 

Raiders OTA observations: Conley, rookies must earn their stripes

Raiders OTA observations: Conley, rookies must earn their stripes

ALAMEDA – Rookies have been immersed in the Raiders system most of this month, but still have a lot to learn before training camp begins this summer.

There’s significant work ahead this spring during OTAs and mid-June’s mandatory minicamp, and young players will do so from the second and third teams. Even the highly touted ones.

First-round draft pick Gareon Conley played slot cornerback with the second unit and outside cornerback on the third during Tuesday’s OTA open to the media. It’s a position the slick, speedy cover man will vacate posthaste, but the Raiders prefer rookies earn their stripes.

“All of our young guys are going to earn their way,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We have a good football team. We’re going to let them earn their way. We’ll let them compete. We’re early in the competition, so we’ll just go through the offseason and continue to get (Conley) involved and get him reps. These guys will ascend and take their positions as they earn it. We’re really happy with the way he’s started.”

The Raiders didn’t feature a single rookie on their first units Tuesday. Second-round safety Obi Melifonwu, fourth-round offensive tackle David Sharpe and middle linebacker Marquel Lee were featured on the second unit.

Here are some other observations from Tuesday’s OTA sessions.

-- Del Rio said Marshall Newhouse had the inside track to be the team’s starting right tackle. The versatile veteran worked there with the first team, joining a front five otherwise intact from a season ago.

-- Second-year pro Connor Cook, who switched from No. 8 to No. 18 this offseason, ran the second offensive unit. E.J. Manuel worked with the third team.

-- Inside linebacker Ben Heeney worked on a side field with a trainer during Tuesday’s practice, as he continues to rehab from surgery to repair an ankle broken early last season. Jelani Jenkins also did side work after practicing on Monday.

Cory James and Tyrell Adams worked with the first unit at inside linebacker.

-- Veteran running back Marshawn Lynch was limited to individual drills for a second straight day as the Raiders ease him back into football activity.

-- Offensive lineman Austin Howard is working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, and only practice during individual drills.

-- Cornerback Sean Smith had offseason surgery, but was a full participant in Tuesday’s session.

-- Third-round defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes remains away from the Raiders complex due to an NFL rule preventing players from schools still in session to work with their teams. He won’t re-join the squad until training camp. Undrafted rookie Nicholas Morrow is in a similar spot, but will return next week.

-- Edge rusher Shilique Calhoun played last season at 250 pounds, but looks decidedly bigger now. He told the team website he’s up to 270 pounds.