The Raiders’ 2014 draft class is topped by linebacker Khalil Mack, quarterback Derek Carr and guard Gabe Jackson.
It’s presumed that Mack will be an immediate starter and impact player, and that Jackson could challenge for a starting job. If all goes well, Carr is a project for the future … if veteran Matt Schaub can turn around his career in Oakland.
But none of the Raiders’ big three was tabbed by Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar this week when the Sports Illustrated NFL writer went down the draft lists of every AFC team and picked his impact rookie for the Raiders.
Farrar acknowledged Mack is a no-brainer. But his sleeper pick? Fourth-round draft choice Justin “Jelly Bean” Ellis, a 6-foot-1, 334-pound defensive tackle from Louisiana Tech who played very well in the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl.
Farrar believes Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie selected an under-the-radar gem in Ellis.
Farrar wrote that Ellis was an “undervalued commodity” in college, but he might be able to do for the Raiders what Lamarr Houston did the past few seasons: “wreak havoc in multiple gaps.”
“Far from a simple block-stuffing nose tackle, Ellis has the speed and agility (especially for his size) to disrupt in different roles,” wrote Farrar.
Ellis’ stats in college weren’t off-the-charts spectacular. He had 102 tackles and forced two fumbles. But Ellis’ strength is his strength. The scouting report on Ellis by Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com says Ellis has “Good anchor strength. Is seldom inverted or moved off a spot. Can stack the line and occupy blockers.”
That doesn’t sound sexy, but if the Raiders are to improve defensively in 2014, they’ll need strong men on the interior of the defensive line to disrupt running games and allow linebackers and defensive ends to make tackles and get to the quarterback.
NFL Network draft analyst loved the Raiders’ pick, saying of Ellis: “ ‘Jelly’ can roll, baby. He has some short-area quickness; got some foot quickness.”
Right now, the Raiders aren’t figuring Ellis will be a starter in 2014. Returning veteran Pat Sims and free-agent veteran acquisition Antonio Smith are penciled in at the defensive tackles, with Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley at defensive ends. Ellis and Stacy McGee would back up Sims and Smith.
But based on how Ellis manhandled blockers in college, he could be an impact player in Oakland while doing the dirty work in the middle of the line that will allow other players to make the highlight plays.
For his part, Ellis says he’s going to work hard, just as he did in college, to play whatever role the Raiders need and be a difference-maker.
“I consider myself a power, quickness guy,” Ellis told Rebecca Corman of Raiders.com recently. “I bait people with my quickness because most people don’t think I’m quick. They don’t think I’m fast so they’re like, ‘Oh, he’s a big guy.’ I used my quickness and power to beat people.”