There are so many holes to fill on this Raiders team, it can be hard to keep up. Among those holes, however, there are a few positions that stand out above the rest. Mike Mayock tossed out the glaring top two in his scouting combine press conference Wednesday and detailed what he is looking for in a third.
Coaches and GM’s are often careful not to tip their hands as to what they will be looking at most intently in the draft. But if you listen, you can hear those positions come out.
While talking about how he is getting on the same page with the coaches and scouts on the Raiders’ staff, he tossed out two positions that are of crucial importance.
“Now that I get to sit down with Jon Gruden and Paul Guenther and define who we are and what we want in our building. That’s been a fun process,” said Mayock. “I think it helps our scouts redefine what they’re looking for when they’re on the road. Understanding what Paul Guenther’s defensive end looks like. What Jon Gruden’s ‘X’ receiver looks like.”
Saying a team that had 13 sacks last season and just one from a defensive end currently on the team has a need at the position isn’t really a revelation. Luckily for Mayock on the Raiders, it’s a fairly deep position in this draft.
“What I would say about the defensive line in general is that in the last ten years I’d say it is the best defensive line group we’ve seen, both edge rushers and inside guys,” Mayock said of how he grades the defensive line in this draft. “I think when you start talking about the first round of the draft, I think it’s going to be dominated by defensive lineman.”
It will also come as no surprise to anyone that the Raiders will be paying close attention to wide receivers. They have one surefire starter in Jordy Nelson and he’s about to turn 34. Mayock didn’t just say receiver, though, he said ‘X receiver’ for which the Raiders had a 7th round rookie practice squad call up playing last season.
“I mean Marcel Ateman is our ‘X’ right now,” Mayock explained. “Typically, in most NFL systems the ‘X’ is the bigger wide receiver. Ateman right now is a guy that we like, but again at all positions we think we can get faster, more athletic and that’s what we’re going to try to do. Not just at ‘X’, but everywhere throughout our roster.”
Those are the clearcut, undisputed top needs on this team. There may be some argument as to the next need, though most would probably say linebacker. Regardless, safety is also up there. The question is just what kind of qualities are they looking for in a safety?
Mayock was a defensive back in his playing days, so he can easily speak on what the Raiders are looking to find. As Paul Guenther noted last year, he said the Raiders aren’t looking for a traditional strong and free safety combo. This means his safeties must be versatile, with the ability to play either position interchangeably.
“A lot of teams by scheme are high and low. Sometimes the other team forces you to readjust,” Mayock said of the safety position. “Anytime you get a skill set where you can play both, I think it’s an advantage. I just think those guys are kind of rare. You have to plan sometimes for…At the safety position you can get a big box guy that’s tough as nails and can get in the box and tackle. Then the guy on the backend with range. I personally would like to have to interchangeable guys. I just don’t think they’re out there.”
Currently the Raiders top two safeties are former top pick Karl Joseph and former special teams maven Erik Harris. Both barely saw the field on defense early last season and finished strong. The question becomes whether the Raiders will count on that duo continuing their momentum or if they will look for an upgrade and/or competition. Smart money says they add some talent there.