Free agency has tapered down now. But the Raiders were plenty active. The Antonio Brown and Trent Brown deals showed Gruden and Mayock together are capable of making a big splash to address two major needs. The secondary was attacked with the signing of LaMarcus Joyner. Even linebacker gained new faces with the signing of Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall who figure to add some veteran stability in the middle.
But edge rusher? Still easily the biggest hole on the roster.
The lone additions were Josh Mauro and Alex Barrett, two players who have done little to prove they can rush the passer in the NFL. No disrespect to Mauro who could end up being a fan favorite for his run stopping ability, but he isn’t much of a pass rusher. And Barrett has only played meaningful minutes in the now defunct AAF. These two additions at defensive end don’t give fans much hope who keep looking at the 2018 sack total and wondering when a pass rusher will be added..
The Raiders have put all their eggs in the draft basket and will need to hit home-runs on draft picks targeting an edge rusher (or two) later this month.
The 4th overall pick could net one but it’s also possible blue chip prospects Nick Bosa and Josh Allen are off the board by the time the Raiders make their selection. Those two would be no brainers and instantly upgrade the position if available. But let’s take a look at who the Raiders might target later on if they don’t land one of those two with their first pick.
Clelin Ferrell, Clemson, Round 1
Ferrell is a power rusher and pushes offensive linemen around every play. Possessing the requisite size (6’4 265) for Paul Guenther’s scheme, Ferrell would be a perfect value if still on the board when the Raiders make the 24th pick. Ferrell was a leader on the National Championship team that took out powerhouse Alabama earlier this year, he made big plays throughout his career to back up his status as a first round defensive end.
A do-it-all player who can stop the run to rush the passer, Ferrell was even asked to drop into coverage at times to take away the RPO schemes that have taken over college football. Thought of as one of the best defensive ends in the country when the season started, but other defensive ends like Brian Burns, Montez Sweat, and even Rashan Gary have gained traction. It seems like Ferrell is losing steam in the eyes of talent evaluators and if available when the Raiders make their picks later in the first round, Ferrell would be a slam dunk.
Chase Winovich, Michigan, Round 2
Winovich played on a heralded defense boasting several future NFL draft picks. While the defensive end playing opposite from Winovich, Rashan Gary, gets much of the spotlight, Winovich outplayed him most games the two took the field. The Michigan defensive end isn’t the biggest player on the edge but he is a fundamentally sound player who uses great technique to win against the pass and run.
Boasting an excellent get off and strength at the point of attack he is a player who can be counted on to make an instant impact on defense. While Winovich isn’t the prototypical size for a 4-3 defense, he is close in size to Khalil Mack (6’3” 255) and blew up the combine with excellent scores all around. Landing a player like Winovich in the 2nd round would be a great consolation prize should the Raiders decide to go in other directions away from edge rusher in round 1.
Anthony Nelson, Iowa, Round 3-4
Nelson is a player who doesn’t get enough love. At 6’7”, 270lbs, he towers over most linemen and uses his 83 inch wingspan to knock blockers back. Nelson isn’t the flashy speed rusher that some others are in this draft, but he can get it done with the bull rush and an already developed inside counter. When it comes to defending the run, Nelson is a tough man to block and will bully tackles who get in his way.
Coming from the Iowa Hawkeyes, a program well known for churning out plug and play NFL players, Nelson is capable of starting in year 1. Coming into the combine, evaluators downplayed Nelson’s athleticism but he did after posting combine numbers that place him in the top tier of defensive lineman from a testing perspective its a tough sell to say the big man from Iowa isn’t talented enough to replicate his success in the NFL.
Maxx Crosby, Eastern Michigan, Round 5
Crosby gained steam after a strong combine. Not only did he weigh in at a hair under 6’5” and 255 lbs, he posted elite to great numbers across athletic testing notably a 6.89 3-cone drill and 4.66 40-yard dash. Pro Football Focus knew about him before he made a name for himself in Indianapolis and gave him a top 5 grade among draft eligible defensive ends in 2018.
When you watch Crosby on tape you won’t be blown away with his play but you also won’t come away discouraged. He doesn’t stand out in any one area and but is solid in just about everything from rushing with speed, power, or defending the run. Against non Power 5 competition, Crosby had great production notching 2 impact plays every game he played in (sack, tackle for loss, forced fumble, or pass deflection) tying him for 9th among draft eligible defensive ends. He has the physical traits to develop into a starting defensive end but that likely won’t happen right away.
Darryl Johnson, North Carolina A&T, Round 6-7
From the same school where the Raiders selected offensive tackle Brandon Parker in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL draft, Johnson could be the second player taken from the small school. Indeed the Raiders are doing their homework on him and were one of 13 team in attendance at his pro day.
It’s safe to say the small school defensive end is primed to be taken in the NFL draft. At 6-6 250 lbs, Johnson has the size Paul Guenther covets. He posted 19.5 tackles for loss and 10.0 sacks in his final season of college football, proving he can dominate against the lower level of competition. Like Brandon Parker it’s probably best for his development if he’s on the field sparingly as a rookie, but when the Raiders have so little edge defender depth, he would get the reps he needs to develop.