MOBILE, Ala. -- University of Texas defensive end Charles Omenihu spent his Senior Bowl week working with Jon Gruden and the Raiders coaching staff.
His primary goal was to replicate what he had put on tape as the Big XII defensive lineman of the year.
There wasn’t any extra incentive to perform well specifically for the Raiders, who desperately need pass rushers. Omenihu didn’t know just how deficient the Silver and Black are at his position, and was shocked to hear the Raiders had just 13 sacks last year.
“Really? Wow,” Omenihu said in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “I had 9.5 myself.”
Rookie defensive tackle Maurice Hurst led the team with four from the inside. There was little to no pressure off the edge, even before Bruce Irvin got released.
Edge rusher is obviously the team’s largest and most pressing need this offseason. It’s likely the Raiders acquire more than one edge rusher, likely two and possibly three, through free agency and the draft. They are keeping a close eye on that position during the pre-draft process.
"Are we focused in on defensive ends at [the Senior Bowl]? Of course,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said. “We’d be dumb if we weren’t. But we need pretty much everything on defense. We’re looking at every position."
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The Raiders own the No. 4 overall NFL draft pick and have four selections in the top 35, meaning they could take more than one pass rusher high.
Will that be Omenihu, one of six defensive ends featured on the North squad? He stood out during the week, and expects his name to be called early in the NFL draft.
“I’d like to be drafted as high as possible,” the former Longhorn said. “I wanted to show that, if you draft me, you won’t regret it.”
Should the Raiders select an edge rusher from the Senior Bowl ranks, they’ll do so with a high level of confidence. They spent three practice days and countless meetings working with the North squad, which features Omenihu, Boston College’s Zach Allen and Oregon’s Jalen Jelks.
Jelks and Omenihu had strong showings, though Allen was a smidge more inconsistent than the other two as a pass rusher according to sources at the Senior Bowl. Allen was moved around quite a bit, and fared well at times versus the run. Charleston’s John Cominsky also jumped on the radar from a small school. TCU's L.J. Collier may have been the most consistent of the bunch, CBS Sports mentioned, and moved around quite a bit.
The Senior Bowl’s best edge rushers might be on the 49er-run South squad. Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat was the best edge rusher in Mobile during the practice week. Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson had some moments, though there were some mixed opinions about him talking to scouts and coaches who watched practice. Old Dominion’s Oshane Ximines also caught some eyes working with the 49ers staff.
The Raiders had prolonged meetings with the South team on Friday, allowing them to leave with solid background and insight from everyone who plays here at the Senior Bowl.
“We have some guys who we’re watching, guys who we’re moving around on the line,” Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “The other team has some really exciting guys who could go in the top half of the draft.”
The Raiders are keeping a close eye on all of those players, though only a few would be considerations with their Nos. 24 and 27 overall picks. The No. 4 slot will most assuredly go to a talent who didn’t play in the Senior Bowl this week, but there solid players here who could help the Raiders in terms of depth and productivity off the edge.
Their 13 sacks in 2018 were 17 fewer than the NFL’s second-worst team. They need more, and will likely need an immediate impact from one or more of the edge rushers imported this offseason.
Omenihu wants to leave the entire league with a good impression after the Senior Bowl, heading into the NFL scouting combine and pro days.
“I want my performance here to echo what I’ve put on tape,” he said. “I believe I have tape showing me screaming off the edge.”