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.
"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.
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.