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Jon Gruden needs Raiders recent draft classes to ‘explode onto the scene’ and Mario Edwards Jr is key to that

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As a 3-technique, Mario Edwards Jr. could be one of the young defensive players to step up Oakland Raiders

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Not since the 2014 draft have the Oakland Raiders gotten much from their draft classes. They are built around edge-rusher Khalil Mack (Round 1) and quarterback Derek Carr (Round 2), of 2014 NFL Draft class. From there, they drafted guard Gabe Jackson in Round 3 that year.

Since then the only stand out as been Amari Cooper in Round 1 in 2015. So the offensive personnel is solid, giving once-again head coach Jon Gruden something to look forward to.

The Raiders have drafted a lot of defensive talent to put around Mack the last few years, but the defense has yet to enjoy even a year of the success the way the offense did in 2016.

“I think most importantly with the Raiders, just looking at our last, three drafts, we need some young people to emerge and start playing, a lot for this football team,” Jon Gruden said Wednesday at the combine.

“We have a lot of work to do, and we need some talent to rise within this organization, I’ll say that. Our last three drafts, I’m looking at it, and other than Amari Cooper, we need some of these young players to really explode on the scene. It starts there.”

It truly starts with 2015 second-round defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr., who’s a stud when he’s right, but who has dealt with a lot of injuries in his first three seasons.

Edwards suffered neck and hip injuries his first two years. He then started Year 3 in dominant fashion, stuffing the run and leading the Raiders in sacks the first four games. His production tailed off after that before once again being lost to injury in week 14.

Enter Paul Guenther, whom Gruden hired as Defensive Coordinator, coming over from Cincinnati. What Guenther likes to do with his defenses fits Edwards’ skill-set perfectly.

Even when at his best, Edwards was held back as a pass-rusher by the scheme he was in. He was a 2-gap 3-4 defensive end just like he was in college which was why his skill-set didn’t match his production at Florida State. Guenther runs a 1-gap, play-the-run-on-the-way-to-the-QB defense.

“I really think [Bruce Irvin is] playing a difficult position because he’s really an edge player,” Gruden said. “And when you ask him to play over the tight end or over the offensive tackle at his size, you can get beat up. But he’s still a very good pass-rusher. I think he plays with good effort. We just need to get him some help so he can do the things he does the best more often.”

That sounds like Gruden he wants Irvin at EDGE with Mack which could suggest Edwards is already on his way to 3-technique. He can get up to 285 or 290 from 280 and use that 4.8 40 speed he has to penetrate and disrupt.

This is a good opportunity for Edwards, who is returning with a clean bill of health for the offseason and the motivation of a contract year. At 3-technique, he could be one of the young defensive players Gruden looking to emerge in 2018.