The Raiders need an interior pass rusher. Pretty bad, in fact.
Head coach Jon Gruden expressed that fact recently, the need is nothing new. General manager Reggie McKenzie has attempted to remedy the situation with second-round picks in consecutive drafts, but Mario Edwards Jr. has been inconsistent and Jihad Ward has been ineffective.
The Raiders want to pair an intimidating interior presence with edge rusher Khalil Mack, to take focus away from the team’s best defender. Coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme is particularly effective with strength inside, especially a havoc-creating three-technique.
He had Geno Atkins there under Guenther in Cincinnati, but talents like that aren’t easily cloned.
They may not be readily available when the Raiders select at No. 10 overall. Washington’s Vita Vea is the draft’s best interior defensive lineman (more on him later), though the Raiders don’t have to address such a big need with the top pick.
Count respected NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock among those who believe the Raiders could wait to address this position.
"If you want to get a sub rusher, it doesn't have to be in the first round,” Mayock said in a conference call. “They've got (selections No. 41 and No. 75). You can drop down a little bit. It's not a great interior defensive line class, but there are some different guys throughout it.”
Mayock understands the steady links to Vea, a Milpitas product, but doesn’t believe the Raiders have to select him 10th.
“People want to place him there,” Mayock said. “The way I look at the Raiders, again, is at 10, they can get a significant player at 10, and it doesn't have to be an interior sub rusher or an interior rusher. They signed Tank Carradine, who's going to be on outside guy, or Armani Bryant, who can be an inside-outside guy. I think they've got to get Vanderdoes going a little bit, but there's no doubt that, again, I think they can take a safety, they can take a corner.”
There’s some talent available early and later on, as Mayock suggests. Let’s take a look at some options at this key position.
Vita Vea, Washington
-- The former Husky has surprising athleticism for someone weighing 347 pounds. He should be a good run defender right away, and has more pass-rush ability than people assume. He isn’t elite in that area, but is versatile enough to play several techniques across the line. Analysts say his college tape showed some inconsistent effort. He doesn’t perfectly fill a need, but has the type of disruptive talent the Raiders need on the inside.
Projected round (per NFL.com): 1
Maurice Hurst, Michigan
-- There’s little doubt Hurst is this draft’s best interior pass rusher. A heart condition discovered at the NFL Scouting Combine has made him a wild card. He was cleared to participate in his pro day, and wasn’t asked to submit to a combine re-check. Then came reports about him being removed from consideration by some teams, and a possible fall to Day 3 of this draft. That could be a smoke screen. We may never know its validity. That said: it takes but one team to believe in his prolonged health to go for him early. He could be a Raiders target in the second round if he lasts that long.
Projected rounds: 1-3 (or 4)
Taven Bryan, Florida
Scouts believe Bryan’s best football lies ahead. He doesn’t have great stats, but Bryan’s a freak athlete which the burst and ability to fit well in the Raiders’ one-gap scheme. He’s a tick behind Hurst in terms of raw pass-rush skills, but finds ways to penetrate the pocket. Bryan is considered a first-round talent, and would have to be a trade-down candidate to end up in Silver and Black.
Projected round (per NFL.com): 1
Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State
-- The small-school talent has great size (6-4, 315), athleticism and pass-rush ability, though he’s considered a raw prospect that needs some development time. Analysts say he’s coachable and could be a productive player if he combines improved technique with his physical tools. He wants to be good, and could prove a worthy project for this new coaching staff.
Projected rounds: 2-3
P.J. Hall, Sam Houston State
-- Another small school guy with tremendous college production. Mayock mentioned him when offering Raiders possibilities at defensive tackle, and seems to have the physical talent to be a good pass rusher. He stands 6-1, 310 and played nose tackle in college, but created havoc inside against his level of competition. He’s athletic, with power and quickness, though it’s uncertain how he’ll fare against NFL competition. He showed well at the Shrine Game, which helped increase his profile.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 3-4
R.J. McIntosh, Miami
Here’s another project for the Raiders staff. This is a talented athlete, who could be a solid pass rusher. Analysts say he needs to improve his hand technique, but has potential in a one-gap scheme like the Raiders employ. He could play outside in a base defense and bounce inside. He’ll take some time to develop, and could be available later in the draft.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 3-5