Raiders

Mike Mayock, Raiders have many options for how to overhaul defense

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USATSI

Mike Mayock, Raiders have many options for how to overhaul defense

Mike Mayock knows the Raiders have a long, long way to go to get where they want to be. Especially on the defensive side of the ball. 

Yes, the Raiders drafted defensive cornerstones Trayvon Mullen, Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Abram and Maxx Crosby last season. Those four will be integral to the Raiders' future going forward. But defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's unit still struggled to get off the field when needed and couldn't force key takeaways, save for a stretch in the middle of the season when safety Karl Joseph notched game-sealing interceptions in back-to-back games.

Mayock has a vision for what the Raiders' defense should look like, and the general manager knows the Raiders have many, many holes to fill. He hopes to start plugging them in the upcoming NFL draft.

"I think any GM or coach would say you want a big, strong, long, fast, violent, pursuing defense," Mayock said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "That's easy to say because all 32 of us would say that. That is our vision. We got to get bigger, we got to get longer, we got to get faster. Really, what we got to get is more dynamic. OK, we didn't make many plays on defense. We didn't turn the football over on defense and I could sit here and go into 100 things, but we need to get better at all three levels and all 11 positions. 

"On one hand, that kind of helps both in the draft and free agency," Mayock continued. "We need help everywhere. We don't have to be real surgical on defense, we need help everywhere. We're looking for dynamic guys, both in the draft and free agency that can help us Day 1."

The Raiders own two first-round draft picks in the 2020 draft and should use at least one to fill the gaping hole at linebacker. The Raiders also will have around $52 million in cap space to play with in free agency, much of which should be allocated to the defensive side of the ball.

As Mayock so bluntly stated, the Raiders need help at all three levels.

Mullen showed his immense talent during his rookie season and the Raiders hope Abram will be the game-changing safety they drafted him to be. The other starting corner and safety spots are up for grabs with Karl Joseph and Daryl Worley being free agents.

The linebacker group needs a complete overhaul. Tahir Whitehead likely will be a cap casualty. Vontaze Burfict might be back, but considering the thin sheet of ice he walks on with the NFL, he can't be counted on.

As for the front line, Ferrell and Crosby hope to take another leap in Year 2. The Raiders will need to add at least two more pass rushers to their rotation, with Benson Mayowa and Dion Jordan both hitting free agency. In the interior, Mayock sent a message P.J. Hall's way, knowing he needs more from the third-year defensive tackle.

"P.J.’s got a challenge," Mayock said. "We have a new defensive line coach coming in, and trust me, Rod Marinelli doesn’t put up with anything but 100 percent hustle. Nothing but.”

The Raiders desperately need a dominant three-technique who can get a push up the middle and disrupt opposing offenses. Hall and Maurice Hurst have been serviceable, but haven't provided the impact the Raiders need at that position.

The Raiders have a lot of options and a lot of needs on the defensive side of the ball.

Let's quickly run through a few ways the Raiders can attack rebuilding their defense.

Draft LB, fix secondary in FA

Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden can either attempt to trade up in the draft to take Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons (more on this later) or draft LSU's Patrick Queen or Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray at No. 19 overall. With at least one linebacker slot filled, the Raiders could shell out money to cornerback Byron Jones and safety Anthony Harris, locking in the secondary for years to come.

That would leave Mayock with the job of rounding out the defense with veteran guys like Burfict, Robert Quinn, Joe Schobert, Danny Trevathan and Damon Harrison.

Draft Javon Kinlaw, sign one FA at each level

South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw is shooting up draft boards. He dominated the Senior Bowl and looks like he could be the next dominant defensive tackle in the NFL. If he's available at No. 12 overall, the Raiders could gobble him up, giving them three young stars on the defensive line. From there, they can look to spend their money on Jones and Harris (and continue to ignore the linebacker position) or they could sign one of Jones or Harris, re-sign Burfict and add a guy like Blake Martinez or Schobert and then grab an edge rusher like Quinn or Vic Beasley on a cheaper deal.

Sign Chris Jones, Cory Littleton

If the Raiders want to give their defense an immediate jolt, they can split the majority of their cap space between Chris Jones and linebacker Cory Littleton and then go to cheaper secondary free agents like Trae Waynes, Jalen Mills and, perhaps Karl Joseph. That would leave the Raiders to focus on wide receiver at No. 12 overall and then take either Queen or Murray at No. 19 to further solidify the LB spot, or grab one of the top corners in the class (Kristian Fulton, C.J. Henderson or A.J. Terrell) to pair with Mullen for years to come.

[RELATED: Is QB Fromm late-round draft option for Raiders?]

How the Raiders approach free agency could tell us a lot about how they plan to use their two first-round draft picks, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

One thing is certain: Changes are needed.

Raiders roster analysis: offense a few additions away from being truly dynamic

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AP

Raiders roster analysis: offense a few additions away from being truly dynamic

The Raiders offense is a few pieces away from being truly dynamic. They’re well stocked at several spots, with immediate help needed in others.

We’re taking a close look at the team’s offense and defense this week on all platforms, with a podcast, stories and player rankings devoted to the offensive and defensive units.

We’ll focus first on an attack coordinated by Jon Gruden and executed by longtime Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, entering his seventh season as the starter.

Let’s take a look at the current state of each offensive position group and whether they need help in the short or long term:

Quarterback

Starter: Derek Carr
Top reserves: Marcus Mariota, Nathan Peterman
State of the position: The Raiders are incredibly deep at the position, will all three signal callers armed with starting experience. Carr’s the clear-cut starter and Mariota ranks high among the league’s best backups. That pecking order should remain most of the year, with Carr assisted by a talented supporting cast. He’s in great position to thrive in 2020, with Mariota offering competition and collaboration in the quarterback meeting room.
Help wanted?: This is a big year for Carr and Mariota. Quarterbacks are well positioned for success, and struggles in 2020 could lead the Raiders to look in a different direction next offseason. If Carr thrives, he could cement himself as the starter through the remainder of his contract. Mariota can’t overtake Carr, he may want to go elsewhere next year. The Raiders could draft a young quarterback to develop, but they don’t need one.

Receivers

Starters: Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, Nelson Agholor
Key reserves:Zay Jones, Marcell Ateman, Keelan Doss
State of the position: This group is missing a true No. 1. Williams is an excellent secondary option and should be better than he was in 2019, when he was dealing with foot issues. Renfrow’s a quality slot receiver who showed great chemistry with Carr down the stretch. Jones didn’t do much after an in-season trade. Agholor’s only listed as a starter until the NFL draft.
Help wanted?: The Raiders need a frontline starter they’re expected to find in the NFL draft’s first round. They could add another pass catcher in the later rounds to add depth and top talent to a position group that desperately needs more of both.

Running backs

Starters: RB Josh Jacobs, FB Alec Ingold
Key reserves: Jalen Richard, Rod Smith
State of the position: The Raiders are in great shape in the backfield, with Jacobs an elite feature back who does most everything well. Richard’s as good a third-down option as you’ll find, and Ingold a versatile fullback who works extremely well with Jacobs.
Help wanted?: The Raiders could use a young, bruising back to spell Jacobs and bring a different size and skill set to the running back room. Jacobs can be physical between the tackles, but a larger runner could help supplement an already strong ground game.

Tight ends

Starter: Darren Waller
Key reserves: Foster Moreau, Jason Witten, Darren Waller, Nick O’Leary
State of the position: There’s plenty of depth and talent in this group, so much the Raiders could keep a fourth tight end on the 53-man roster. Waller’s an elite receiving talent, Witten’s aging but still has something left and Moreau’s a solid run blocker and red zone threat. Carrier’s a glue guy who provides quality depth
Help wanted?: The Raiders are well stocked for 2020, with Waller and Moreau anchoring the position group for a long time.

Offensive line

Starters: LT Kolton Miller, LG Richie Incognito, C Rodney Hudson, RG Gabe Jackson, RT Trent Brown
Reserves:OG Denzelle Good, OG Eric Kush, OT David Sharpe, OT Brandon Parker, G/C Andre James
State of the position: The Raiders have spent heavily on the offensive line, which should be one of the NFL’s best when healthy. They used roughly 28 percent of their salary cap on the starters alone, so they’d better be. Brown and Hudson are at the top of their field, with strong guard play expected if Jackson regains old form. They have depth on the interior, with Good more than capable in a starting role.
Help wanted?: The Raiders could use some depth at offensive tackle, maybe coming from the NFL draft’s middle rounds. Parker has struggled in pass protection and Sharpe is improving but has to continue his development.

Jon Gruden, Raiders could return to glory with expanded NFL playoffs

Jon Gruden, Raiders could return to glory with expanded NFL playoffs

The Raiders were a two-point conversion away from ending their 2019 campaign on a high note. Derek Carr and Hunter Renfrow connected in the end zone with 11 seconds left in the regular-season finale at Denver but couldn’t replicate success on the game’s decisive play.

Carr’s pass fell to the turf, essentially securing the Raiders’ 16-15 loss to the Broncos. The result didn’t matter much. The Raiders would’ve finished the season 8-8 with a win. Their NFL draft picks improved with a loss.

If the Raiders would have won that game and NFL operated under a new and expanded playoff format approved Tuesday in a conference call with league owners, the Raiders would’ve made the postseason.

The Silver and Black would have claimed the AFC’s No. 7 seed and the final playoff spot in a format that includes an extra team and an extra game in each conference. A total of 14 teams now make the playoffs, with only the No. 1 seed granted a first-round bye and three games per conference in the wild-card round.

They would’ve advanced on a strength of victory tiebreaker over the Steelers. Creating that alternate reality entailed a lot of woulda, coulda, shoulda, enough to make your head spin.

Plain and simple: The Raiders didn’t deserve to make the playoffs after fading down the stretch, with ample opportunity to right the ship and get in. They ran out of gas due to poor depth and a rash of injuries to vital players, and couldn’t get the job done. 

But the Silver and Black should be contenders for a 2020 postseason berth if things go right with their improved defense and an offense that could be dynamic if the Raiders pick the right receiver(s) in next month’s NFL draft.

The extra playoff spot will certainly help the Raiders and similar teams trying to get from the middle of the pack to the AFC’s top tier.

[RELATED: Vegas could host 2022 draft]

It’ll be beneficial for the Raiders playing in the AFC West. The Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs should be good for a long time, especially with Patrick Mahomes behind center. Adding an extra wild-card spot should help the Raiders make the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and just the second time since the 2002 season.

The Raiders were 6-4 and in great standing before falling on hard times and finishing 2019 with a whimper despite receiving tons of help in their playoff quest. They were formally eliminated from playoff contention entering that 2019 finale in Denver but would’ve been alive if there were a seventh spot.

They could be in a similar situation next season and should be better suited to perform well down the stretch while fighting for the playoffs.