Oakland Raiders Draft Strategy: Defensive line

Al Messerschmidt

In our third installment of our draft preview, we look at the final position of major need for Oakland: defensive line. Is this the position Oakland should target above all else with the No. 5 pick?

The funny thing about a defense is the remarkable amount that one position can help another. Take, for example, the defensive backfield and the defensive line.

If you have corners that can lock receivers down for longer than usual, it gives the defensive line more time to get to the quarterback. On the flip side, if you have a defensive line that can generate a lot of pressure, it takes some stress of your corners because they know they don't need to cover as long.

So with holes all over the defense and a first round pick from last year playing corner, it's no surprise that the defensive line is another position of major need for Oakland. Earlier this week, we outlined the prospects of drafting a quarterback and a wide receiver, but today, in our final installment, we look at who might be available in the trenches.

In the past two pieces, I've come to the conclusion that there are no quarterbacks worthy of the No. 5 pick, but that if a guy like Sammy Watkins were available, I'd grab him.

Today, however, we focus on an even more attractive (albeit less likely) target: Jadeveon Clowney.

Once regarded as one of the top prospects the NFL Draft would ever see, Clowney's stock has fallen slightly after a disappointing junior season that included questions about his effort level and mental makeup.

That said, it's impossible to ignore the wealth of talent Clowney was blessed with. For me, the effort level and mental makeup is easily fixable: once the guy is getting paid a ton of money to play the game, he won't worry about "risking his future" like he probably was this entire season.

Playing for a current paycheck is different than playing for a future paycheck, and you approach both situations differently. Personally, like I said, I'm not worried about Clowney's off-the-field "issues".

So with that behind me, it's obvious that Clowney is still the best player in this draft (and it might be by a long-shot). The biggest question is whether the Raiders really have a shot at the defensive end with four teams picking ahead of them.

The good news is that a lot of those teams need quarterbacks, and the one team that doesn't, St. Louis, doesn't need any more help along the defensive line. The biggest threat to Clowney is probably a trade into the top four.

Without getting too deep into that, though, let's look at how Clowney would fit in Oakland. The answer? Perfectly.

Here is the entire list of defensive linemen under contract in Oakland for 2014: Jack Crawford, Ricky Lumpkin, Stacy McGee, Ryan Robinson and a couple guys on "future" contracts. Moral of the story? The Oakland defensive line situation is bleak (to say the least).

Obviously, many are hoping to re-sign Lamarr Houston and Pat Sims, but there's no guarantee either of those guys comes back. Even if both do, neither has proven to be much of a pass-rusher — a hole Clowney would fill immediately.

The nice thing about defensive ends is that they have a high success rate early on in their career. If we look back at the players picked in the top 15 of the past five drafts (excluding 2013 due to the small sample size), the players picked were: Bruce Irvin, Marcell Dareus, Aldon Smith, Von Miller, JJ Watt, Robert Quinn, Brandon Graham, Jason Pierre-Paul, Tyson Jackson, Aaron Maybin, Brian Orakpo, Chris Long, Vernon Gholston and Derrick Harvey.

If you developed a list of the best defensive ends in football right now, almost the entire list would come from that group of guys. Even better, look how many didn't pan out — maybe two or three at the most?

For me, Clowney is a no-brainer for Oakland if he's still around — he fills a need, he's a safe bet and he's the most talented player in the draft. If I had to choose, I'd go Clowney as my top priority, Watkins second and then a whole list of players who don't play quarterback after that.

What do you think, is Clowney your top choice for Oakland?

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