NFL draft: How Raiders' need for edge rusher impacts their strategy

NFL draft: How Raiders' need for edge rusher impacts their strategy

The Raiders signed some expensive big-name free agents shortly after the market opened, and traded for another just before that. The depth chart thickened after that, leaving few positions demanding attention from the NFL draft.

Make no mistake: upgrades or potential would be welcome most anywhere, but there are few spots where the Raiders can’t survive without more bodies.

The whole NFL world knows there’s an exception. The Raiders need quality and quantity edge rushers after failing to find free-agent fits in a market with so many elite pass rushers franchise tagged.

The Raiders have Arden Key, recently added veteran Benson Mayowa, run stopper Josh Mauro and AAF graduate Alex Barrett and ... that’s it.

Edge rusher/defensive end is a need so glaring it might work against the Raiders in this NFL draft. Teams know how bad they need one or, more likely, two in this draft. There’s depth in this defensive line class, but true impact players generally go high.

We could see teams jump ahead to snag one before the Raiders, but general manager Mike Mayock said that’s not unique to his particular situation.

“People are looking at what we need, just like we’re looking at what they need,” Mayock said Thursday in his pre-draft press conference. “We’re doing the same thing. Who might need this position? Who might jump ahead of us? Where do we need to go to get that guy because team ‘X’ needs a ‘whatever’ position. That’s all part, I think, of the intrigue, the game of poker that this is.”

Poker is made tougher when competitors know what you need most. Opposition research is prevalent, and the Raiders will have a strong sense of where teams will lean on draft day, but coming out of the first four picks without a dynamic edge rusher, even if Alabama interior lineman Quinnen Williams goes at No. 4, puts the Raiders in a pickle.

Going for the best available may be wise in the long run, but will the Raiders be able to work their way into a quality edge rusher (or two) with trades or luck or pre-draft deception? They seemed set on offensive tackle last year once the elite prospects were gone, with Mike McGlinchey and Kolton Miller as top options. They traded down an got the tackle they wanted and needed.

They would jump the moon if Ohio State’s Nick Bosa shockingly fell to No. 4 this year. Josh Allen is considered a top 5 pick. Montez Sweat and Rashan Gary should be gone in the top 10. Clelin Ferrell and Brian Burns are likely gone before the Raiders pick again at No. 24.

The Raiders must address other needs as well, and don’t want to extended beyond the draft board too far with so many top draft slots available. Mayock says the Raiders need four foundational players in this draft, regardless of position. One of them better be an edge rusher, sparking the age-old debate of best player versus need.

[RELATED: Why trading down could help Raiders find foundation pieces]

“I’m the son of a coach and I know how coaches think, and coaches think need,” Mayock said. “And we are a coach-driven building, our coaches are highly involved and that’s good. I embrace that. The flip side is you can’t reach, you got to use some common sense and that’s what I preach upstairs.

Is that if we are in a situation where if two similarly rated players and one is a higher position of need, great, let’s go get him, but if there is a discount, a disparity between two let’s not reach for need because the more you do that, the more you dilute your roster, and that’s a conversation we’ve had a lot.”

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.