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Raiders wary not to ‘dilute’ the roster by reaching for need but that might prove difficult

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When you need an edge rusher as bad as the Raiders do, reaching for need seems almost inevitable.

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Every GM preaches drafting the best player available. Some are at least honest enough to admit that need also plays a significant role in that selection. Former Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie was one of those who consistently swore the player he selected was the best player on the board, even though the selections were clearly filling needs. Raiders GM Mike Mayock is a bit more upfront about the more practical strategy a GM uses to select certain players — that need is the primary factor.

“I’m the son of a coach and I know how coaches think, and coaches think need,” Mayock said in his pre-draft press conference. “And we are a coach-driven building, our coaches are highly involved and that’s good. I embrace that.”

I doubt there are many (if any) reading this who isn’t already quite familiar with the Raiders considerable need of edge rushing. The need was so great that it seemed inevitable the team would make a play for one of the top edge rushers in free agency to ensure they didn’t go into the draft in desperation mode at the position.

Being desperate at any position ends up calling for desperate measures.

“The flip side is you can’t reach,” Mayock continued, “you got to use some common sense and that’s what I preach upstairs. Is that if we are in a situation where if two similarly rated players and one is a higher position of need, great, let’s go get him, but if there is a discount, a disparity between two let’s not reach for need because the more you do that, the more you dilute your roster, and that’s a conversation we’ve had a lot.”

It’s a conversation that needed to happen, especially after last year’s draft.

In Gruden’s first draft since returning to coaching he passed up on clearly the best player on the board and best safety in the draft Derwin James (twice) to reach for tackle Kolton Miller. Then he traded up in the third round to get small school tackle Brandon Parker. Those reaches bit them in the ass last season and still this offseason tackle was the top priority as they began free agency by making Trent Brown the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history.

With the way most mock drafts are falling, the Raiders are in a precarious position with regard to pass rushers. The top two pass rushers Nick Bosa and Josh Allen are usually gone, and the next tier would be considered a reach at 4. The edge rushers most commonly in that group are Brian Burns, Montez Sweat, and Clelin Ferrell. But by the time they get to pick 24, all those next tier of pass rushers figure to be gone.

This will make it tempting to trade up in the first round. The fear with that is teams strong arming the Raiders to force them to give up too much in trade knowing they have them right where they want them. The draft value chart suggests the Raiders could move up into the top 12 while not having to surrender both pick 24 and 27. But if the team they are negotiating with simply stands their ground, and the Raiders know if they don’t make that trade, they will miss out on one of the draft’s top pass rushers, they may be forced to overpay to make the move.

The next group of edge rushers are not widely considered first round prospects. But as much draft sense as it makes for the Raiders to not reach for anyone in that group at 24 or 27, it could prove tempting if they are sitting there looking at the risk of going through all three first round selections without addressing the most glaring need on the team.

No one knows exactly how the draft will play out. Mayock’s draft board might be very different than those of other teams or draft analysts. It often is. He is also not the one with the final say in who gets drafted.

Mayock admits that he is the conservative one and Gruden is more willing to ‘“roll the dice”. Gruden gets antsy and either gives up too much or drafts players higher than they should be taken for fear of not getting his guy or not filling a need. That’s not a good combination when considering the situation the Raiders have put themselves in at edge rusher.