Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie wasn’t giving away any secrets when he met with reporters for a pre-draft press conference last week.
“We just want more impact players,” McKenzie said. “You can never have enough play-makers on both sides of the ball.”
As it stands, though, the Raiders have a few more play-makers on one side than the other. Their offense ranked sixth in yards per game last season. Their defense ranked 26th in yards allowed and last in yards allowed per play.
The Raiders have the reigning defensive player of the year in defensive end Khalil Mack and could use this week’s draft to secure some pieces to place around him – especially as they’ve used free agency mostly to bolster the offense. McKenzie, still, wouldn’t commit.
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“We’re going to take the best player,” he said. “There are some good defensive players in this draft. But we’re going to follow our board like always.”
Unlike past years, when losing records placed the Raiders high in the draft order, they are picking 24th in this year’s first round following a 12-5 record that includes a playoff loss to Houston, the team’s first postseason berth in 14 years. McKenzie acknowledged that adds an element of unknown to the process, but repeated the Raiders will fall back on the order of players on their draft board.
“Players that you don’t think may be there at 24th could be there sitting right in front of your face,” he said. “We’re going to study it continuously until (Thursday).”
Here are positions the Raiders could look to bolster their roster via the draft:
Inside linebacker – The Raiders are deep at linebacker – in management roles. Both McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio played the position. But the roster is lacking – especially at inside linebacker. McKenzie recently vowed that he and Del Rio “know what a good linebacker is supposed to look like. We’re going to get us a couple, I hope, at some point before we play in September.”
The question is how high the Raiders will go to select one. McKenzie has not drafted a linebacker higher than the fifth round in the past two years. But he could select a player Thursday who could start right away.
A few mock drafts have the Raiders using the 24th overall pick on Florida’s Jarrad Davis. Haason Reddick from Temple and Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt are also potential first-rounders. If he falls to them, the Raiders could consider Reuben Foster of Alabama, a top-10 talent who generated some concerns with a diluted drug test sample and an altercation with a medical worker at the scouting combine.
In the later rounds, Oakland could stock the position by targeting such players as Ohio’s Blair Brown, Northwestern’s Anthony Walker or Michigan’s Ben Gedeon. On a recent conference call, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. singled out Gedeon’s 10-tackle game against Ohio State last season, saying: “You look at that game, you think he’s a second-round pick.”
Cornerback – The Raiders have an opening at slot corner following the departure of D.J. Hayden. They have two starting corners who both struggled at times last year. They could address both issues by taking a corner who could start in nickel packages as a rookie and perhaps eventually replace either Sean Smith or David Amerson.
The Raiders reportedly visited with Washington’s Kevin King, who had 44 tackles and 13 pass break-ups his senior season. Adoree Jackson from USC, last season’s Thorpe Award winner, can also return kicks. In a recent mock draft, Kiper had Oakland using its first pick on LSU’s Tre’Davious White.
The good news is they may not need to look in the early rounds to find a quality player. Kiper said he sees cornerback as “the deepest position by far in this draft. You’re going to see some really good corners later in the draft.”
As examples, Kiper named Nate Hairston out of Temple, Cornelius Elder of Miami or Shaquill Griffin from Central Florida. Damontae Kazee of San Diego State was the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and a projected fourth-rounder.
Defensive tackle – Following their AFC wild-card loss to Houston in January, Del Rio said one of the areas the Raiders must improve is generating a better interior pass rush. They ranked last in the league with 25 sacks – and 18 of those belonged to linebackers Mack and Bruce Irvin.
Stacy McGee, who had 2 1/2 sacks at defensive tackle, is gone. The Raiders hope to have Mario Edwards Jr. for a full season, but he has had trouble staying healthy. Michigan State’s Malik McDowell, who played inside and outside in college, could be a fit if the Raiders snag him early. In the middle rounds, former Placer High standout Eddie Vanderdoes of UCLA is coming off a strong showing at the Senior Bowl.
The offense – McKenzie joked in his press conference: “Don’t be surprised if I draft all offensive players.” That won’t happen. But McKenzie could use a pick or two for another weapon on offense or, looking ahead, an offensive tackle to ensure future protection for Carr. Arguably the Raiders’ only real need on offense, a power running back, was resolved Wednesday by the team reaching a deal with Seattle for Marshawn Lynch.
Round 1: 5 p.m. Thursday
Rounds 2-3: 4 p.m. Friday
Rounds 4-7: 9 a.m. Saturday
Coverage on ESPN, ESPN2 and NFL Network, live streaming on NFL.com