NFL draft 2019: Why defensive line depth keeps Raiders' options open


NFL draft 2019: Why defensive line depth keeps Raiders' options open

The Raiders have a compelling case to trade down in the 2019 NFL Draft.

NBC Sports California's Scott Bair noted Friday that the Silver and Black have far too many positional needs to wait 70 turns between their fourth pick (second round, No. 35 overall) and their fifth (fourth round, No. 106 overall) in this month's draft.

Those needs, however, just might work in their favor. This year's draft is loaded with talent along the defensive line, and the Raiders, who finished last season with just 13 sacks, wouldn't necessarily need to address that area right away. 

“What I would say about the defensive line in general is that in the last 10 years I’d say it is the best defensive line group we’ve seen, both edge rushers and inside guys," Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said at this year's NFL Scouting Combine. "I think when you start talking about the first round of the draft, I think it’s going to be dominated by defensive lineman.”

[RELATED: Carr still Raiders' QB, but Mayock leaves the door open]

Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams and Josh Allen -- in some order -- are expected to be the first defensive lineman off the board later this month. That still leaves plenty of talent in the interior and on the edge, as players such as Montez Sweat, Rashan Gary and Ed Oliver figure to be available after the Raiders' first selection at No. 4 overall. 

Depending on how the draft shakes out ahead of them, the Raiders could be in a position to have their cake and eat it, too. They'll find out their serving size in just under two weeks, when the NFL draft begins April 25 in Nashville, Tenn.

NFL draft: Five players Raiders can target if they trade down from No. 4


NFL draft: Five players Raiders can target if they trade down from No. 4

The Raiders could certainly trade down from one of their three first-round picks to pick up extra selections later in the 2019 NFL Draft.

An early trade would net a strong return that could add Day 2 picks to their cache, something general manager Mike Mayock discussed a few weeks back.

There’s a window where this would work best however, considering the Raiders own selections at Nos. 4, 24 and 27 in the first round. Sliding down from the fourth pick would reap the most return, though it only makes sense to trade down into the teens with two selections waiting on deck in the 20s.

We also covered some early Day 2 options, some of which would likely be available with a pick gleaned by a slide down from 24 or 27. Let’s focus our efforts on options after trading out of No. 4, and still landing a top defensive lineman the Raiders so obviously need:

DE Rashan Gary, Michigan

Say what you want about his stat line. Rashan Gary can create chaos when he’s heathly and going strong. He’s an athletic freak, with crazy speed and agility for someone his size. He regularly wins one-on-one reps, and could be a dynamic playmaker if coaches can help him find the football faster.

And, it can’t be ignored that Gary’s a perfect Raiders scheme fit.

He has the size and strength to play defensive end for Paul Guenther. He can set an edge, do some dirty work and also get after the quarterback. He has all the raw tools, just like last year’s first-round pick, Kolton Miller. Jon Gruden took a high-ceiling athlete who nailed the combine last year following a trade down. He could do the same here with Gary.

One issue: The Raiders might not want to trade too far back if Gary’s the target. He could go at No. 6 to the Giants or several other teams right after that. It might require a small trade down or (gasp!) to just take him at No. 4 if a run on defensive linemen starts when the draft begins.

DL Ed Oliver, Houston

We talk about Oliver as a trade target, but reports out of New York suggest the Jets could take him at No. 3. The Raiders should proceed with caution if Oliver’s a trade-down target, lest he be gone quickly.

There are lots of Aaron Donald comparison’s floating out there, and even if that standard’s unfair, it also suggests there’s high esteem for a tenacious interior lineman with enough athleticism and versatility to play anywhere up front. He could even play end in the base defense, and Guenther could find imaginative ways to use this premier talent.

He’s one to keep an eye on for the Raiders if they move down a bit, or if Quinnen Williams is gone and they just write Oliver’s name on the card at No. 4.

DE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson

Ferrell enters the NFL already a pro’s pro. He works hard, has a wide range of pass-rush moves and knows how to play a prototypical 4-3 defensive end spot against the run and pass. He doesn’t rock the athleticism of the prospects above him here, but he brings great effort and can get off blocks.

He was an efficient producer in college. Many scoffed at a previous suggestion at his bust potential, but I’ll reiterate here what I said there, he could have a solid pro career, but will NFL production match worthiness of a mid-first-round pick? That’s a question mark, though I don’t think he has a super low floor.

That said, Ferrell is someone the Raiders could get trading into the teens with a team like Washington or Miami on a quarterback hunt and pick up significant capital in return. It’s certainly an option to consider with Ferrell and the bounty coming back.

DT Christian Wilkins, Clemson

The interior lineman’s name hasn’t been associated with the Raiders much, but we’ll try and think outside the box a bit and suggest the Raiders could go after this big, imposing presence should they trade into the middle of the first round. He had 16 sacks and 40.5 tackles for loss in college, so he can make plays inside.

Wilkins offers a strong interior presence if the Raiders want and miss out on Quinnen Williams or trade out of the opportunity to select him or Oliver.

T.J. Hockenson, Iowa

Let’s throw an offensive player in here as well, despite a belief the Raiders are looking for defense from their top pick. A frontline tight end is also on the priority list, and Hockenson is expected to be the first skill player off the board.

[RELATED: Raiders have 'some sort of surprise' with No. 4 pick in draft]

He’s pro ready and can excel as a receiver and a blocker, meaning Gruden could move him all over the formation as a wild card capable of doing anything. He would pair well with Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams and make the Raiders offense tough to stop.

This is another case where the Raiders couldn’t trade down far and expect to secure someone expected to be a top 10 pick.

NFL rumors: Raiders have 'some sort of surprise' with No. 4 pick in draft

NFL rumors: Raiders have 'some sort of surprise' with No. 4 pick in draft

Welcome to Year 2 of the Jon Gruden Experience with the Raiders. Anything can happen, and it's sure to be interesting. 

That certainly won't change with the 2019 NFL Draft starting this Thursday. 

On Thursday, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported the Raiders sent home scouts due to a lack of trust on draft notes. General manager Mike Mayock is so protective of his draft binder, he even hid it from his own daughter

But that's just the beginning to this story. 

Rapoport on Monday further detailed the Raiders' reasons for sending home scouts, and it indicates a wild first round of the draft. 

"From what I understand, what the Raiders are looking at is some sort of surprise pick at No. 4 that would necessitate absolute secrecy," he said on the NFL Network. 

Now what exactly would a surprise pick be? Could it be doing whatever it takes to add quarterback Kyler Murray? Maybe they have their eyes on another QB like Missouri's Drew Lock, who a recent mock draft had the Raiders taking via a trade with the 49ers.

If the surprise will be in fact a signal-caller, Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins could be an option, as the Raiders reportedly are "super impressed" with the former Buckeye.

Mayock said in January he wants to create an open building with transparency between coaches and scouts, with everyone pulling in the same direction. Perhaps that means more employees of his and Gruden's liking than anyone else's. 

The Raiders' draft room will be busy come Thursday night, though it might be a little more empty than usual. The scouts who were sent home could soon be looking for new jobs. 

"For a lot of them there isn't a reason to come back because they're going to have significant turnover if the draft room," Rapoport said. "And a lot of those guys who left, probably are not returning." 

[RELATED: What Mayock's past draft rankings can tell us]

Hold onto your seats, Thursday can't come soon enough.