Raiders

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.”

Raiders draft pick Josh Jacobs pleased with 'Madden 20' rookie rating

Raiders draft pick Josh Jacobs pleased with 'Madden 20' rookie rating

It's weird to picture yourself in a video game, right? People actually take a controller and play ... well, they play you.

When it comes to playing Madden NFL, each rookie is rated every year. Baker Mayfield reacted to his ratings last season and this time around, Raiders' newly-drafted running back Josh Jacobs figured out his rating for "Madden NFL 20" -- and he appeared to be pleased with it:

The Raiders quoted his tweet saying the number is "only gonna go up," in support of Jacobs.

The 21-year-old said there was only one rookie he spoke to who had a higher rating. If you're wondering if it was Kyler Murray, he already told one Twitter commenter that it wasn't the No. 1 overall pick he was referring to. Still, a 74 rating isn't bad at all, so it's easy to see why he's happy to share the number that was granted to him.

Madden ratings for a running back are determined by acceleration, agility, and speed. They also update the determinants each season -- but the EA website does say in an article this specific position is a unique one.

"[It's unique] in the sense that rookie rushers often make immediate impacts on the field, while other positions tend to have a bit of transitional period."

[RELATED: Analyst says Jacobs in best position to succeed]

And how does EA come up with the ratings? Well, it's quite simple, really.

"It's combine numbers and then some formulas we've created spits a lot of those numbers they turn there into ratings, we also have a modifier available for guys who show something different on-field compared to their numbers," Dustin Smith, assistant producer for EA Madden NFL told NBC Sports California.

The site also references the possibilities of improvements -- so the Raiders may have a point. 

"Madden 20" will be released on August 2, but you can, of course, preorder it. 

Raiders OTA primer: Five questions entering important offseason phase

Raiders OTA primer: Five questions entering important offseason phase

The Raiders are progressing right through the offseason program, which starts its third and final phase on Tuesday when organized team activities formally begin. The first phase is all about conditioning and meetings. The second allows on-field workouts, without helmets or offense vs. defense work.

They can put it all together over the next four weeks. Well, almost. Players can put helmets on at least, but there’s no live contact over the course of 10 OTA practices and a mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

Units can go against each other these days, a vital part of learning/mastering Raiders schemes. And the competition for roster spots formally starts Monday. Nothing will be decided for months, but players can make an early impression on an organization looking for improved production in most spots. The 2019 Raiders really start coming together now.

Here are some key questions to keep an eye on throughout OTAs and minicamp:

Will veteran LBs flash old form?

Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall know how to run a defensive front seven. Both guys have done so for the Bengals and Broncos, respectively, for several years. Injuries (and maybe age) have pushed them out of old markets and toward the Silver and Black, where they’re looking to restart careers representing new colors.

Recent past creates question marks about whether they can find old form and be three-down mainstays for a Raiders defense needing stability inside. Burfict’s intimate knowledge of Paul Guenther’s scheme while working with him Cincinnati should help tremendously. So should Burfict’s aggressive play inside.

Marshall’s a cerebral sort and a sure tackler capable of playing any linebacker spot.

Those guys could help a great deal. Keyword: could. Don’t forget the optimism surrounding Derrick Johnson last offseason, when spring promises of upgraded play were never met.

Marshall and Burfict will start fitting into this Raiders' defense during OTAs, and we’ll see how much spring remains in veteran steps. Both guys are working on one-year contracts but hope to remain for a longer term. They’ll have to prove themselves deserving in 2019 to stick around.

How will TE shakeup shake out?

The Raiders have mixed up their tight end position group this offseason, letting Jared Cook walk in free agency before cutting Lee Smith recently.

Darren Waller’s set for a big receiving role that he’ll have to earn in OTAs and training camp. He has all the speed and athleticism needed for success, but he must be reliable in the pattern to get targets in the passing game.

Fourth-round pick Foster Moreau will compete for a role, alongside Luke Willson and Derek Carrier. The group will look different, and those guys must step up and fill an important blocking role in the run game, especially. Competition for snaps should be fierce in that group. OTAs will give some a leg up heading into training camp.

Chemistry class in session?

Quarterback Derek Carr worked extensively with new receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams at universities and even public parks trying to establish an early rapport with his new receivers. The offseason program has afforded regular opportunities to do so with them and other newbies Ryan Grant and J.J. Nelson and even fifth-round draft pick Hunter Renfrow.

Thus far, they’ve only worked against air. Adding coverage and defensive resistance will be a solid litmus test to see if the timing is in fact right. There’s no real worry even if not, considering how much time remains to get it right.

Will three first-rounders make a good OTA impression?

The Raiders used three first-round picks on guys who need pads to truly be evaluated. That’s especially true for defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell (No. 4 overall) and running back Josh Jacobs (No. 24), who won’t really be able to thump until training camp.

Athleticism and burst and elusiveness could be seen clearly in OTAs, where these guys could jump right into top units. Safety Johnathan Abram will be asked to cover and do a bit of everything, but he might be brought along initially behind Karl Joseph at strong safety. That doesn’t mean the hierarchy will remain, but it could ease Abram’s initial transition.

The Raiders are counting on all three first-rounders to make an immediate impact, and they’d like to hit the ground running and show positive flashes while learning the scheme.

[RELATED: AB posts cryptic tweet after Big Ben apology]

Who jumps out in cornerback rotation?

Gareon Conley seems set to start at one outside cornerback spot. Daryl Worley’s favored to start on the opposite end, with safety Lamarcus Joyner sliding into the slot when required. Veteran Nevin Lawson will have something to say about that. And the Raiders didn’t draft Trayon Mullen at No. 40 overall to sit around and play fourth fiddle.

Expect some competition from that position group during OTAs and beyond, as we find out who can excel playing the physical coverage style Guenther requires. Rashaan Melvin never figured it out, and had a rough 2018. There’s enough talent here that a slow start could hurt fighting for regular-season snaps, as we see how a premium position group fares against a loaded receiver corps that will start testing coverage ability immediately.