Scott Bair

Senior Bowl: Raiders to coach quality edge rushers, team's biggest need

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Senior Bowl: Raiders to coach quality edge rushers, team's biggest need

The Senior Bowl rosters were announced on Wednesday morning, providing a complete look at the North squad the Raiders coaching staff will guide through a practice week and the Jan. 26 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Prized Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen isn’t on either roster despite a previous commitment to play the Senior Bowl -- he was expected to be on the South squad coached by the 49ers -- a bummer for all sides to be sure.

There are plenty of quality edge rushers on both sides, which will help Jon Gruden, Raiders scouts, and coaches get a close look at their biggest position of need.

Boston College pass rusher Zach Allen headlines the North Squad’s defensive ends and is someone commonly projected to go later in the first round or early in the second.

The Raiders, as a matter of fact, have three draft picks in that window. Their first pick sits at No. 4 overall, followed by 24, 27 and 35.

Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat was assigned to the North team, but the Raiders will still get to scout him in 49ers' run practices and see him play up close.

Most of the coaches’ time will be spent with the North side.

Let’s take a look at edge rusher on that team, which the Raiders will get a long look at this week:

Zach Allen, Boston College, 6-5, 285
Widely considered the top edge prospect on the North squad, Allen has burst and bend to get around tackles and to the quarterback. Analysts say he has a high ceiling and is a scheme-versatile defender. He’s solid against the run who can generate steady pressure. Impressing Raiders coaches could help him end up in silver and black with one of the team’s high picks.
Projected: Early rounds

Charles Omenihu, Texas, 6-6, 275
This big, agile defensive lineman is considered by many to be a top 50 pick, and a solid Senior Bowl week could secure such draft status. He was the best pass rusher in a Big XII not known for defense, but had a breakout senior year with 9.5 sacks. He can be a complete player impactful against the run and pass, without significant weaknesses. He hustles, plays with violence and is explosive. Keep an eye on him all week.
Projected: Early rounds

Jalen Jelks, Oregon, 6-6, 245
Jelks is super fast off the edge, and can use speed to create havoc off the edge. He also has great length, which helps him as a run defender. He isn’t the biggest pass rusher at 245 pounds, and while he’s a powerful player, he has a long way to go in terms of technique. He might be better suited for a 3-4 defense, but the Raiders can determine working with him whether he can fit into their system.
Projected: Early to middle rounds

L.J. Collier, TCU, 6-4, 276
Collier finished his senior season with six sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss, but is considered a later-round selection due to a lack of explosiveness and lackluster bend and flexibility. Analysts say he’s good taking advantage of poor blocking technique, but that won’t happen much at the NFL level. He should be considered a developmental prospect, though he has the competitive streak to push for continued improvement.
Projected: Late rounds

Byron Cowart, Maryland, 6-4, 293
This top prep recruit bounced around in college, from Auburn to a junior college and finally to Maryland. He has great size and athleticism, but should still be considered a project with a high upside. He must flash during the Senior Bowl to rise up draft boards
Projected: Late rounds

John Cominsky, Charleson 6-5, 275
The Senior Bowl offers small-school projects a chance to shine, and Cominsky must use the practice week to prove he can compete against the big boys. He had 39.5 tackles for a loss in the past two years.
Projected: Late rounds

[RELATED: 49ers, Raiders staffs to coach Senior Bowl]

Here’s the full North roster:

Raiders defensive depth chart: Upgrades mandatory at several key spots

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Raiders defensive depth chart: Upgrades mandatory at several key spots

The Raiders have the salary-cap flexibility and draft picks required to significantly upgrade a talent-deficient defense. That unit was 30th in rushing, 19th against the pass and dead freaking last in points allowed.

Coordinator Paul Guenther needs more frontline talent and depth on his side of the ball, though there are a few members of the 2018 defense that will be counted on again next season.

Let’s take a look at the defensive starting lineup up as it stands heading into the offseason, and whether the Raiders can write those players in pencil, ink or a series of question marks where a name should be:

Defensive line

DE: ???
NT: Justin Ellis (ink)
DT: Maurice Hurst (ink)
DE: Arden Key (pencil)
Sub-package help: DT P.J. Hall (pencil)

The Raiders will be looking for upgrades across the defensive line, making it hard to put many names down with certainty. Both edge-rushing spots are up for grabs, with one vacant and likely filled by a veteran or high draft pick.

Key’s at the other end spot right now, but another import could take that spot as well. The LSU product could be an impactful situational pass rusher while developing skills, but was forced to play beyond that role. Dialing things back might be in his best interest.

The Raiders like Hurst a great deal, and have Ellis ready for the base defense. Another interior lineman could join the rotation, or even compete for serious snaps. The Raiders must get better up front, especially off the edges, and should spend significant capital to do so.

Linebackers

SLB: Marquel Lee (pencil)
MLB: ???
WLB: Tahir Whitehead (ink)
Jason Cabinda and Nick Morrow are available – Cabinda’s an exclusive rights free agent but should be back -- to assume the middle linebacker spot they manned last season. Both guys had solid moments working in a platoon, but an upgrade seems to be the right call here.

The Raiders could use a higher draft pick to get a middle linebacker, or bring in a veteran in free agency. Competition seems a necessary addition at the very least, though outright presumptive starter is the way to go. Lee performed well after moving to the strong side from the middle, but that position doesn’t play a ton with defenses in sub packages so often. His name’s still in pencil in case the Raiders snag an athletic edge rushing type who would play strongside linebacker and move to the line in sub packages.

The Raiders defense has lots of issues, and Whitehead isn’t anywhere near the top of the list. The veteran should return to the three-down role he held in 2018.

Secondary

CB: Gareon Conley (ink)
FS: ???
SS: Karl Joseph (ink)
CB: ???
Slot: Nick Nelson (pencil)
Conley will own one cornerback spot. Daryl Worley is expected to man the other, but we can't put him down yet. He’s a restricted free agent this offseason, and while the Raiders want to bring him back, there’s no telling what the open market will bear and whether the Raiders will match any offer or offer a high-round contract tender. There is a strong, belief, however, that Worley will be back.

Joseph showed great improvement down the stretch, and should be given an opportunity to develop further and bring physicality to the defense while attempting to be more of a big-play maker.

Marcus Gilchrist and Reggie Nelson are unrestricted free agentd and Erik Harris is restricted. Harris will likely return, but the Raiders should still look for an upgrade here in the starting lineup, either through free agency or the draft. ... Coaches like Nelson, who struggled some after losing valuable development time recovering from an offseason knee injury.

The Raiders could bring in some competition there, even as cornerback depth with Rashaan Melvin not expected back. A versatile corner could challenge and/or push Nelson over the spring and summer.

2019 NFL mock draft: Who Raiders might take with No. 27 pick

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2019 NFL mock draft: Who Raiders might take with No. 27 pick

The Raiders had the No. 4 and No. 24 overall NFL draft picks locked up entering the weekend. They had another first-rounder out there, without a slot to call home.

That changed after Dallas fell in the postseason’s divisional round Saturday and then Philadelphia lost to New Orleans the following day.

That set the Cowboys' first-round pick at No. 27 overall, though it was promised to the Raiders in trade for Amari Cooper.

NFL mock drafts have been approximating that Cowboys/Raiders, even though the slot was uncertain.

Now that it’s set, so let’s see what the latest mock drafts have predicted for the Raiders at No. 27:

CBS Sports: WR N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
What they’re saying:
“The Raiders need playmakers because 33-year-old Jordy Nelson isn't close to the player he was in Green Bay. Harry had 73 receptions for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns last season, and he reminds us of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Anquan Boldin.”

SB Nation: WR N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
What they’re saying:
“The Raiders need one, or maybe even two wide receivers in the draft this year. Harry would be a nice pickup in the first round. He’s obviously a talent at the position, otherwise he wouldn’t be this high in the draft. But he’s capable of playing in the slot and outside, which would give the Raiders flexibility later in the draft.”

NBC Sports Washington: RB Damien Harris, Alabama
What they’re saying:
This isn't the year for round one running backs. The one goes in the first, odds lean toward the 5-foot-11 Harris, who averaged 6.1 yards per carries during the regular season, but was held to 48 yards on 1 carries in the national semifinal win over Oklahoma.

Bleacher Report: RB Josh Jacobs, Alabama
What they’re saying:
“A running back in the first round? Yes, because Josh Jacobs is an Alvin Kamara-like talent.

The junior bruiser for Alabama has excellent balance through contact, great power and has shown the agility and speed to make an impact outside the tackle box. Jacobs is also a soft-handed receiver who has shown in the Alabama scheme the skills to torch defenses in a variety of ways.

The Raiders need to get better at virtually every position, including running back. Jacobs will take pressure off quarterback Derek Carr and should have plenty of holes to run through given the strength of the team's offensive line.”

Pro Football Focus: Safety Taylor Rapp, Washington
What they’re saying:
”The defensive overhaul continues with Rapp who has the versatility to play all over the field. He finished with the No. 4 overall grade among safeties last season (90.1) while missing only two tackles on the year.”