James Dudko assesses the potential impact of the Oakland Raiders’ draft picks.
No team in the NFL has done more to prepare for the quarterbacks in their own division than the Oakland Raiders. It makes sense considering the Silver and Black call the AFC West home, a division featuring Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Alex Smith.
General manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen used free agency to recruit veteran pass-rushers and cover men. The pair followed that by selecting marquee defensive playmaker Khalil Mack with the fifth pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Mack is a player Oakland simply couldn't afford to ignore. At 6'3" and 251 pounds, he will flip-flop between end and linebacker and will be the player opposing teams must account for every snap.
Mack is the kind of ‘Joker-style’ rush linebacker who blurs the lines between 4-3 and 3-4 fronts. He will be a roving and deadly chess piece in Allen and coordinator Jason Tarver's creative and daring blitz schemes:
The 23-year-old’s presence means trouble for Manning, Rivers and Smith. Mack will be just one of many weapons sent from all angles to threaten the pocket.
He will be joined by free agents Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith on a revamped front. Woodley is a hybrid pass-rusher similar to Mack. He will also be difficult for blocking schemes to track.
Tuck will do what he did for the New York Giants, namely shift between end and tackle to target weak offensive linemen. Whenever he slides inside, Tuck will be supplemented by Smith, a fine 3-technique D-tackle, formerly of the Houston Texans and the Arizona Cardinals.
Smith could also be joined inside by massive nose tackle Justin Ellis, great value as fourth-round pick. With so much speed on the outside, the Raiders needed some beef in the middle.
The 6'1", 334-pound Ellis provides that. He can anchor the interior and create tremendous push on the pocket:
Ellis and fellow behemoth Pat Sims will provide a bulky complement to the quickness of Tuck, Smith and Woodley. They can absorb multiple blockers to create more single matchups for Mack and his fellow pressure specialists.
That veteran trio will combine with Mack and underrated linebacker Sio Moore - another stellar outside pass-rusher - to form a fearsome quintet that will keep quarterbacks running for their lives.
Allen's defense needs to carry that level of threat. It is the only way to slow down Manning's high-powered Denver Broncos offense, as well as Rivers and the potent San Diego Chargers.
Alex Smith may still have his critics, but the Kansas City Chiefs offense is well coached by Andy Reid and coordinator Doug Pedersen. Toward the end of last season, the unit was regularly lighting up scoreboards.
Facing each of these quarterbacks and their respective supporting casts twice a season means that the Raiders need more than just a strong pass rush.
Oakland also needs superior coverage, something McKenzie and Allen have worked hard to acquire. Their efforts have focused on revamping the cornerback rotation.
The Raiders need corners who can survive in single matchups on the outside. Without them, Allen and Tarver's array of sophisticated blitzes can't work.
That is why drafting Keith McGill with their second pick in Round 4 was such a smart move. At 6'3" and 211 pounds, McGill is a natural press corner.
McGill is old for a rookie at 25, and also had some injury problems in 2013. But if he can stay healthy and learn the defense, then he will be a steal:
McKenzie knows that the Oakland defense needs size at cornerback, given the litany of big-bodied receivers in the AFC West. Broncos star Demaryius Thomas stands at 6'3" and weighs 229 pounds. He is only marginally bigger than 6'2", 221-pound Chiefs flanker Dwayne Bowe.
Meanwhile, Chargers ace Keenan Allen is certainly no mini marvel at 6'2" and 211 pounds. The Raiders cannot compete without greater physicality at cornerback. Rogers, Brown and Allen will provide exactly that.
Stronger coverage in the defensive backfield, coupled with heavy pressure up front, can prevent the Raiders from being the doormats of their division. It will also make for fascinating viewing when the Silver and Black visit Wembley to battle the Miami Dolphins on September 28.
It might not be enough to make them playoff contenders, since the offense has also been remade with veteran talent, but the Raiders retooled, blitz-happy defense will certainly be fun to watch.