Why Raiders should look for edge rushers in free agency, 2019 NFL Draft

Why Raiders should look for edge rushers in free agency, 2019 NFL Draft

Editor's note: The Raiders season isn't over, but we'll keep one eye on the future with our weekly series on the Raiders' biggest needs heading into 2019 and how voids can be filled best. This week's focus is on edge rushers

Jon Gruden insists he isn’t looking beyond the next four games toward the offseason, when significant salary cap space and three first-round draft picks will allow him to rebuild the roster after an in-season tear down.

The Raiders need a bunch on both sides of the football, same as most terrible teams. There’s one need, to borrow an expression from Iron Chef, which reigns supreme.

It took the top spot on Sept. 1, when Khalil Mack was traded to Chicago for a compensation package that included two first-round picks. The Raiders lost an All-Pro, a game wrecker and a closer who had to be accounted for at all times. Mack made everyone around him better, and grew into a leadership role on defense.

Arden Key was drafted in the third round to be Bruce Irvin’s heir apparent, with an eye on developing depth at that spot. Nobody could instantly replace Mack, which is why the Raiders are dead last in sacks and quarterback pressures this season.

The Raiders don’t need one new presence off the edge. They need two, a pair to bring intimidation and take pressure off Key’s development. The Raiders are in line for the second overall pick. The slot could go to an edge rusher, or another first-rounder could be used on a top guy. The Raiders have to get a premiere, plug-and-play talent, not a flier later in the draft. Though they could use one of those, too. And all that should preclude them from adding veteran to bring the heat as well.

[RELATED: Raiders 2019 NFL draft order: Only 49ers stand in way of No. 1 pick]

The Raiders have some young talent in the secondary, but they can only hold up with pressure applied up front. The Silver and Black need an overhaul off the edge. There’s little argument about that.

Players likely to stay in 2019

Arden Key: The LSU product is playing way more than expected this early. He was supposed to apprentice behind Mack and Irvin, and now both guys are gone. Key has the tools to be a standout pass rusher. The Raiders will give him time.

Shilique Calhoun: The 2016 third-round improved during the year, and could come back cheap if he doesn’t get offers in restricted free agency. He could compete for a roster spot off the edge if no other offers come about.

Players likely to go

Frostee Rucker: Let’s call this a maybe. A respected leader and team captain could return to guide a unit if it’s especially young, and could offer some run support. He has never been one to consistently hound quarterbacks at this stage.

Damontre Moore: He’s only been here a day, and must prove better and more consistent to compete for a roster spot next season. He has all the tools, and coaches keep trying to unlock great potential.

Raiders potential offseason plan

Free agency: The Raiders weren’t excited about paying Khalil Mack top-of-the-market money, especially when Aaron Donald’s deal sent the bar skyward. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend big on top-flight defenders.

Excellent edge rushers typically don’t reach free agency, so it’s possible some of the names you’ll read here get franchise tagged or re-signed this winter. It’s so early at this point that we don’t know who will actually hit the market come mid-March

We aren’t bothering with Ziggy Ansah or Demarcus Lawrence, because it seems it's long shot they’d be available.

Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney and Philadelphia’ Brandon Graham could be in that same boat, but the Texans are paying J.J. Watt big bucks and Philly’s cap space isn’t great. The Raiders could swoop in and land an all-round presence who could strengthen run and pass defense, working well in tandem with a drafted player.

[RELATED: NFL Power Rankings Week 14: 49ers sink to bottom; Raiders are fighting]

Graham in particular could provide stability off one edge and locker room leadership up front. That would be a huge help in stabilizing a young front.

Dee Ford and Trey Flowers are also young and productive and in line for huge raises and possible franchise tag. Maybe the Patriots won’t ay big for Flowers and the Raiders can coax him over to the West Coast.

Frank Clark is also an animal off the edge – just ask Kolton Miller about his Week 6 experience – and is yet another player the team could pick off in free agency. Everyone mentioned above can’t get tagged or re-sign. If one comes free, the Raiders should pounce.

Draft: The Raiders need a premier pass rusher. The good ones go fast, meaning one of the team’s three first-round picks should be spent on this position. If they lose out and a 49ers victory opens the gate to the No. 1 overall pick Ohio State’s Nick Bosa has to be a consideration.

The Ohio State product can be a game wrecker, with some believing he’s better than his older brother Joey Bosa, starring for the Chargers. Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell is a physical freak. Boston College’s Zach Allen and Michigan’s Rashan Gary could be monsters off the edge with great size. Only Bosa’s worthy of the first or second slot, but the picks taken from Dallas and Chicago give the Raiders options to take another edge player of package them to get a higher pick and select the edge rusher the Raiders want.

Houston's Ed Oliver may not be an edge rusher, but many consider him to be an elite talent who can get after the quarterback from several spots.

Bottom line: Edge rushers are expensive. The Raiders shouldn’t be afraid to pay for a good one, and supplement youth around him. This position group hasn’t had depth in a long, long time. It’s time to give Paul Guenther some firepower off the edge.

Raiders training camp questions: Can Antonio Brown set new standard?


Raiders training camp questions: Can Antonio Brown set new standard?

Antonio Brown talked a good game at his Raiders introductory press conference. He vowed to set a new standard within the Silver and Black as a prime example of work ethic and accountability and, of course, by putting up crazy stats often under pressure.

He has only been through an offseason program since being traded from Pittsburgh, without much chance to back all that up. He has been excellent in spring opportunities to do so, showing great work ethic in private, behind closed doors as he does so often on social media.

The man practices so hard and so fast on every play that receivers can’t help but notice. He talks serious trash during drills, but has gained the respect of Raiders cornerbacks by helping them at times and always raising the level of competition.

Fans attending Raiders training camp in Napa starting this week will see incredible work rate firsthand.

He’s steady, dynamic and shockingly durable, the first Raiders offensive superstar since Jon Gruden’s previous head-coaching stint.

Superstars produce. If healthy, Brown will do that even in heavy coverage. He has six consecutive seasons with at least101 receptions, 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns, all of them played with the spotlight shining bright. He has had more than 100 catches, 1,499 and 12 touchdowns in half of those years.

The best superstars also lead. That’s what Brown said he wants to do here. That effort ramps up in training camp. He shouldn’t play much, if at all, in the preseason. Risking his health is foolish in meaningless games. He should push his teammates, and his quarterback for better throughout this summer stint in Napa.

Brown is an eccentric. Lots of players are. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if the leadership by example trend continues and he helps elevate teammates by more than just drawing coverage.

The main question from now on is that effort’s sustainability through training camp’s dog days. And, what if the Raiders stumble out of the gate and struggle mightily through a grueling schedule? How will be react then, or if Carr struggles some finding Brown as well or as often as he did with the Steelers? While it didn’t end well with the Steelers, Pittsburgh never finished below .500 while Brown was there and averaged 10.4 wins per season. We simply don’t know how he’d adapt to steady losing if that happens because he hasn’t been through it as a pro.

Brown will set a new standard for work rate and production around here, but maintaining it through tough times might be equally important.

Is Derek Carr too sensitive? Raiders QB bashed by NFL coaches, exec

Is Derek Carr too sensitive? Raiders QB bashed by NFL coaches, exec

Derek Carr is entering a critical season in his second year under Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. It could be make-or-break for the QB as the Silver and Black head into their final season in Oakland. 

After looking like an MVP candidate in 2016, he's been trending down in the eyes of many. The Athletic's Mike Sando presented his Quarterback Tiers survey Monday after talking with fifty-five anonymous coaches and executives who rank the QBs from Tier 1 to Tier 5. 

Carr was voted into Tier 3 as the No. 20 overall quarterback, one spot behind 49ers starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo. And the comments on the Raiders' signal-caller aren't too pretty. 

Voters brought up three specific plays that show the kind of quarterback Carr was last season. One was him throwing the ball away on fourth down, another example was him looking scared in the final minutes of the Raiders' Week 8 loss to the Colts, but the final example is what really stands out. 

“The Chiefs game, he throws a pick-six and the guy (Jared Cook) isn’t even running the route. It was, ‘What the f--k?" the voter said to Sando.

Carr's ability to handle Gruden's style has been questioned ever since Chucky signed his 10-year deal with the Raiders. Through one season, those questions aren't going away. 

“He is sensitive and needs encouragement, and that is not the style he is going to get,” an offensive coach said to Sando. “When someone shows disappointment in him, he shrinks. The head coach not coming out and completely endorsing him has to be eating him alive."

[RELATED: Five bold predictions for upcoming Raiders season]

If the Raiders endure another losing season and Carr doesn't significantly improve, he could be looking for another job when the team moves to Las Vegas. It sounds like plenty of people around the league believe that could easily be the case.