Raiders

Quinnen Williams ready to compete for No. 1 pick in 2019 NFL Draft

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USATSI

Quinnen Williams ready to compete for No. 1 pick in 2019 NFL Draft

Quinnen Williams could be a real asset for the Raiders defense if they select him No. 4 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Alabama defensive lineman wowed at the University of Alabama, and showed great athleticism and elusiveness for someone so big.

There’s real doubt Williams (6-foot-4, 289 pounds) will make it to the fourth pick. He could go as high as No. 1 overall if he supports a dominant 2018 season with excellent work in the pre-draft process.

The Arizona Cardinals, 49ers and New York Jets all sit above the Raiders and could use a defensive lineman or pass rusher, and Williams could well be that guy. In fact, most mock draft have him going in the top 3.

Williams, however, believes he should be the first player taken, even with fellow elite defensive linemen Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Kentucky’s Josh Allen and Michigan’s Rashan Gary in the field.

“I’m a humble kid, so I never thought about going No. 1 or No. 2 overall in the draft.” Williams said during a Wednesday appearance on NFL Network. “I’m just blessed to be in the draft in general, and I’m blessed to be mentioned with those guys. I was with Josh Allen at some awards shows, and I’ve seen Bosa highlights and he’s a great player.

"I’m a great player also, and I’m a very hard worker. My IQ level for football is through the roof, and I believe I can compete for that position and become the No. 1 pick if I crush the combine and do what I have to do.”

[RELATED: How Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock could use Raiders' picks]

Williams was awesome for Alabama last season in his only year as a starter, recording 71 tackles, including 19.5 for a loss, eight sacks and a pass defensed.

The Birmingham, Ala. native is training in Los Angeles right now, prepping for the NFL Pro Scouting Combine at the next of this month. He’ll have a pro day at Alabama after that, likely the final showcase before the NFL draft.

Raiders camp battles: Several combinations possible at safety

Raiders camp battles: Several combinations possible at safety

Editor’s note: We’ll take a look at several Raiders training camp battles leading up to the first full-squad practice on Saturday, and then we’ll update their progress throughout the preseason. Let’s get into the second one, focusing on safeties.

The Raiders have taken a safety in the first round of the NFL draft two of the last four years. They still paid a veteran top dollar to join the mix as a safety and slot corner. They extended a special teams player with some starts to his credit, too.

In short: the Raiders have options at safety, lots of them good.

That position will shake out in training camp, which starts this week in Napa.

This year’s No. 27 overall draft pick is already there. Johnathan Abram reported to camp Tuesday with the Raiders rookies, already in good position to snag a starting spot. Coaches love the Mississippi State alum, who joined the first unit later in the offseason program. He carries unshakable confidence and skill into his work as a do-everything safety that seems pro ready.

He paired with 2016 first-rounder Karl Joseph during the offseason program, who should still be a factor despite the team declining his fifth-year option. The team came away impressed by his recovery from injury and a slow start, when he found his footing in a role tailored to his strengths.

Erik Harris evolved into a defensive role last season, with the size and length to play free safety. He clearly has assumed a vocal leadership role in the back, and will fight for a job either on every down or obvious passing situations. He might end up being a super sub capable of playing anywhere, a valuable commodity in the secondary.

Lamarcus Joyner is the x-factor in all this. He’s clearly the team’s best free safety, but the high-priced free-agent signing has focused on slot cornerback to this point. That could change during training camp. Time will tell on that front. Coaches could split his focus -- he’s fully capable of switching between free safety and slot corner -- right away or bring him back to safety at times should one of the aforementioned contenders flop.

[RELATED: Why Carr should be primed to have a huge season this year]

Curtis Riley and Jordan Richards are also veterans in the mix, though they’re firmly on the roster bubble.

Early edge: Abram and Joseph at safety, with Joyner primarily at slot CB.

Raiders camp questions: Can Vontaze Burfict give stability at linebacker?

Raiders camp questions: Can Vontaze Burfict give stability at linebacker?

The Raiders have searched long and hard for stability at middle linebacker. They haven’t had much luck recently, no matter who has been picking players.

Let’s call it the curse of Rolando McClain, a wasted first-round pick that exemplifies the team’s issues filling an important position. Only Perry Riley and NaVorro Bowman offered partial-season respites during this middle linebacker drought, and neither player re-signed with the club.

Nick Roach, Curtis Lofton, Ben Heeney, Miles Burris and Derrick Johnson all have tried and failed to stabilize the position. Still-developing Marquel Lee, a rare linebacker drafted to play the middle, was thrust into a starting role but didn't stick and has been used on the strong side. The Raiders haven’t selected a middle linebacker before the fourth round since McClain, choosing largely to go the veteran route inside.

Vontaze Burfict enters as this year’s attempt to get the middle linebacker spot right. Brandon Marshall also is in town and capable of playing inside and out, as the Raiders hope to establish veteran leadership running Paul Guenther’s defense.

Burfict has spent most of his career as Guenther’s field general, and having him here should open previously closed chapters of an extensive playbook. Burfict was helpful running practice reps and meetings during the offseason program, already proving to be a valuable resource to his new team.

He must remain available and productive to stay that way. Burfict has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, which has hampered his effectiveness. Will he be a three-down player inside? Even two would be helpful, considering Tahir Whitehead’s lineup regularity and comfort with the defense.

Marshall also can fill the middle, proving a solid Plan B if Burfict struggles. Having veteran options playing in front of a developing corps including Jason Cabinda, Lee and Nicholas Morrow should be better than previous seasons, where the Raiders never seemed to have a backup plan.

[RELATED: Five incredibly bold predictions for upcoming Raiders season]

Burfict has been impactful already, but we haven’t seen much of Marshall. The former Bronco missed most offseason practices with an undisclosed injury.

These older veterans have been producers in the league but skepticism is fair until they show old form during the regular season. Can Burfict and/or Marshall succeed where previous players have struggled?

It’s worth keeping a keen eye on the middle linebacker spot and the position group as a whole, which must improve for the Raiders' defense to run well this regular season.