A 12-4 season for the Raiders was put together almost solely by their high-powered offense. Their defense, on the other hand, was not so special. They were ranked 26th in the league in yards allowed per game. This despite the additions of starters Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith, and Reggie Nelson.
It seemed pretty obvious the Raiders would need to upgrade the defense. The first place to look, at least chronologically, is free agency.
The Raiders made some additions in free agency, by much to most people’s surprise, those additions were almost solely on offense.
As usual, they made the offensive line top priority, adding tackle Marshall Newhouse. Then they signed wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, tight end Jared Cook, and quarterback EJ Manuel. It was 11 days into free agency before they finally added a defender, signing linebacker Jelani Jenkins to a one-year deal.
Jenkins doesn’t solve their need at linebacker and Newhouse may not solve their need at tackle either. But at least in Newhouse and incumbent Austin Howard, they have competition at right tackle in case no player they like is available in the draft.
Outside of maybe offensive tackle, the only other position on offense they have a glaring need is running back. And with the team currently negotiating a contract for a potential trade with the Seahawks to acquire Marshawn Lynch, it’s possible they fill that need before the draft as well.
What we are left with is the real possibility of an all defensive draft by the Raiders. Or at least all defensive the first two days where teams attempt to find instant starters and upgrades.
Last season the Raiders went all defense in the first three rounds, picking safety Karl Joseph in the first round, defensive lineman Jihad Ward in the second, and pass rusher Shilique Calhoun in the third. Thus far, Joseph is the only one of the three to solve an need.
Nearly every defensive position is a need for the Raiders this year. Some more than others, of course. Inside linebacker tops the list followed by defensive tackle, cornerback, and safety.
Luckily — or perhaps by design — the Raiders needs seem to align with the strength of this draft.
“[This is] a defensive-heavy draft, particularly at some of the marquis positions,” NFL media’s Bucky Brooks said Thursday on conference call. “In the defensive backfield, corner and safety I think it's one of the deepest classes that we've had.”
Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah — who was also on the conference call — are in agreement with the depth in the defensive backfield in this draft. They both also have the Raiders going linebacker at 24th overall in the upcoming draft according to their mock drafts. Brooks has them taking Temple’s Haason Reddick while Jeremiah has them grabbing Florida’s Jarrad Davis. In both cases, their counterpart is already off the board, so in their mind it’s basically about taking a top linebacker with that pick, whichever one is available.
“Both guys could benefit the Raiders' defense,” said Brooks. “I think you're talking about guys that are similar in their approach to the game, their athleticism, the thump that they bring. The Raiders need to improve on the second level of their defense. They need to find more play-makers. Both the guys are play-makers.
“Davis has a little more thump to him in terms of his toughness. He can roam sideline to sideline, make plays. Reddick may be more versatile. At Temple he was able to be an off-the-edge rusher, but went to the Senior Bowl and played inside. I think he gives them a lot of option, as they're trying to fine tune their defense. You can't go wrong with either player. If they see either of those players on the board, they slap the card up.”
The beauty of a deep cornerback class is should they go with linebacker as many have suggested, including myself, there is likely to still be some solid cornerbacks available in the second round.
After that, thinking about beefing up the interior defensive line or perhaps safety would be a good idea in the third round and beyond. Once you get into the third day, ‘Best Player Available’ really comes more into play which could open it up for more for players on offense.