ALAMEDA – Raiders general manger Reggie McKenzie made nine selections in this weekend’s NFL draft. That was a requirement given the state of his roster, featuring a stacked offense and a Swiss-cheese defense. It has holes.
He spent significant draft capital trying to upgrade the middle of his defense especially, adding three defensive backs, two defensive tackles and a fifth-round pick in Marquel Lee who will compete to start at middle linebacker.
He needs a few immediate impact players on the defensive group headlined by first-round cornerback Gareon Conley and second-round safety Obi Melifonwu.
“How much do I think I can get out of this group? I hope a lot,” McKenzie said Saturday after the NFL draft was complete. “They’re all going to come in and compete. We’re signing guys post-draft also. We’re going to give them all the opportunity to compete with the veterans that we already have on board. We hope that out of it all, the competition part of it, the cream rises and we have a very good 53-man roster.”
McKenzie follows a draft board thoroughly constructed through hundreds of scouting reports and cross checks, and extensive evaluation at combines and pro days. He trusts it. It has certainly treated him well before, which productive hauls in 2014 and 2015 especially.
While he lost out on some likable players taken before his slot, McKenzie believes the Raiders added quality and depth in previously lacking position groups. He stuck with size and athleticism at times over college production and, as always, beefed up both the offensive and defensive lines.
“I think the way it fell, we got a lot of players, at the end of the day, it looks like we needed,” he said. “We felt like we got a lot of good players with high talent levels from top to bottom. Some are going to be more raw than others. We’re going to have to see down the line, more so. I think talking to the board, you said, ‘Job well done.’”
McKenzie also focused on fixing a lackluster pass defense with speed. Conley can be a shutdown cornerback outside or in the slot. Melifonwu is a heavy hitter who can play both safety spots and is expected to contribute as a rookie. The secondary must improve to prevent big plays and help Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin get after the quarterback.
“You have to have speed to play the game the way it’s going now,” McKenzie said. “You have to be able to play in space. You have to be able to match up. We took all of that into consideration when we brought these players in. To the players that you mentioned, Obi and Conley, both of those guys have great range, speed, very athletic. So, they make tackles in space. That’s one of the things that we looked at. Make sure short to medium plays don’t turn into big plays. I think they will help in that scenario.”
Here’s a full list of Raiders draft picks:
Round 1 (No. 24 overall): CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State
Round 2 (No. 56 overall): S Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut
Round 3 (No. 88 overall): DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
Round 4 (No. 129 overall): OT David Sharpe, Florida
Round 5 (No. 168 overall): LB Marquel Lee, Wake Forest
Round 7 (No. 221 overall): S Shalom Luani, Washington State
Round 7 (No. 231 overall): OT Jylan Ware, Alabama State
Round 7 (No. 242 overall): RB Elijah Hood, North Carolina
Round 7 (No. 244 overall): DT Treyvon Hester, Toledo