Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie believes Marquel Lee could be the middle linebacker the defense needs.
Lee wasn’t selected until the fifth round and he wasn’t on anyone’s lists of the top few inside linebackers available in the recent draft. But McKenzie sees the former Wake Forest standout as a playmaker.
“I think people will be impressed once he gets here,” McKenzie said on a recent SiriusXM NFL Radio show. “He has a lot of qualities you look for in a middle linebacker. He’s a very good run defender, he sheds blocks well, his eyes are good (and) he finds the football.”
The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder was among the national leaders this past season with 20 tackles for loss and had 105 stops overall.
Yet Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio isn’t ready to anoint Lee as the starter at the position. In fact, Del Rio isn’t certain Oakland has fully addressed its needs at middle linebacker.
“I don’t know that we’ve adequately addressed our middle linebacker position, to be honest,” Del Rio said on the NFL Network Thursday. “I think we have some work to do there. The rest of our roster is pretty well situated, but we’ll be looking for a linebacker and we’ll continue to look, whether it’s the waiver wire, trades or available guys out there, veterans on the street. We’ll continue to look. The guys that are here, we’re going to develop and grow and hope we can take them to a higher level.”
Lee is expected to compete with Cory James, a rookie in 2016, and Ben Heeney, who played just two games this past season because of injury.
Another possibility is Perry Riley Jr., who remains a free agent. He started 11 games for Oakland in 2016. Recently, Raiders outside linebacker Bruce Irvin tweeted to Riley that he “would love to see you back!”
Riley, a seven-year NFL veteran from LSU, was a longtime starter in Washington before joining the Raiders in 2016. Last season, Riley was in on 48 tackles and forced two fumbles.