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Raiders definitely had a ‘type’ in the draft

Las Vegas eyed ball disruption and selected productive defensive prospects

NCAA Football: Florida at Georgia
Amari Burney (2) lead the Florida Gators with two interceptions this past season. The linebacker got his hands on the ball plenty in 2022 and the Las Vegas Raiders are banking he can do that in the pros.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dave Ziegler isn’t ignorant to the fact his Las Vegas Raiders weren’t disruptive enough. The general manager spoke openly about the need to have a defense that consistently gets hands on the ball — and more importantly — takes it away.

Thus, the Silver & Black clearly had a “type” in the 2023 NFL Draft and after the team concluded the annual event by making nine selections, six were defenders — all with potential to be disruptive in their own unique ways. But for a particular trio of defensive prospects, ball disruption as a trait is especially true.

Fourth-round pick Jakorian Bennett (cornerback, No. 104 overall), fifth-round selection Christopher Smith II (safety, No. 170), and sixth-round get Amari Burney (linebacker, No. 203) each come to the Raiders having the type of production Las Vegas so desperately seeks.

“It was an area we wanted to improve as a team, just ball disruption,” Ziegler said in his post-draft press conference when asked how important it was to get prospects that had production — interceptions, forced fumbles, sacks, etc. “It wasn’t a statistical category that we ranked very highly in last year. And so, Jakorian, I think in the last two years he had more plays on the ball, one of the top players in college football in terms of making plays on the ball. And so, guys that can make plays on the football and disrupt the football, or disrupt the pocket which can cause disruptive plays and things of that nature were some definitely influential factors.”

NCAA Football: Duke’s Mayo Bowl-Maryland at North Carolina State
Maryland coaches and teammates celebrate as cornerback Jakorian Bennett (2) snares the game-sealing interception in the 2022 Mayo Bowl this past December.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

By The Numbers:
Let’s take a look at the 2021-22 production by the trio of picks:

  • Jakorian Bennett (Maryland): 69 total tackles (4.5 for loss), five interceptions, 24 pass defensed
  • Christopher Smith II (Georgia): 95 total tackles (six for loss), one sack, six interceptions, 10 passes defensed, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery
  • Amari Burney (Florida): 123 total tackles (11 for loss), four sacks, two interceptions, seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery

The Raiders new trio did well at their respective programs to be disruptive defenders. And Las Vegas needs every bit of that and likely more, as they embark on a 2023 campaign that saw the other AFC West teams draft well, too. What helps the Raiders and the prospects is the production came in high-quality conferences such as the Big Ten and SEC. Each put forth game tape Ziegler and his personnel crew found intriguing and a fit for the Silver & Black. And each are slated to get opportunities and earn the ability to contribute.

Take Smith, for example. Ziegler noted coming out of the gate, the Georgia safety reminds him of a Raiders and New England Patriots veteran.

“Chris Smith, when I watched him, (he) reminded me a lot of Duron Harmon in his ability. Duron obviously was a great player for us last year, but Chris relies on his instincts and awareness to make plays on the football,” Ziegler noted. “He’s a student of the game. He has a very unique ability, I would say, just to pattern read and look at a route concept and how it develops out of the snap and make some reads that able himself to be in position to make plays on the football.

“Also, a physical kid, not the biggest in stature. When you look at Chris Smith and you just read the numbers… I don’t think he ran a super-fast 40, he’s not a super big guy. But when you put on the tape, he’s a guy that impresses you.”

NCAA Football: Oregon at Georgia
Georgia safety Christopher Smith II dislodges the b all from Oregon wide receiver Chase Cota back in September.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Similarly, Burney impressed the Raiders with his game film and his pro day performance in Florida. It’s the production and athletic profile that intrigued Ziegler and Las Vegas into taking the safety-turned-linebacker in the sixth round.

“One of the things we look at when we’re watching linebackers at the pro level or college level is their ability to close space and zone because that’s really what they’re asked to do more than anything else is drop into zone and close space, and he could do that,” Ziegler said of Burney. “Also had a couple good plays playing tight ends and things like that down the seam. So, I think he’s a versatile guy that’s still growing. Impeccable traits; was one of the most highly thought of guys there at that Florida program. Went down there for the Pro Day this year, myself and Champ [Kelly] were down there and got to see him in person.

“He ran a 4.51. Some clocks they had him at a 4.48/4.49, so he’s a kid that can run. Excited about the athleticism that he brings and excited about the mentality that he brings too.”

Add that Day 2 and 3 trio to the likes of edge rusher Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech, No. 7 overall), defensive tackles Byron Young (Alabama, No. 70) and Nesta Jade Silva (Arizona State, No. 231) and the intent to bring more disruption to the Raiders defense is clear.

Now will come the mountainous task of developing the draft selections into gameday contributors.