The Oakland Raiders defense made big strides over the last half of the 2015 season, but it still has a long way to go if the team hopes to contend for the AFC West title in 2016.
The Raiders ranked 22nd in the NFL in total defense, allowing 363.6 yards per game and 22nd in scoring defense (24.9 points per game),
They were 13th against the run (104.9 yards per game), but 25th in pass defense (258.8 yards). Their 38 sacks came in at 14th in the NFL.
So, as NFL draftniks and analysts look ahead to this year’s draft, most see Oakland using its first pick, the 14th overall in the first round, on a defensive player to plug into coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s lineup.
The analytics website Pro Football Focus recently pointed to cornerback, safety and defensive line as primary needs for the Raiders, along with more depth at linebacker.
The offense, too, could use help – especially if the Raiders lose starting left tackle Donald Penn in free agency – but with quarterback Derek Carr, running back Latavius Murray and starting wideouts Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree in place, the offense is better stocked.
With that in mind, draft analysts posting their initial mock drafts for this spring overwhelmingly are pointing to general manager Reggie McKenzie taking a defensive player with the team’s top pick.
Among those targeted are Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, Georgia defensive end/linebacker Leonard Floyd, linebackers Reggie Ragland of Alabama, Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame and Myles Jack of UCLA and cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander of Clemson and Vernon Hargreaves of Florida.
If the Raiders decide to use their top pick on offense, tackles Taylor Decker of Ohio State and Jack Conklin of Michigan State are favorites.
If defense is what the Raiders choose to pursue, this is a good year for it, writes Dan Kadar of SB Nation. He notes this year’s talent crop is deep and talented at defensive line, linebacker and cornerback.