Raiders

Edwards Jr. 'believing in myself again' after rough stretch

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AP

Edwards Jr. 'believing in myself again' after rough stretch

ALAMEDA – Mario Edwards Jr. has always been a big kid. He stood 6-foot-1, 215 as a freshman in high school, but could bench 315 and run like a receiver. Freak size and athleticism made him a dominant football player.

Edwards Jr. was a five-star recruit at Billy Ryan High in Denton, Texas, rated the nation’s best defensive tackle and the No. 3 overall recruit. Not in the district or the state. In the country.

Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Alabama, Notre Dame and LSU, among others, were knocking on the door, but Edwards Jr. ultimately followed his father’s footsteps with an early commitment to Florida State.

Have all that going for you and a driver’s license and you can be a prince of Texas.

“It was kind of cool,” Edwards Jr. said on the Raiders Insider Podcast. “At 16 and 17 years old, I was doing magazine cover shoots and things like that. It sped up the process of dealing with where I’m at now. It got me prepped for this in a sense. And having my dad there, giving me the blueprint also helped as well.”

Mario Edwards Sr. blazed a trail from Florida State to the NFL as a defensive back. Junior knew exactly what it would to live his dream in professional football. As a prep and early in college, it didn’t require much work. His father instilled an improved work ethic later in college that got him ready for the pre-draft process and the pros.

“It was like I had all the answers to the test,” Edwards said. “He’s been everywhere that I’ve tried to go. He’s played at the highest level. He has been hurt. He has been to a top college and the pros. Having him there to filter out all the bad thoughts and help me to stay positive and continuing to work was great.”

That sounding board was a luxury during good times. It was a necessity during a recently rough stretch.

Edwards Jr. burst onto the scene in 2015, shortly after the Raiders took him No. 35 overall. Then he suffered a neck injury in Week 15 that year – Mario explains that situation in the podcast -- and didn’t return until June. He was back and rocking again in 2016’s training camp, but suffered a hip injury in the preseason opener and missed 14 weeks.

He wasn’t himself upon return, but another full offseason brought his explosiveness back. That’s clear watching Edwards Jr. play this season. He’s on a tear to start the year with two sacks – a full sack and two half sacks – and four quarterback pressures. He’s an effective part of the line rotation inside and out, with versatility to play multiple techniques.

The Raiders have been waiting to pair Edwards Jr. with edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. They can do that now, with impact rookie Eddie Vanderdoes added to the mix. Edwards Jr. is happy, healthy and playing well, free and clear of questions about his health. His dad helped him get through the down times, and continue improving during this productive period.

“I was talking to him the other day, and saying how much I have prayed and trusted the process and am believing in myself again,” Edwards Jr. said. “I’m finally getting my mojo back, and feeling like myself.”

Four running backs the Raiders could target during 2018 NFL Draft

Four running backs the Raiders could target during 2018 NFL Draft

The Raiders have running backs aplenty.

Marshawn Lynch is the feature player, with Doug Martin set to be the primary backup. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard offer changes of pace. Keith Smith is the prototypical fullback new head coach Jon Gruden prefers. Elijah Hood is also on the roster.

While the stable seems full, there’s a real possibility another back comes in this week’s NFL draft.

Lynch and Martin are only under contract for 2018. A primary rusher is needed down the line, and a young contributor would be useful right away. That means a name you know, likely Washington or Richard or Martin if he doesn’t prove himself this offseason, might hit the unemployment line should to make way for the new guy.

Analysts consider this running back draft class incredibly deep, with quality available as rounds progress. Let’s take a look at some options should the Raiders look for another rusher.

Sony Michel, Georgia
The former Bulldog’s a top talent, but could get pushed down by others in his position group ranking above. That might be create a conundrum for the Raiders if he’s available at No. 41 overall. Do they go with a position of greater need, or a disciplined, elusive, yet powerful runner. Analysts say he has good vision, finds the right spots in a zone and has good leadership traits. He’s also a good pass protector, something vital in Jon Gruden’s offense. He could prove an excellent fit running the ball behind a respected offensive line.
Projected round (per NFL.com): 2

Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
Penny has solid speed at 220 pounds, and can be a powerful downhill runner and steady producer. He’s a slasher who can absorb punishment and handle a high carry volume and wear down a run defense. Analysts say he isn’t a home-run hitter and doesn’t always choose the most efficient path. He also has experience as a returner, who gives maximum effort on offense and special teams.
Projected round (per NFL.com): 2

Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
The former Tiger’s a true three-down back who can do it all. He has a solid combination of burst and physicality to gain initial yards and can be a punisher downfield. He’s a capable receiver and someone who can bounce off tacklers. Analysts say he can be slow finding proper rushing lanes and runs upright. That leads to greater punishment at the professional level. He would be an intriguing option if he somehow makes it into the third round.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 2-3

Justin Jackson, Northwestern
-- Jackson has been a steady production during his Northwestern career, relied upon heavily to churn out yards. He has proven durable, with elusiveness and burst to avoid getting caught in the backfield. Analysts say he has solid hands and route running, and could be effective as a third-down receiver. He has some technical issues that must be worked out, and might wear down against NFL tacklers.
Projected round (per NFL.com): 6-7

Raiders receiver quest may continue in NFL Draft

Raiders receiver quest may continue in NFL Draft

Go ahead and put receivers Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson into the Raiders starting lineup. Use a pen. Only injury would be cause to reach for the White Out.

New Raiders head coach Jon Gruden loves both guys. He said Cooper will be the passing game’s main attraction. He imported Nelson for his on-field production and locker-room leadership.

The Raiders are looking to upgrade receiver depth, a point made clear in free agency. They went after Ryan Grant, who eventually signed with Indianapolis. They brought Eric Decker in for a visit, though he left without a deal.

The NFL Draft could provide an upgrade. The Raiders could use some help in the slot, and with a sure-handed speed demon to take the top off a defense.

This draft class doesn’t feature a pass catcher worthy of the No. 10 overall pick, with few considered first-round talents. Help can be found down the draft, with early contributors seemingly available in the early and middle rounds. Here are a few options that could help the Raiders passing game:

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
-- The former Aggie is a strong, target well suited for the slot. He can handle physical play at the line of scrimmage, has good hands and analysts say he’s adept at finding soft spots in zone coverage. He doesn’t have a huge catch radius, and doesn’t have burner speed to thrive on the outside, but he could be effective taking the smaller chunks offered in Gruden’s offense. He’s also a solid return man, and could help on special teams.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 2-3

James Washington, Oklahoma State
The former Cowboy doesn’t have D.J. Chark’s raw speed, but has plenty of big-play ability the Raiders need offensively. He uses solid positioning, hands and high-point ability to make important catches down the field. Analysts say he has great build-up speed and avoids physicality at the line. He can work inside and out, but could create space inside for Cooper and Nelson to work in favorable matchups. He isn’t built like a typical NFL receiver, but finds ways to make plays.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 2-3

Dante Pettis, Washington
-- Gruden likes precise route running, a trait Pettis has in spades. He could be a weapon from the slot, and can create separation quickly. Analysts also say he’s good finding open space during scramble drills, and has reliable hands. Physical corners can be bothersome, and he doesn’t have top-end speed. He could be an impactful member of an offense, and could help return punts as well.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 3-4

Deontay Burnett, USC
-- Burnett is built like a slot receiver, with plenty of experience playing inside. CBS Sports considers him a solid sleeper prospect among slot receivers, and analysts say he’s good making catches in traffic. He’s good in scramble drills, and can take big hits without losing possession. He isn’t great on deep passes and scouts say he doesn’t have room to add significant muscle mass to his relatively thin frame. He could be an asset in Gruden’s scheme, and available later than aforementioned receivers.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 4-5

Damion Ratley, Texas A&M
-- NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah tweeted about Kirk's teammate on Saturday morning as an intriguing prospect with size, speed and solid route running. He could be available late, a viable option if the Raiders look toward other positions earlier in the draft. He averaged 23.1 yards per catch, with an ability to make plays after the catch. His draft profile suggests he needs help battling physical corners, and may need better focus each play to compete steadily at the NFL. 
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 6-7